Downtown Terrace. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)

Downtown Terrace. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)

Safe streets bylaw to come before council

City decides to focus on various anti-social behaviours

Council has agreed to a bylaw outlining how it expects citizens to act when out and about downtown.

Called the Safe Streets Bylaw, it’s intended to stop or at least dampen scenes of public disorder and incidents of harassment which have been on the increase, leading to complaints that the downtown area is unwelcoming and unsafe.

The wording of the bylaw in draft form was discussed by council at a May 31 committee of the whole and will, with minor adjustments, be presented to council at a future full official session so that it can be subject to the required three readings leading to eventual adoption.

Provisions will ban urination or defecation in public places, violent confrontations or struggles, abusive language and being intoxicated in public places.

And it will ban panhandling “in a manner that would cause obstruction by sitting or laying on a sidewalk in a manner which obstructs or impedes the convenient passage or pedestrian traffic.”

Panhandling can also not take place within five metres of an automated teller machine, and entrances to financial institutions, public washrooms bus stops or bus shelters, liquor stores and cannabis stores.

Smoking and vaping will also be banned within six metres of shelters or locations where people wait for public transit, or other transportation, and within the same distance of doorways.

City development services director David Block told council the bylaw was crafted after speaking to other communities who have similar ones, looking at provincial legislation and how it could be applied in a municipal by-law, and by passing the draft to local social services agencies and the RCMP for comment.

“Many respondents felt the bylaw disproportionately impacted those experiencing homelessness or living in poverty,” Block noted in a briefing note to council.

And many organizations doubted fines as provided for in the draft would be effective in stopping or curbing anti-social behaviours, a circumstance that was also the broad opinion of council members.

Block told council fines in the form of tickets would be the last resort with city bylaw officers and its community safety officer starting with education in the hopes voluntary compliance would follow.

And in responding to a question from councillor Dave Gordon, who noted that panhandling often takes place in the parking lots of the city’s two main malls, Block said the bylaw would have no effect because the malls are private property.

One provision in the version, that of setting a figure of $50,000 as a maximum fine, will be removed after council members felt it would have no realistic applicability. The first fine level of $100 was retained.

An earlier version, would have banned sleeping in vehicles was removed after comments from social services agencies as it did not recognize that sleeping in vehicles may be the result of the need for emergency housing.

Councillor James Cordeiro said if the bylaw is meant to provide a structure for behaviour it will also provide a structure and clarity for the city’s bylaw officers and its community safety officer as they will be able to compare behaviours against a specific set of rules.

“Ultimately my personal philosophy is that regardless of what your personal issues are, it doesn’t give you the ability to violate other peoples’ civil rights,” said Cordeiro. “There has to be some expectation as to what isn’t acceptable.”

Block told council the impending bylaw will also close any gaps that may have arisen from an existing bylaw, passed in 2009, to mainly govern behaviour in George Little Park and at the Terrace Public Library located within the park.

A complete record of how that bylaw has been enforced was not immediately available but Block did say a few individuals have been banned from the park since its inception.

There were some cautionary comments from council members.

Councillor Sean Bujtas felt the draft bylaw’s provisions weren’t targetting homeless or marginalized people.

“People have a right to feel safe in our community and I currently don’t think people do,” said Bujtas. “Now I don’t think putting in a safe streets bylaw is probably going to make people feel a lot safer in the community but it will give clarity to our bylaw officers for why they are telling people they can’t do certain things.”