By Trevor Busch
Town of Taber council will be reviewing its controversial Community Standards Bylaw, which focused international attention on the community in early 2015.
That was the word from Mayor Henk DeVlieger at town council’s July 20 meeting, in which a series of letters from Grade 9 and 10 students at Lomond Community School were reviewed by council. The letters highlighted many of the issues, both positive and negative, surrounding the bylaw.
“This fall we’ll probably revisit the bylaw to see how it’s going,” said Mayor DeVlieger. “That’s been in the newspaper before. It’s not that we’re ignoring the public, we’re giving it a chance, and we’ll revisit it in the fall.”
Since its passing, the bylaw inflamed a passionate response from Canadians on both sides of the issue from across the country, including provincial, national, and international media, as well as lighting up the online world through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Objections centered primarily on articles prohibiting an assembly of more than three persons under certain circumstances, as well as yelling, screaming or swearing in a public place. At the time, legal and constitutional experts roundly attacked both articles as clear violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A series of eight letters were submitted to town council by Lomond Community School students Daniel Larson, Andrea Aquino, Alexa Sheridan, Jude Colot, Johnny Klassen, Kortney Dyck, Dakota Koch, and Brayden Stokes.
While the letters prompted a largely positive discussion by council on the progress of the Community Standards Bylaw, Coun. Rick Popadynetz took the opportunity to launch an attack against the local media.
“I was able to read all the letters, and was very impressed with how well edited the letters were. Unlike The Taber Times, it promoted the community very well.”
According to administration, “this is likely a class project although that is not entirely clear. In any event, it seems appropriate to recognize the interest of these students in the town’s bylaw, and the moral and legal issues it raises.”
“Personally, I thought this was really interesting,” said CAO Greg Birch. “There’s no official letter from Lomond school, but if you read these letters, it’s apparent it was a Grade 9-10 project to look at our Community Standards Bylaw, and to comment on it. There’s a series of letters here that are both for and against the bylaw. In a civil society, this was a really interesting exercise.”
In the letters, largely in support of the Community Standards Bylaw, some students applauded the Town of Taber for “a great solution to rowdy teens and bad citizens” (David Larson), or “Citizens of Taber won’t be scared to go outside and hang out with their family because of this bylaw. This bylaw protects people from being harassed and bullied” (Andrea Aquino); and “I’m sure the victims are fed up with rowdies and miscreants” (Jude Colot).
Others nominally supported the bylaw, but offered advice on how it might be improved in future, such as allowing for larger gatherings “I think you should have a limit of at least six people in a group” (Johnny Klassen), or making reference to inclusions that have been criticized for allegedly targeting a specific ethnic group “Many people that live in Taber describe Mennonites to be rude and destructive” (Kortney Dyck).
Taber town council passed Community Standards Bylaw 4-2015 in late February by a 6-1 margin. The only dissenting vote was cast by Coun. Joe Strojwas, who at the time objected to the vagueness of certain articles in the bylaw, as well as other inclusions which could be more properly enforced under the Criminal Code of Canada. Curiously, Strojwas now appeared to be in support of the bylaw.
“Obviously, you have to give the Grade 9 mentality up there in Lomond a lot of credit, because for the most part it’s all positive about what we’ve accomplished here. You have to hand it to them, anyway — good for them.”
Another student offered support for the bylaw on the grounds that it was already having a positive impact on problem behaviours in the community:
“Ever since you made the bylaw, it has really helped the community to not do bad stuff and some people don’t like the bylaw but I do because it helps people not to do anything bad to other people, like fighting or swearing at people” (Dakota Koch).
At least one student believes adults need a firm corrective hand just as much as youths: “This bylaw is keeping the citizens of Taber safe on the streets, from ignorant teens to ignorant adults” (Brayden Stokes).
“It’s very nice to have individuals comment on the Community Standards Bylaw without cussing and swearing about it, and calling people names and things like that,” said Coun. Randy Sparks. “It was a refreshing read, because they did it in a civil manner. And that’s how any issue should be handled, is in a civil manner. You may disagree, but you can do it in a civil manner without going over the top.”
Only one of the eight students, Alexa Sheridan, was outrightly opposed to the bylaw, characterizing it as a “unambiguous violation of an extensive list of Charter and human rights” and criticizing the inclusion targeting assemblies of more than three persons “If a peace officer had a bad past experience with a certain someone and decided he had reasonable grounds to believe that group would disturb the peace, that would not be fair for anyone”. Sheridan also attacked the alleged impetus for the bylaw “Based on the examples of why this bylaw was put in place, it seems to be indirectly targeting Mennonites. Most of the effort goes into watching and making sure Mennonites live up to perfect expectations, meanwhile non-Mennonites are no better but nobody recognizes those problems”. Sheridan went on to comment about the negativity surrounding much of the publicity “The Community Standards Bylaw is giving Taber a bad name by making Taber look like a horrible town filled with rude teens”.
Historically, attempts to legislate some behaviours or morality in Canada have often been met with failure, such as various inclusions in the Criminal Code of Canada governing sexual acts that were famously removed under Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s watch as federal justice minister in the late 1960s.
Similarly, the prohibition of alcohol in Canada is perhaps the most familiar example of morality-based legislation that later proved to be an abject failure, while changing attitudes and opinions today about the current prohibition of marijuana is leading to successful legalization efforts in various U.S. states, as well as a rising political awareness among Canadian legislators.
At their July 20 meeting, town council voted unanimously to request Mayor Henk De Vlieger compose a letter to the Lomond Community School Grade 9 and 10 classes, thanking students for their submissions regarding the town’s Community Standards Bylaw.