Finer points of the law

City-proposed bylaw would introduce fines for public nuisance acts

Under the proposed public nuisance bylaw, people could be fined for knocking over garbage cans and trampling on flowers.
Under the proposed public nuisance bylaw, people could be fined for knocking over garbage cans and trampling on flowers.

Mind your manners, or it’ll cost you.

If Kingston’s proposed public nuisance bylaw passes in September, anyone caught kicking over garbage or urinating in public could face a fine.

City councillor Mark Gerretsen, who introduced the legislation, said lawbreakers caught by police would be fined instead of charged.

“The intent of the bylaw is to allow the police to issue tickets rather than charge or arrest people the way they normally would,” he said. “[Arresting people] is very time consuming and costs a lot of time and resources.” There’s no need to run an educational campaign about the new bylaw, Gerretsen said.

Being a public nuisance is self-explanatory and most of the prohibited acts are already named in other city bylaws, he said.

Normally, the city would run advertisements to educate residents during the first few weeks of a new bylaw coming into effect. In this grace period, fines are rarely handed out.

Gerretsen said the legislation isn’t targeted at university or college students despite the timing of when it would come into effect.

“The law has nothing to do with students,” he said. “The design of the bylaw is for anyone committing a public nuisance act.”

Sociology professor Vince Sacco, a Kingston resident, said he thinks the city is being disingenuous in its claim that the bylaw doesn’t target students.

“They’re taking great pains to stress that the law isn’t about students,” he said. “What other neighbourhoods would they be concerned about?”

Sacco said many of the activities banned under the bylaw are already prohibited in other city legislation.

“It seems like the purpose of this is like shouting on a megaphone,” he said. “The rhetoric surrounding [the bylaw] sounded kind of angry to me and more to do with the street party that may or may not take place in October.”

After years of illegal street parties that attract approximately 5,000 people each year to Aberdeen St. during Homecoming weekend, Principal Tom Williams announced in November Homecoming would be cancelled in 2009-10 and 2010-11 to deal with the escalating problem of the street party.

If curbing the Aberdeen party is the intent of the bylaw, it’s a short-sighted solution, Sacco said.

“Laws don’t make problems go away,” he said. “The city government is attempting to stand tall against these threats at some symbolic level but I doubt it will have any effect.”

Daniel Sloan, ArtSci ’09, said he doesn’t think a new bylaw is necessary to define what it means to be a nuisance.

“Most of these bylaws are already things that my mom told me not to do when I was growing up,” he said. “They’re common courtesy … and common courtesy is just society’s accepted standards of a good human being.”

Sloan said he thinks most people will break a bylaw at least once in their lifetimes and they shouldn’t be punished criminally for doing so.

“Criminal sanctions hinder job opportunities,” he said. “Having a life ruined for spitting on a sidewalk is not justice.”

Since students aren’t being properly informed about the new bylaw, some students may experience a heavy blow to their pocket if they’re caught breaking it, he said.

“It’s not fair that new and returning students will not be granted the benefit of the doubt,” he said, adding that he thinks the city is trying to cheat students out of their money.

“These fines could potentially be a good source of income for the city.”

Meg McKever, ArtSci ’10, said she’s in favour of the proposed bylaw because it doesn’t carry a criminal charge.

“I’m pretty sure Queen’s students would feel much better paying something akin to a parking ticket over spending a night in jail,” she said. “[Tickets] don’t show on your record and don’t get back to the school in any way so it bears little impact on the school’s reputation.”

McKever, a Kingston native, said she doesn’t think police officers will target students with the bylaw.

“They’re not asking for the world here, and the average student will not be persecuted for minor crimes,” she said, adding that, although police likely won’t enforce the bylaw for every offense, it’s advantageous for them to have that option.

McKever said she thinks students should respect the community regardless of which bylaws exist for public behaviour.

“We’re a large majority of the shit disturbers and it’s time we owned up to it.”

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