By Greg Price
After the near half-hour presentation by the Taber Police Service in its information session on the town’s Community Standards Bylaw on Friday in the Dreaddy Room of the Taber police station, the crowd of nearly 50 people, minus the media, were allowed to ask questions.
The first inquiry in the crowd asked on a day-to-day basis how the bylaw will be reported.
“Will neighbours be reporting on neighbours for swearing?”
Taber Police Service Inspector Graham Abela answered he does not expect to see any increased call to service or see neighbour against neighbour reporting each other for swearing.
“What we will see is status quo, historically the same bylaw occurrences over the years. Our police officers are trained in problem solving, critical thinking, and they are trained in how to de-escalate in conflict management and they will do their best to continue to do that,” said Abela. “Past behaviour is indicative of future behaviour. It’s the same 14 people in their uniforms as two weeks ago that enforce bylaws as it is now.”
The same woman inquired if it was a consideration by the police who helped draft the bylaw, that the fine revenue would go to the town.
“No, there is a movement within Alberta Justice to move quasi-criminal sanctions out of the criminal justice system. I can tell you I have attended meetings recently in which senior justice officials have told me they would like to remove all traffic offences from provincial statutes and make them administrative which means you get a bylaw notice and either pay the ticket at a reduced cost or you go to an ombudsman that will deal with that ticket. No more judges and no more lawyers,” replied Abela.
Another community member asked Abela if he thought the new bylaw was necessary for the police force, or was there other means through the Criminal Code and traffic code to deal with the issues in question.
“What we believe is the more tools you have in your tool box, the better you can help the community. The Criminal Code is a hammer, it has very little leeway in relation to flexibility as to what we can do and can’t do,” said Abela. “It also brings about sanctions that bring about criminal records. Not all of them, there are absolute conditional discharges, but most of the convictions you receive in the Criminal Code result in a conviction. I would put it to you that the bylaw is meant to deal with the issues that occur just below that and we didn’t have a tool for that before.”
The same man wondered why something as important as the Community Standards Bylaw was not discussed like a plebiscite or a chance for the public to give input.
“The bylaw went through a first, second and third reading. The first reading is usually not very public because you don’t know it’s happening yet, so it comes out of first reading. At second reading, there is debate with regards to the law and at third reading there is debate before a vote is held,” said Abela. “In each of those occasions, the local media, or defence bar has the responsibility to inform or make decisions in relation to those readings of those bylaws.” (Editor’s note: The Taber Times reported the first reading and its debate of the Community Standards Bylaw in its Feb. 4 issue, and third reading and debate in its March 4 issue with an accompanying editorial). I give them (Taber Times) credit for that. However, there was no one else, no one came to council and took intervenor status or made an application to council to say this was going to be a problem. This is a common practice in municipal government throughout the province. This was sensationalized, this was a social media frenzy and it was perpetuated by a few who had self interest and I am very, very sad to hear that happened. If those energies would have been focused in such a way to proactively come to the lawmakers, or to proactively speak face to face who make those decisions, those are all in my view, reasonable individuals who would have listened.”
Two members of the public noted they were in favour of the bylaw with one noting they had a curfew when they were young.
“I agree this was blown way out of proportion. I think it’s a learning curve for all of us, it’s not for you or for me, it’s for a better community.”
A man standing in the back of the room had just returned from Chicago, stating he watched Taber’s Community Standards Bylaw controversy on several news channels.
“I was very frustrated, I was very embarrassed that we actually had to hear that. I was disappointed with what I heard and saw, seeing our downtown with people giving their opinion. I don’t think we did a very good job of getting it out (awareness).”
Further questions included asking the police if the large groups of people the assembly provisions were meant for were consulted before the bylaw was drafted.
Taber Police Service Chief Alf Rudd answered the question, stating there is a ministerial committee from the Mennonite community that the police service sits on.
“There is no secret that Taber is a settlement area for this group coming from Mexico. And we know within the culture and the tradition there are gatherings that take place,” said Rudd. “When we were doing an administrative review to modernize our bylaws and be responsible in managing them, we realized we would be going forward with sections like that to council and asking council to pass them into law. In that process we met with the ministerial group and presented that as a topic.”
“We (also) took it to the Southern Alberta Kanadier Association and asked for feedback. This went on months before to get that feedback from them to see what they think. Do you feel this particular section on assembly may be impacting you in an unfair way and that the feedback we got was no. They don’t see it that way, they just see that as a way of addressing behaviour issues and matters of common decency, that is how it was interpreted. For someone to say it is targeting a particular group, that’s just polarizing the issue and is very unfair.”