Katherine Little sat on her couch under a bay window overlooking Queensbury Avenue. Despite the quiet street, she was on edge Thursday morning.
A knock on the front door startled her and she rolled her eyes, assuming it would be the tenth Saanich bylaw enforcement officer coming to investigate a complaint. Instead, it was a letter from the District of Saanich – dated Sept. 24 – alerting Little that yet another complaint had been filed against her and her jam stand. This time, the complaint was about her having a sign on the boulevard, but there was no sign in sight.
Little, a retiree, manages the Little Stand where sells jams, chutneys and salsas. She opened it the summer of 2018 and operated it without issue until December when Island Health called saying a complaint had been filed about the product not being Foodsafe. Little complied by getting certified and moving operations to the Mustard Seed’s commercial kitchen.
|A customer painted a picture of Little’s stand and, with the artist’s permission, she turned it into advertisement cards for the stand. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)|
Things escalated quickly after the first complaint. Nine bylaw enforcement officers have been by investigating a variety of complaints in the past few months. Little recieved nasty notes, signs were stolen and the stand was vandalized. Little, who has a background in law enforcement and suffers from PTSD, decided to file a police report as she feared for the safety of her family and home.
The stand was shut down in June 2019 for selling retail from a private home – a bylaw violation – but Little was told she could continue to take orders.
Two local grocery stores and a restaurant also stepped in and offered to sell Little’s jams after hearing her story. However, two days after the jams arrived in Pepper’s Foods, an email was sent to the store from someone impersonating a Canadian Food Inspection Agency officer. The email said the labels didn’t comply with the rules and that the jam should be removed from shelves immediately. The manager informed Little and did not stop selling the jams. Little wonders if the person was angry she’d found another way to keep selling her jams despite being shut down.
The stand still sits in front of the Little’s home, but the jars of jam have been replaced with order forms.
On Sept. 20, Little received a call from Saanich asking her to move the stand off the boulevard – which she did. On Monday, the office followed up about moving the stand and came to her with a new complaint. Apparently she was building an illegal shed in her backyard – the Littles have no structures in their backyard. Bylaw enforcement officers came to investigate what she said was the ninth complaint in the past few months and found no shed.
Little noted that the complaints used to be about her sign, then her stand and now her home. She feels the attacks are becoming more personal and worries she’s being watched.
“I’m not sure what else there is to comply with,” she said.
Little and her husband decided to visit a municipal lawyer who told them to keep complying, chain the stand to a tree lest someone come to take it off their property and to consider pursuing a harassment complaint. To do so, Little would have to sue Jane and John Doe and then a court order could demand that Saanich reveal the source of the complaints.
Little doesn’t understand the motivation behind the harassment, nor does she understand why Saanich continues to take the complaints at face value. She is exhausted.
“One more thing, and I’m going to court,” she said defiantly.
Little wishes that Saanich had agreed to mediate the issue or that the neighbour had come to her with the complaint. The 4,000 letters, paintings, cards and petition signatures in support of the stand help, she said. Little has no plans to give up, but acknowledged the drama has taken a toll on her family.
“I don’t want the fight, but I miss my jam stand,” she said sadly. “It’s just effing jam.”
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes confirmed that the bylaw prohibiting farm stands is currently under review, but emphasized that until it is changed, the bylaw must be upheld.