Skip to main content
opinion

Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs

Come mid-October, Cerian Postle takes her 10-year-old German-Shepherd cross, Brina, to her second home in Hope to escape the frenzy of fireworks, which in Vancouver, spell the approach of Halloween. Brina has been pathologically afraid of fireworks ever since one exploded in front of her nose in Aberdeen Park one year.

Now, the blasts and high-pitched whine of rockets send her into a paroxysm of fear. “She’s prowling, she’s whining, panting and shaking,” Ms. Postle says. If the bathroom door is left open, the 80-pound dog tries to jump into the bathtub for safety.

It would be bearable if fireworks lasted only one night, Ms. Postle says. But they don’t. “Last year, I made a note; the first one went off on Oct. 8th and the last one in mid-November. That’s why I leave town.”

Animals are not the only beings to suffer during fireworks displays. In inexperienced hands, fireworks can be dangerous, and those most often burned are children. They can cause fires; in 2015, a wood home on Woodland Drive burned to the ground after a roman candle landed on the porch. The explosions can be terrifying for refugees who have fled war zones and survivors of gun violence as well, says city Councillor Pete Fry, who tabled a motion asking council to ban the sale and possession of consumer fireworks by 2021.

On Thursday, council heard from a parade of residents on both sides. Proponents included some South Asian Canadians who say fireworks are a culturally important part of celebrations at Diwali, the festival of lights, and of course, fireworks purveyors who profit from sales at their pop-up shops. Council is scheduled to debate the ban on Nov. 5.

Judging by the volume of fireworks every Halloween, a ban will be unpopular among a large contingent of Vancouverites – particularly among bored adolescents who enjoy the chance to raise a ruckus. There will doubtless be a resurrection of the “no-fun-city” refrain. Council should ignore those objections. Vancouver’s neighbouring municipalities, most of which curtailed the fireworks free-for-all years ago, were right.

Mr. Fry described the online permit required by Vancouver for consumer fireworks purchases as a joke. I agree. Despite having zero fireworks knowledge whatsoever, I received a permit in about five minutes. The test is a no-brainer that lets you try over and over until you answer all 10 questions correctly. It was so simple, I got it on the first go.

And while the study guide clearly outlines the rules – fireworks are only allowed to be discharged on private property with clearances of 30 metres by 30 metres for aerials such as Roman Candles and 20 metres by 20 metres for ground-based varieties – few see fit to follow them. For at least a week before and after Halloween, spent casings litter parks and city boulevards. Anyone trying to follow the clearance guidelines would have a hard time in Vancouver, where most lots are only 10 metres wide.

Which brings us to fires. The Vancouver Fire Department reports damage caused by fireworks have cost $379,000 over the past 12 years. It was for that reason that Richmond banned the sale and possession of consumer fireworks way back in 2004. Before the ban, deputy fire chief Kevin Gray, then a firefighter, recalls going out on 25 calls one Halloween.

“Most of them were very minor,” he says. But it wasn’t safe to have that many fire trucks circulating around a city on a dark night. Richmond’s fire department used to design a special Halloween plan and debrief the next day. Since the ban, which included enforcement measures, that’s no longer necessary, Mr. Gray says. “Halloween has become a non-event.” Richmond’s experience refutes the argument that bans won’t work because people will simply order fireworks online.

Banning consumer fireworks won’t kill all future fireworks displays. Groups will still be able to obtain permits for special holiday and cultural or religious events. On those occasions, dogs will still whimper, but only for one night. No one will get hurt. Nothing will burn.

And as someone who grew up in Alberta where fireworks were not a thing, trust me – Halloween will still be fun.

Interact with The Globe