Sweeping bylaw in Alberta town outlaws public swearing and spitting

EDMONTON — Imagine a town where young teens aren’t allowed out at night, local law enforcement has the power to break up groups of three or more, and behaviour such as screaming, swearing and spitting in public are banned.

No, it’s not the plot from 80s teen flick Footloose, it’s an extensive bad behaviour bylaw introduced in the southern Alberta town of Taber.

“We did it for the best interest of our town, not to upset people, but to protect people,” said Henk De Vlieger, the Mayor of Taber.

The Community Standards Bylaw, passed last Thursday, includes a $75 fine for spitting in public. For yelling, screaming or swearing in a public place, you could face $150. The bylaw does not detail what words would be considered profanity, or which languages would apply.

However, officials say fines would be only be enforced in extreme circumstances.

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The bylaw bans teens under the age of 16 from being out in public between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, involved in an emergency, or “acting in the interests of an employer or voluntary organization or while directly returning home, without detour, as soon as reasonably practical, from an organized school or community event, which has been supervised by an adult.”

The bylaw also bans graffiti on all property – even your own.

“The consent of the property owner to place graffiti on the property shall not be a defence,” the bylaw states.

The fines for graffiti begin at $2,500 and escalate to $7,500 for a third or more offences.

Truckers are not exempt from the bylaw, which – under the Noise section (Part 5) – places a ban on the use of engine retarder brakes within municipal boundaries.

The bylaw was adopted by Taber town council late last month and was also reviewed by the police commission and Taber Police Service.

“The bylaw is actually a combination of existing bylaws,” said Ken Holst, the chair of the Taber Police Commission. “The majority of the new by law is bylaws that we already have. It was just packaging them together into a new easy to read bylaw.”

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However, many say the new community standards bylaw is unconstitutional.

“Towns do not have the authority to create criminal law,” said Lisa Lambert, a political scientist at the University of Calgary.

“It is silly, unnecessary, draconian, and will not stand the test in any Canadian courtroom,” added lawyer Michael Dietrich.

Taber is located about 250 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

Red Deer has a similar Community Standards Bylaw that bans spitting, swearing and urinating in public as well as bullying.

Saskatoon has had a public spitting bylaw since Oct. 2004. It also has a urinating and defecating bylaw that comes with a $200 fine.

Read the full bylaw below:

With files from The Canadian Press