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Vagueness in bylaw will lead to problems

Posted on March 4, 2015 by Taber Times

Community Standards Bylaw 4-2015 was passed late last month, but not without some dissent.

Dissent that still needs to be considered as the bylaw is implemented, given its very broad strokes of enforcement due to the vagueness or lack of any defined standards at all.

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 as mentioned on the front page of this week’s Taber Times.

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.

For such offences as placing graffiti on property, one could be facing a hefty $2,500 fine. Given the offence is usually perpetrated by youth, will alternative measures be offered to pay off the fine? If not, is the perpetrator being punished or the parents of the perpetrator who will likely be paying a fine? What of fighting in a pubic place fine of $250 and one of the people involved in the fight was simply defending themselves?

For a council that was worried about becoming a Nanny State with striking down something as simple as a helmet requirement due to safety concerns in public skating, the Community Standards bylaw can certainly be seen by some as having a Mary Poppinsesque feel to it as police officers and bylaw officers patrol the streets of Taber looking to slap peoples’ hands if they are spitting ($75 fine), swearing ($150 fine) or hanging around one place too long ($250 fine for loitering).

A number of councillors have gone on record as the bylaw was being discussed, noting that officers will be able to use discretion and good judgement in the bylaw’s enforcement. But with how broad the interpretations are in some parts of the bylaw, whether warranted or not, an officer’s professionalism could come into question if only particular groups or individuals are targeted with the bylaw.

Given numerous infractions listed in Schedule ‘A’ of Bylaw 4-2015 already fall under sections of the Criminal Code, an interpretation can be made that the bylaw is another way to increase fine revenue, much like photo radar is considered a ‘cash cow’ by some.

You certainly cannot fault the Taber Police Service and Taber Municipal Police Commission for looking for extra avenues in dealing with complaints over people being harassed walking through large gatherings, people disturbing the peace with loud parties at 3 a.m., or keeping kids in their homes well past curfew.

But given the extremely wide strokes in the interpretation of the bylaw, one would be naive to think there will not be some bumps in the road in its implementation with some avenues bordering on taking away rights afforded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Councillor Joe Strojwas may have been the lone dissenting voice in the eventual passing of the bylaw, that does not mean his concerns are any less valid.

Overtones made by Mayor Henk De Vlieger suggest the bylaw will be given a test run in its first year to have the kinks worked out with perhaps amendments made at a future date.

This is one bylaw that will almost certainly see some changes in tightening up some of its law enforcement parametres.

One response to “Vagueness in bylaw will lead to problems”

  1. danchicoine says:

    i agree with some of the bylaws where it comes to graffiti and the curfew for minors but some of your bylaws conflict with my freedom of rights as a Canadian and would be thrown out of a court of law. you have a 75 dollar fine for spitting on someone that is assault and swearing is not a crime if it came down to a fine for that i would have my day in court i would hope the first person charged with that has there day in court have a good day.

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