VICTORIA -- At Monday's Saanich committee of the whole meeting, Coun. Karen Harper asked council to direct municipal staff to reconsider off-leash beach use for dogs to protect wildlife in the area.

The request stems from the councillor's report that migratory and other shorebirds that rely on beaches for forage, such as Cadboro Bay beach, are threatened by continuous chasing by dogs and pets. Her report states that herons are, for example, a prime target for dogs and are routinely chased, even as they are about to land.

"The issue does tend to revolve around dogs because it is a nature sanctuary and that is where the conflict is occurring," said Harper. "This is in fact part of why the Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary was established in 1923."

What triggered Harper's attention to the bylaw for Carboro Bay Beach in particular was when, last year, the District of Oak Bay changed its bylaw regarding dogs being off-leash on a portion of Willows Beach.

After speaking with councillors in Oak Bay, Harper noticed a conflict between a Saanich bylaw and a federal government ban. 

She found that the federal government bans all off-leash dogs in bird sanctuaries, but, Saanich has permitted off-leash dogs in the area.

"We have this conflict because the feds say, 'No loose dogs,' and our bylaw says, 'They can be loose,'" said Harper.

"I'm concerned because any issue where federal or provincial rules are different from municipal rules — we need to look at them."

The report to council states that, since 1997, the eastern portion of the beach has been the only urban sandy beach that permits off-leash dogs all year in the municipality. It goes on to state that there is already a dog prohibition on the western portion of the beach that borders Gyro Park from May 1 to August 31.

"This is not about a ban on dogs," said Harper. "We need a better discussion about what the use of the beach should be and [how] we can all share it together."

However, for many people throughout the region who walk their dogs at the beach, having their animals roam with them is a big part of the experience. A number of local dog walkers feels the possible change to the bylaw is unfair.

"I see the approach being more punitive to the community as opposed to reaching out to better improve the communication between dog owners and people," said Saanich dog walker Louise Egan. "Linking it to some of the eco-system is a little challenging because both dogs and people have the same impact on the beach."

Eagan said she hasn't seen or experienced the issues of birds being chased on the beach. Instead, she says she feels there should be more communication between Saanich and all beach users, perhaps in the form of a "canine good citizen" informational pop up tent to demonstrate leadership in good dog ownership, or something similar.

"I don't think mirroring things that go on in other jurisdictions is really a forward looking way for Saanich," said Egan. "I think they should really talk to the community and all stakeholders and see what is really needed here."

Harper points out, that should council vote to have Saanich staff review the bylaw, staff would still have to report to council with any recommendations arising from the review.

"There will be lots of opportunities for feedback and a discussion before any change is made," said Harper. "There will be time to consider how to balance all the competing interests that we have."

The matter will be brought forward at Monday's council meeting. It will take place at Saanich municipal hall at 6:30 p.m.