By Jen Skerritt
Winnipeg (Manitoba) Free Press
Snowmobiles could soon be outlawed everywhere in Winnipeg after a new report recommended police be given the power to seize off-road vehicles and dole out hefty fines.
The proposed ban after a snowmobile accident last winter killed 51-year-old Ken Stammers. Stammers was struck by a snowmobile in January while he was walking in a field east of Redonda Street in Transcona. The field is west of a narrow strip of land where snowmobiles may operate legally in Winnipeg. Currently, Winnipeggers can only legally drive snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles in designated spots on the city's periphery, including part of Charleswood that borders the Harte Trail.
Stammers' death prompted Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt and St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal to call for a comprehensive review of city bylaws governing off-road vehicles. The report, made public last week, recommends Winnipeg eliminate the use of off-road vehicles everywhere within the city limits, except in unusual circumstances, such as severe blizzards.
The report also calls for police to be given the power to hand out "substantial fines" and seize off-road vehicles. The vehicles could be auctioned off and the money would be put toward public education campaigns on the issue. The report says police will need an additional $89,482 to step up enforcement.
Council's protection and community services committee will consider the proposal at a meeting on this week. Wyatt said the recommendations are good news and snowmobiles are too dangerous to be driven in a major city. Police need the resources to properly enforce current bylaws on off-road vehicle use, and the city should also consider posting signs to warn residents the practice is illegal, he said.
"Inside the city limits, it's very unsafe and dangerous and it's not acceptable anymore," he said. "It should be an unacceptable norm, no different than smoking indoors."
Last year, police handed out 50 provincial offence notices under the Off-Road Vehicles Act.
To date, police enforcement has been difficult because the two-person river patrol unit focuses on frozen waterways, and the central traffic unit has no off-road vehicles.
A city administrative report said police will need one utility task vehicle and two snowmobiles to properly enforce the law and will have to train eight officers to operate the vehicles.
Protection and community services chairman Coun. Gord Steeves (St. Vital) said errant snowmobilers are obviously a concern if they're operating their vehicles illegally, but they're not priority one for Winnipeg police. Steeves said he's unsure whether he will vote in favour of the recommendations; he has questions and concerns about how such a law will affect responsible off-road vehicle users.
"I'm a little worried about showing up and suddenly taking away the right to snowmobile for people who have done it for years and never had a problem with it," Steeves said. "This one might not be quite as simple as outlawing the practice in the city of Winnipeg."