Casual Legal: Refresher on bylaw enforcement options

By Lauren Chalaturnyk
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider 

When a person violates a municipality’s bylaws, there are usually two enforcement options available to the municipality: issue a Provincial violation ticket, or pursue an order under the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Municipalities are authorized to issue Provincial violation tickets by virtue of both the MGA and the Provincial Offences Procedures Act. While the specific wording of each bylaw may vary, where the bylaw creates an offence for violation of the bylaw, the issuance of a ticket and a corresponding penalty or fine can result.

Once at trial, bylaw prosecutors are required to prove the bylaw offence listed on the ticket occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard and is the same standard used in criminal cases. In essence, the Justice of the Peace has to be 99% certain that every element of the offence has taken place. If they have any doubt at all, they must acquit the accused person. Because of this high standard, Provincial violation tickets should be used sparingly for complex bylaw violations (such as issues falling under a Land Use Bylaw), but can be used, and are appropriate for, simple violations or violations that occur at a high frequency within the municipality (such as parking violations, snow removal violations, or simple animal control-related matters). Provincial violation tickets are also appropriate for situations where the municipality has a more punitive goal in mind and wants to impose a penalty on the accused person.

The alternative to Provincial violation tickets are municipal orders issued under the authority of sections 545 or 546 of the MGA, or section 645 in the context of planning contraventions. These orders can require a person who has violated a bylaw to take specific steps to bring themselves, or their land, into compliance with the bylaw or require them to stop doing something that is contrary to a bylaw. Ultimately, the goal for a municipality is remediation and compliance. For each of these types of orders, at a minimum, the municipality must be able to show that a bylaw has been violated. Under section 546 of the MGA, the violation must also be dangerous, detrimental to the surrounding area, or have caused an unsightly condition.

Unlike Provincial violation tickets, the standard of proof for these types of orders is a balance of probabilities, which means that it is more likely than not (51%) that the bylaw has been violated. Given this lower standard of proof, it is much easier for municipalities to enforce bylaws through the use of compliance orders issued under the MGA. However, there is typically no penalty associated with a compliance order, other than the potential for the municipality to charge any costs associated with remedying the contravention to the tax roll of the property owner.

Compliance orders and Provincial violation tickets serve different purposes and are subjected to different burdens of proof. When deciding which route to take, municipalities should consider what their ultimate goal is and what standard of proof is appropriate to have applied to the violation.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.