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Busker dust-up hits Kelowna streets

Denise Ryan, Postmedia Network

Michael Elliot is a Kelowna busker. (Submitted Photo)

Michael Elliot is a Kelowna busker. (Submitted Photo)

Kelowna busker Michael Elliott says a dust-up over his music is about much more than noise, and has opened up a conversation on just what kind of community Kelowna wants to be.

Elliott was handed a $500 fine for busking on a Kelowna city street on Saturday. When he posted video of his exchange with a bylaw officer on social media, the clip went viral. Public support was swift. The city quickly reduced the noise violation fine to a warning, but Elliott believes the controversy is about much more than noise.

"I've been inundated with responses from other musicians who have had similar experiences," said Elliott who believes a lack of clarity about the permit system among bylaw officers is only part of the problem.

Elliott had been playing his acoustic guitar (amplified, he said, because he sings softly and competes with traffic noise), in front of Bean Scene, a Kelowna café, on Saturday, March 11, when a bylaw officer told him to shut down and demanded to see a permit.

"He said I needed a busking licence, I said I didn't and the back and forth increased until he walked off in a huff."

Elliott, who holds a valid busking permit with Festivals Kelowna's Busk Stop program, said the program issues permits for 14 designated busking areas around the waterfront in Kelowna, but they are not valid for other areas — and he would never show that permit to claim a right to play in another location.

Kelowna buskers typically move away from the deserted waterfront into the city during the cold winter months, said Elliott. Elliott said he has a "great relationship" with local businesses. Busking in downtown areas doesn't require a permit, and enforcement is noise-complaint based. "I have a great relationship with the businesses I play in front of and I will move if I am asked," said Elliott.

On Saturday night, the bylaw officer returned and started writing up a ticket. Elliott recorded the incident. "He told me the city had come out and said there was a complaint about me, which was kind of baffling. If he had told me there was a complaint the previous night, I would have moved on."

Elliot said he was unnerved by the incident, but is incredibly grateful for the public support. He believes the situation became a local flashpoint because of a disconnect between policy-makers and community members about what kind of city Kelowna is becoming.

"People have been talking to me about how to help build a vibrant community here in Kelowna, and I see a disparity between what people want, and what the people making policy are doing."

Elliott said members of the public started downloading his music to show support.

"I will be donating everything to a local charity," said Elliott, who hopes the incident opens a dialogue. "I just want to play music but I also want to help build a vibrant and healthy community.