On the agenda for next Wednesday's Transportation Committee meeting, Councillor Georges Bédard will be presenting a motion that would make it illegal, while on a City street, to:
engage in loud, boisterous, threatening, abusive, insulting or indecent language, or engage in any disorderly conduct or behaviouror to:
engage in any activity so as to interfere with or become a nuisance to the general public using the highway or to adjacent property owners.Pretty broad-reaching stuff, and at Transportation committee no less.
According to the Sun article, Bédard got the idea from the Police, who wanted a way to deal with rowdy folks spilling out of bars and clubs after closing time in the Byward Market. That is, a way that didn't involve all the mess and paperwork of criminal charges.
The thing is, that's not the only thing this law does. It allows police and by-law officers to charge you for a wide range of vague activities, phrased in a list that allows officers to pick and choose what they want to enforce: "insulting language," "indecent language" are both on the menu, as are "any disorderly conduct" and "any disorderly behaviour" (presumably so officers can avoid boredom while writing tickets by alternating between the two terms).
In the Sun column by Earl McRae, barfly Art Cormier points out the absurdity of these powers:
"who the hell is going to decide what’s loud and boisterous or insulting? Will some cop show up with a meter in his hand —oh, oh, you’re over the line. Loud, boisterous, and insulting. Like, gimme a break."And if that broad mandate doesn't scream "police state" to you, Byward Market BIA Executive Director Jasna Jennings cements it with that famous line:
"If you behave, you have nothing to worry about."Sorry Jasna. If I get hit by a car, I'm not the one who should be getting a ticket because I called the driver a motherfucker—especially not on top of the one I'd get for being a pedestrian.
And despite Bédard's stated intentions, this law could also be used against his other nuisance, panhandlers and homeless people. And never mind that silly bylaw requiring protests to be across the street—this law will get protesters off the street altogether!
We already have a noise by-law that works pretty well against late-night boisterousness, plus the existing criminal charges that the police don't seem intent on enforcing.
I won't go into the constitutionality of such a law, because it's such a patently obvious violation of free speech that even Bob Monette should be able to realize it. If this motion passes Transportation Committee (and I highly doubt it will), the City's top lawyer will probably talk Council out of approving it like he did with the attempted ban on Atheist bus ads.
I've already sent an e-mail to Committee members expressing my disapproval of such a regulation, and I managed to restrain myself from using words that would earn me a visit from the green hornets.
As a member of the Committee, Georges Bédard has the right to present this motion. But in this case, it would be wiser for him to exercise his right to withdraw it.