Province tightening grip on unofficial campsites

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The judges tower at Raceway Park in Oyster bed Bridge

The tragic death of a toddler two years ago in P.E.I. has led to new rules for festivals and events that host campers.

A three-year-old was riding his bike at the Raceway Park in Oyster Bed in 2012 when he was hit by a pickup truck and died.

The boy had been camping with his mother and her boyfriend in a parking area adjacent to the racetrack used by drag racers and their families for camping.

The tragedy was ruled accidental, but it generated an internal review at the Department of Tourism over how campsites are regulated across the province.

Tourism Minister Robert Henderson says this review found the campsite at the raceway park was unlicensed.

And it is just one of many similar sites where tourists and locals set up camp in parking lots or fields for special events and weekend festivals throughout the summer and fall in P.E.I.

However, these unofficial campsites are not allowed to operate without a license from the province – a law that has long been in place in P.E.I.

“The department identified those (sites) and sent some letters to make them aware that the Tourism Industry Act has to be adhered to and standards have to be met,” Henderson said.

“The issue is, visitors come to Prince Edward Island and they have expectations when people are allowing them to stay on their properties that certain standards may be met… there are some issues around public safety and standards that we have to comply with.”

The issue was raised during question period in the legislature Thursday when Opposition tourism critic James Aylward raised concern over the fact small, volunteer-run festivals were receiving ‘threatening letters’ from the department over their unlicensed campsites.

“Why would you threaten this integral part of our tourism industry across P.E.I. when, essentially, they have been doing the same type of business for decades here on P.E.I. in providing an essential, affordable tourism component to the industry here on P.E.I., and doing a wonderful job, I might add?” Aylward asked.

He said these small, community operators cannot afford the fees and red tape involved in becoming licensed.

Henderson said his department is working with these groups, but his primary concern is public safety.

He also stressed these rules have long been law in P.E.I. They simply have not always been strictly enforced.

“There’s no event that I’m aware of that has had to cease operations based on these rules that we’re just trying to enforce,” Henderson said.

“I would say to any organization – we are willing to work with them, but there are certain things that we cannot compromise with, and I think it’s important that when visitors come to a location in Prince Edward Island, they’re going to have a certain expectation of standards and that safety (measures) are going to be adhered to.”

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