Taber town council has chosen to break one of its promises to the people of Taber — and in this case — to the surrounding province, country and even the international community, reversing course on a review of its controversial Community Standards Bylaw by a razor-thin 4-3 margin.
In early 2015, town council passed a bylaw — including provisions outlawing spitting, swearing, assemblies of more than three persons, or even yelling — which infuriated passions on both sides of the issue, became a viral phenomenon on social media and online, and for a brief period of time made the community an international laughing stock to millions straddling the globe.
Comments made by town councillors at the Oct. 26 regular meeting, including the suggestion that “no complaints” have been registered about the bylaw, is a laughable assertion to say the least. While the argument could be made that no complaints have been registered in the six months subsequent to the bylaw’s passing, how anyone could argue with a straight face the international furor that accompanied its original implementation was not an objection by the public should baffle even the stoutest believers in the integrity of the political process.
No numbers on the progress of the bylaw were available at the Oct. 26 meeting, and a request to the Taber Police Service (TPS) for those numbers only turned up a vague account about how the bylaw has been effective for law enforcement, rather than any concrete data. While attempts to massage the numbers might be considered bad enough, some blame must be laid at the doorstep of town administration for not having this information readily available for council’s review — it hardly required the advice of a statistician to determine that information could have been vital in the consideration of council’s ultimate decision.
Back in March, the TPS was virtually the only organization — excluding Mayor Henk DeVlieger — attempting to defend the bylaw publicly, through a “community information session.” The police service now appears to have amended that course of action, backing away from commenting on council’s decision not to review the bylaw. This of course opens the service up to the criticism it was perfectly willing to defend the merits of the bylaw, but is now reluctant to comment on a decision that could have had negative implications for their position.
In making the decision it did, town council completely dismissed what in retrospect was the easiest decision it could have made. Showing an intractable indifference to the concerns of the public, four councillors — Strojwas, Sparks, Brewin and Popadynetz — have chosen to make bad legislation even worse by refusing to review it.
A review at least shows the public that its elected representatives care about their concerns, and a review is simply that — council would be under no obligation to implement the recommendations that might be made to it. Instead, they’ve chosen the path of most resistance, and from a public relations perspective, the disastrous choice of continuing to dig in their heels and declaring to the world that we know better than you do.
Credit where credit is due must be afforded the three members of council who voted in favour of a review of the bylaw, namely Councillors Ross-Giroux, Prokop and Mayor DeVlieger, who appeared willing to at least acknowledge the concerns of the public.
While their personal motivations remain a mystery to everyone but themselves, and their public positions betraying only weak platitudes about hearing no complaint, we suspect the opposition by a faction of town council has a more insidious motive — an attempt to save face due to a mixture of personal embarrassment, petty anger towards the media and indignance about the level of scrutiny the bylaw was subjected to by the public and legal experts from across the nation. While these qualities might be understandable among ordinary citizens, they are rarely viewed as acceptable character traits in our elected officials, who are rightly to be held to a higher standard.
Unfortunately more often than not, many politicians need to be reminded they represent the people who oppose their decisions just as much as those agree with them. In this case, we appear to have a cabal of town councillors who choose not to ascribe to that maxim. Which in itself can lead to poor results from our elected officials — when individuals become convinced of their own righteousness the first casualty is most often the effective disenfranchisement of those who oppose their viewpoints, with predictably negative consequences.
It should be noted The Taber Times never outrightly opposed the Community Standards Bylaw in theory, but objected to inclusions under the bylaw which from day one have begged for further scrutiny and review.
Creating another tool for law enforcement to maintain the peace of the community, within certain bounds, is an admirable goal. It just has to stand the test of legal scrutiny to be an effective tool for law enforcement, otherwise there is little incentive for police to enforce the Community Standards Bylaw through actual issued tickets. Why bother trying to enforce something that you know is fundamentally flawed?
When municipal bodies choose to take it upon themselves to trample upon the rights of citizens afforded them by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution, that’s where we draw the line and will continue to wave a defiant flag of opposition in the face of the apparent indifference of our elected officials.