Proposed bylaw would bring in fines for street harassment

After over a year of planning at city hall, a new bylaw could penalize street harassment.

It’s been a growing problem in the city, with women and racialized people, in particular, getting victimized.

First talked about in city council in 2020, the bylaw proposes a fine of $500 for harassing people based on race, gender, sexuality, or other identifiers.

As part of research, the city carried out a survey which shows about two-thirds of Calgarians think street harassment is a problem and a majority also think a bylaw would help.

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The survey shows people of Asian descent, as well as Indigenous people and other racialized populations, are far more likely to experience this abuse, and most people who wear religious dress agree the city needs to do more.

There is also a gap between communities, as Calgarians in the northeast are much more likely to say this abuse impacts their lives as opposed to those in the southwest and northwest quadrants.

“The proposed recommendations deter negative behaviour, help victims, and make it clear that street harassment will not be tolerated in Calgary,” reads a document that will be presented during a Community Development Committee meeting on Feb. 9.

The prospect of such a bylaw coming into effect is looking at with optimism from those who work with survivors of sexual abuse.

“We don’t want to necessarily go to enforcement, but when we don’t see behaviours change sometimes we have to look at different mechanisms to be able to ensure that people are safe,” said Pam Krause, President and CEO of the Centre for Sexuality.

Krause said this is a problem that has been going on for a long time, but also it seems to have gotten worse during the pandemic.

“It feels like [the pandemic] has really just emboldened some really negative behaviours out there, people saying things they maybe wouldn’t have a couple of years ago,” she said. “It’s just key that we’re just able to have people be able to do whatever it is they want to do.

“Take a bus, walk down the street at night, that should not be afforded only to certain people.”

The city acknowledged in the report there is a risk of legal challenges but they are prepared to defend it and add it shouldn’t infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Doug King, a justice professor at Mount Royal University, does think there may be some legal hurdles especially because there is a provision in the Criminal Code for more serious cases of harassment.

“We have to watch from a government perspective that you don’t try and regulate everything. That you don’t say from a city perspective, the Criminal Code is deficit in this area so we’re going to try and fill it with that,” he said.

King added that it may also prove difficult to prosecute these incidents without significant corroborating evidence like it being recorded.

Krause said this would only be one tool at the disposal in hopefully bringing down rates of harassment, and they do some work in this field already through the WiseGuyz program which involves teaching teenage boys about relationships and developing attitudes that deter harassment such as catcalling on the street.

She thinks in the long run we need to be more focused on prevention.

“The more we can kind of set those [boundaries] and teach people to have healthy and respectful relationships, that goes out throughout your life. You’ve got the skills, you’ve got the tools and then you know how to engage. So I think that’s the most important about dissipating this type of behaviour and someday hopefully ending it.”

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