British Columbia's top court has quashed a bylaw prohibiting single-use plastic bags in Victoria, saying the city failed to get the approval of the province's environment minister.
The B.C. Court of Appeal said in its written ruling Thursday that the bylaw is intended to regulate businesses from providing plastic checkout bags but its aim was to protect the environment, and the effects of the bylaw are felt by businesses.
The Canadian Plastic Bag Association, which represents manufacturers and distributors of plastic bags, fought the bylaw, arguing municipalities in B.C. don't have the authority to regulate the environment or the right to block a product and financially impact manufacturers.
Under the bylaw, which went into effect a year ago, businesses are prohibited from offering or selling plastic bags to consumers and must charge at least 15 cents for paper bags and at least $1 for reusable bags.
In an earlier decision, a B.C. Supreme Court judge upheld the bylaw, ruling that cities have the power to regulate business transactions as part of their responsibility to manage waste.
The Appeal Court ruling said the environment minister's approval will "now presumably be sought" by the city, which passed a bylaw with "reasonable" intentions involving environmental issues that concern British Columbians.
"One can understand that the province might wish to have the right to approve, or withhold approval of, municipal bylaws relating to environmental protection in order to ensure that a patchwork of different municipal laws does not hamper provincial environmental programs," Justice Mary Newbury said in the ruling.
Montreal also banned plastic bags last July while other cities, including Vancouver and Halifax, have been mulling similar bylaws.
The Township of Esquimalt, near Victoria, has also committed to a ban on single-use plastic bags but said Thursday in a statement it will consider its next steps in keeping with the ruling.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city will review its options as it continues efforts to phase out single-use items and eliminate unnecessary waste.
"The court decision doesn't undermine the soundness of the bylaw itself, it only deals with the process required for its adoption," Helps said in a statement, adding the bylaw was developed after extensive input over two years from businesses and the community.
"Victorians care deeply about this issue and they told us that single-use plastic bags do not align with their values. Businesses and residents have embraced the transition to reusable bags. It's been a tremendous success," she said.
"We are inspired by other municipalities' efforts to phase out single-use checkout bags and plastic waste and we must work together to take this issue forward to provincial and national leaders to develop common, high and shared standards. This issue affects us all locally, regionally and globally."
More than 17 million plastic bags that would have "choked the landfill for hundreds of years" have been eliminated from the community and nearby beaches, the city said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Plastic Bag Association was not immediately available for comment.