On Friday, as controversy continued to swirl around the Town of Taber’s new Community Standards Bylaw, members of the public were invited to a “community information session” which was billed as an effort by the Taber Police Service to clearly define the parameters of enforcement that would be applied.
While public meetings are generally a venue for free public discourse, the truth in this situation was rather something else. Questions from the media, as well as cameras, were entirely banned from the proceedings, while citizens were treated to a scolding discourse on the obvious merits of the controversial bylaw from the perspective of those pushing for its implementation. That’s hardly what one would describe as a free and unfettered public meeting.
The Taber Police Service chose to savage the local media and the legal profession as responsible for the “sensationlization” of the bylaw.
These usual suspects for bountiful blame-laying obfuscate the fact that town council bears no little responsibility for passing a bylaw that has been heavily criticized by not just the humble local media, but individuals and legal experts in all walks of life from across the nation, and in some instances, across the globe.
As any journalist will tell you, where there’s smoke there’s fire. No matter what the police service would like to have us believe, the passage of bylaws in small-town Alberta don’t go viral based simply on the energetic ministrations of a few weekly newspaper reporters. If there was no story here — namely some of the bylaw’s troubling inclusions — it wouldn’t have attracted global attention.
We also find the source of this bylaw defence problematic. Why, for instance, was this information session sponsored, directed and led by the Taber Police Service? As a general rule, it is not the place of law enforcement to be taking a political stance about the merits of what has become a highly politicized issue. If there was to be a public meeting, the more proper venue would be to confront one’s elected representatives about their reasoning behind passing the bylaw, not employees of the local police force who are not accountable to the voters, not to mention likely to give a one-sided and biased assessment.
All of which really doesn’t reach down to the true heart of the issue. There is no question the online community and national and international media has blown the issue out of proportion far beyond the pale of all decency. We have no fear that the Taber Police Service — an institution whose honour is beyond reproach in its long history in the community — is about to appear on our streets dressed in hob-nailed boots and swirling truncheons ready to crack heads over the slightest bylaw infraction. We all know that isn’t the case.
But that’s not really the issue. It doesn’t matter if they promise us that police officers won’t be enforcing the bylaw under draconian terms. What matters is how it could be enforced. Laws are not vague and loosely worded in democracies. By their very definition they should not be open to interpretation. There are societies where laws are sometimes loosely worded and open to interpretation, but you probably wouldn’t want to visit them on your next vacation. They generally read like a who’s who of limited freedom the world over.
While Taber is not likely to become the Tehran of Western Canada, the format of Friday’s meeting probably didn’t do much to inspire confidence that the police service is a paragon of free discourse on an issue in which they certainly have a vested interest. That’s another trick of less-than-freedom-loving regimes in this world — to couch what barely passes as a free public meeting in the trappings of fairness and democratic window-dressing.
People are always willing to attack the media over the slightest provocation, but their dirty secret is that those very same people usually thrive on controversy, and eat up the latest news reports and updates like a starving man. The media is admittedly far from perfect, and many journalists are out to sensationalize issues for personal gain or profit. While individuals can maintain their own opinions, let us state here that we are not one of those publications, nor have we ever been, nor are we ever likely to be.
We prefer to let the evidence speak for itself. Would The Taber Times have been in business as a respected publication in this community for 104 years if that were really the case?