The provision of services to residents is one of the most
important functions of local governments. The term
"services" broadly includes activities, works and
facilities undertaken or provided by, or on behalf of, the
municipality. These can apply to the entire municipality, but
may also be limited to a specific part of the municipality or,
alternatively, may extend beyond municipal boundaries.
Examples of services include fire protection, sidewalks, roads,
water supply, sewage disposal, libraries and recreational
facilities. In providing services to residents, many local
governments have policies as to when to maintain and repair the
In a decision from 2012, Lennox v. New Westminster
(City), 2012 BCSC 410 , the BC Supreme Court
considered an unwritten municipal policy that provided an enhanced
level of sidewalk service. This policy provided that the City
of New Westminster would make repairs in response to specific
complaints about sidewalk faults, even when those faults were
insufficient in size to trigger repairs under the City's
written Sidewalk Policy. At issue in the case was a trip and
fall on a sidewalk for which complaints had allegedly been made.
The court, however, found that the City did not receive a
sufficiently specific complaint about the particular sidewalk
before the fall; as such, it did not act unreasonably in failing to
The court also considered whether the City could be found
negligent if the unwritten policy had been engaged by a specific
complaint before the plaintiff's fall. It acknowledged
that non-compliance with a municipal policy would be a factor in
determining a negligence claim, and regard must be had to the
policy, its purposes and the mischief it sought to prevent.
With specific regard to the provision of services, the court
held that when a municipality takes upon itself a level of service
that exceeds what would be reasonable in the circumstances, courts
should be exceedingly slow to characterize the failure to discharge
that enhanced level of service as negligence. In this case,
the unwritten policy went well beyond the requirements of
reasonable sidewalk service. The court noted that:
"[a]s a matter of public
policy, the law should encourage steps taken by municipalities to
proactively address concerns that may give rise to public safety
issues in the future where those steps go beyond what is merely
reasonable in the circumstances."
On its review of the circumstances, the court concluded that the
City implemented its service policy in a reasonable manner.
The Courts will generally not interfere with the broad powers
given to local governments to provide services when they are
exercised in a procedurally fair manner and in accordance with the
applicable legislative scheme. This decision highlights that
this wide discretion is particularly applicable where local
governments seek to exceed reasonable levels of service in an
attempt to be responsive to their residents.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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