(Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

City council was wise to back off its insane bullying bylaw

Bureaucrats often love to create solutions in search of problems.

The City of Whitehorse, it seems, is no different, choosing to waste council’s time floating an unenforceable mess of a proposed bylaw that would ostensibly ban bullying in city facilities.

What it would do is create the possibility for the city to punish dissent, promote racial profiling and generally give the city the power to crack down on legal behaviour it finds distasteful.

Given the hostility on the part of some city staffers to even basic transparency or criticism, the so-called community standards bylaw is an unenforceable, low-key dystopian mess waiting to happen.

Harrassing and threatening people is already illegal. Spitting, swearing, littering and other such behaviours are already forbidden at places like the Canada Games Centre. All this is fine, as far as it goes.

Nobody disputes that such behaviour is out of bounds. Nobody disputes that frontline city workers, bus drivers, for example, need protection from violent or disruptive behaviour.

But again, existing statutes cover this kind of thing. The proposed bylaw included some incredibly vague language. It defined bullying in part as “repeated behaviour” that “is intended to cause, or should have been known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation,” or “is intended to create, or should have been known to create, a negative environment for another person.”

As worded, behaviour that a court ruled to not be criminal could still be punished if it continued.

The city would even give itself the power to seize property (with a court warrant) upon reasonable grounds that a bullying offense occurred and hold that property until the matter is resolved.

The bylaw also lays out fines up to $10,000.

What the city proposed was giving itself the power to punish rudeness by taking your stuff and fining you up to 10 grand, even if a court finds you haven’t broken any laws. This is wildly inappropriate expansion of state power that could easily, in the wrong hands, be wielded like a cudgel against critics, homeless people and people with mental health problems.

The bylaw was so full of holes that the Yukon Human Rights Commission took the unusual step of speaking out against it. Commission chair Russell Knutson told the Canadian Press the provision that would allow peace officers to demand identification could turn into random checks that amount to the practice of carding, which disproportionately falls on visible minorities pretty much everywhere it’s used.

“The likelihood that (Indigenous people) will be the primary target is very high, so in that sense, the carding or the racial profiling would probably develop just by sheer numbers,” he said.

Mayor Dan Curtis this week told the CBC the commission’s complaints were “a bit of a surprise.”

But it’s not like there weren’t warning bells going off. The city’s own consultation on the matter, published May 28, found that some community groups, specifically Bringing Youth Towards Equality (B.Y.T.E.) and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition were concerned that the bylaw would unfairly target people who were themselves victims.

In short, the community standards bylaw would give the city powers it should not have and cannot be trusted with. It’s an unenforceable mess that would only lead the city into a morass of unwinnable court challenges. Council was right to reject it as written. They should encourage city staff to drop the matter entirely.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com

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