By J.W. Schnarr
The dust is finally beginning to settle on the controversial “Footloose” bylaw which saw the Town of Taber as an Internet star for a few short weeks.
The folks who were so quick to hiss and spit on this town and her queer, awkward sense of what freedom means have now moved on to other things, to the next great shiny abomination on the Internet begging for ridicule and scorn.
The media has had their say; the police have had their say; and the people, the dozens who showed up for a protest rally last weekend at Confederation Park, and the dozens more who sat across from the park in their vehicles or rubbernecked as they drove by but didn’t bother stopping – well, they’ve had their say, too.
It’s easy to tell yourself now that the hoopla of Internet infamy has ended, that we can all go back to our peaceful, quiet lives, to pretending laws that restrict our rights are actually good for us, because other people are annoying and should be punished for it.
It’s only now, when the water has stopped frothing and turned once more to glass, that we can peer into the reflection and examine ourselves a little closer. The trembling anger and embarrassment has left our faces and now only questions remain.
Nobody likes to be pushed around. Nobody likes to be told what to do. And that grand, fierce streak of independence that marks us as southern Albertans to our core was never more visible than watching how some members of police and the mayor mishandled this entire bylaw issue from start to finish.
A little word of advice to council: the next time something like this comes up, when you accidentally pull the pin on a hand grenade and are freaking out because you don’t know how to get that pin back in again, don’t lob it at our police department and then bury your heads in the sand, waiting for the inevitable explosion to pass.
A simple act of contrition in the face of the firing squad, an easy “We have heard you, we’re going to go back and take another look at it…” would have killed this entire mess well before it began. The story would have been over.
Instead, council went into hiding, the Taber Police Department became the de facto public relations wing of the Town of Taber, and suddenly this town was the laughing stock of the entire Internet for the first half of March.
The world was watching Taber, and where were our elected officials? Why were we subjected to a police press conference, explaining the purpose of a bylaw they told us they were only going to enforce selectively, when we should have been hearing from those we voted into office in the first place?
More importantly, those who put that bylaw into the books, and then quietly stood by and allowed others to take the bullets for them?
You have to hand it to Mayor Henk De Vlieger. When the calls came, he answered the phone.
He put it out there, what he thought of these issues. And while we at The Times disagree with his message, that this is not a bylaw directed at Mennonites (it is), we are happy that at least one person stood up on council to speak about the issue.
But then His Worship made a claim on CBC’s The Current on March 13 that the bylaw had been vetted by lawyers and law enforcement previous to passing the bylaw, and that seems particularly disturbing.
“We did some consulting with lawyers and law enforcement, and we also looked at a lot of other communities that have, like, the same kind of bylaws in place,” he said.
So where are these lawyers His Worship claims to have consulted with?
We’ve since heard from a ton of other lawyers, and “so-called” legal experts, to drop a phrase coined by Inspector Graham Abela, about how this bylaw is not constitutional. We’ve yet to see the same stream of lawyers coming out in favour of the bylaw (aside from the one in the letter below).
Perhaps this has something to do with it. Metro (Calgary) had an interesting tidbit in their story on March 10 when they spoke to Ken Holst, Taber Municipal Police Commission chair:
“Holst said no lawyers were involved in the police commission’s review and they didn’t discuss whether aspects of the bylaw would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
We have two conflicting responses to the same question.
Who are we to believe here? Clearly both answers can’t be right, can they? Is it possible council consulted with lawyers while simultaneously not consulting with lawyers? The answer to that should be as bright and obvious as that billboard in front of the Legion Hall. But perhaps Police Chief Alf Rudd can shed a little light on the issue. On that same March 13 episode of The Current featuring His Worship, Rudd said this:
“As far as getting a legal review on it, that was an option, but because these sections had previously existed, and we had previous enforcement experience and prosecution experience in some of them, we, at least at this level, chose not to. And the council, as I understand it, didn’t opt for a legal review either.”
So which is it, Your Worship? Were the head of the police department and the head of the Municipal Police Commission wrong about seeking legal advice in regards to this bylaw before it was passed… or were you?