By Trevor Busch
Questions may still linger in the mind of Coun. Joe Strojwas, but town council has pushed ahead with the approval of Community Standards Bylaw 4-2015.
At their Feb. 23 meeting, town council voted 6-1 to pass third and final reading of Community Standards Bylaw 4-2015, with minor amendments. Strojwas opposed the motion.
The bylaw will attempt to regulate and prohibit certain activities in order to prevent and compel the abatement of noise, nuisances, graffiti, and public disturbances, as well as a curfew for minors.
According to administration, in order to provide for better and more consistent oversight, bylaw enforcement and policing of various matters in the town of Taber, the Taber Police Service in conjunction with the Taber Municipal Police Commission drafted the bylaw.
“I’m in support,” said Mayor Henk De Vlieger. “I’m not saying this thing is perfect, but I think we should give it a chance and try it out, and let the police work with it. After a period of time, we might make some adjustments, but let’s see how it works.”
At their Jan. 26 meeting, town council had voted 6-1 to give first reading to Bylaw 4-2015. Strojwas opposed the motion, appearing troubled by some of the bylaw’s inclusions, which he interpreted as without adequate explanation, or more properly enforced under the aegis of the Criminal Code of Canada. At that meeting, Coun. Strojwas had also suggested the bylaw be returned to the TMPC for further review prior to passing first reading. The draft bylaw was reviewed by the Taber Municipal Police Commission in 2014 and was discussed at the commission’s Jan. 14 meeting, following which the commission adopted a resolution recommending the draft bylaw be forwarded to town council for consideration and adoption.
Some of the more interesting inclusions in the bylaw include violations issued for spitting in a public place (“No person shall spit at any person in a public place or on any public property or on private property that they do not own”) which carries a first offence penalty of $75, or noise (“No person shall yell, scream, or swear in any public place”) which carries a first offence penalty of $150.
Another inclusion regarding an assembly of persons (“No person shall be a member of the assembly of three or more persons in any public place where a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe the assembly will disturb the peace of the neighbourhood, and any such person shall disperse as requested by a peace officer”) carries a first offence penalty of $250.
Notably, this inclusion specifies the power to disperse an assembly when a “peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe” an assembly will disturb the peace. Under a strict interpretation, this would give local law enforcement the power to disperse an otherwise peaceful assembly based only on an officer’s discretion — not whether an assembly was actually causing a disturbance of the peace.
The General Definitions section of the bylaw includes no description or definition of what would be considered “reasonable grounds to believe” nor defines what actions would actually constitute a disturbance of the peace. Sec. 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes “freedom of peaceful assembly” as one of the fundamental freedoms assured to Canadians under the charter.
Schedule “A” of proposed Bylaw 4-2015 details the specified first offence penalties for various infractions, which includes parent/guardian allow minor in public place during curfew ($100 fine); placing graffiti on property ($2,500); failure to remove graffiti ($250); urinating/depositing human waste in public place ($250); spitting in public place ($75); fighting in a public place ($250); being a member of an assembly and failing to disperse as directed by a peace officer ($250); loitering ($250); panhandling ($75); yelling, screaming or swearing ($150); drinking establishment making noise ($2,000); allow, suffer or permit noise likely to disturb others ($150); allow, suffer or permit noise from premises or property ($150); allow, suffer or permit noise from vehicle ($150); activate or apply engine retarder brakes ($150); and allow or permit noise between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. ($150).