Walkway curfew bylaw passes third reading at Monday meeting

After months of debate, a new bylaw establishing a curfew on city walkways has passed its third and final reading.

Council spent more than 30 minutes debating the matter at Monday’s council meeting before voting in favour of it by a 7-2 margin. Couns. Terra Lennox-Zepp and Charlene Miller were the two dissenting votes.

The new bylaw means public walkways will be treated like public parks, which already have a curfew placed on them. Residents will not be allowed to use public walkways between midnight and 6 a.m. They face fines of up to $5,000 if found on a walkway outside these hours.

The early parts of Monday’s discussion focused on whether to include the newly completed Rotary Trail in the ban. A delegation opposed to placing a curfew on Rotary Trail made a presentation at the last council meeting on Feb. 10.  On Monday, council agreed to their request, and excluded Rotary Trail from the curfew.

“It was never our intent to include the Rotary Trail,” Mayor Greg Dionne said in an interview afterwards. “We’re going to have to look at it. There is a little issue where you go through parks, but again, like I said, if I ride my bike home in the summer time and I go down the trail (and) it goes through a park, I’m not going to go around the park because I’m lawfully still on the trail going home.”

Other councillors echoed that sentiment. Coun. Don Cody, who lives along the Rotary Trail, said it sees a lot of activity in the summer when Prince Albert receives a lot of sunlight. He argued council would be a ridiculed across Canada if it restricted people from using the trail before 6 a.m.

“If you get up at 5 a.m., there’s people out there,” Cody said during the meeting. “We’ve got long periods of sunshine, long periods of daylight, and short periods of night in the summer, and we’re going to say to people they can’t use the Rotary Trail? There’s something wrong with that. If this council does not allow for an exemption of the Rotary Trail, we will be the laughing stock of the country.”

SUBHEADLINE: Council continues heated debate over whether curfew bylaw will lead to racial profiling

The second half of Monday’s debate focused on racial profiling, a common concern that’s been hotly debated at previous meetings. Lennox-Zepp has been the curfew’s most vocal opponent, and she reiterated those concerns on Monday.

“Who is going to be considered suspicious enough to call the police? This bylaw can contribute to racism in our city, just like we hear about all over Canada when you hear the news articles about carding,” she said. “It’s very analogous to that. When we create bylaws and laws in a place, sometimes the intention is not to have any racism whatsoever. It’s the way it rolls out, and not just enforcement either. Sometimes it’s just the way our society uses laws … and that is a major concern.”

Lennox-Zepp also worried police wouldn’t have enough resources to answer all the complaints, citing a section from the report presented to council last year. In that report, city administrators said interviews with police showed there may not be enough officers to implement the bylaw.

Major Greg Dionne rejected any claims of racism both during and after meeting. He said Prince Albert has a professional police service, and argued the issue was overblown.

“It’s one councillor that continues to bring up negative points on that item, and I don’t appreciate it,” Dionne said when asked about Lennox-Zepp’s concerns following the meeting. “It has nothing to do with the r-word (racism). It’s nothing about that.”

Dionne said he hasn’t heard any complaints from the Prince Albert Grand Council about the proposed bylaw. When contacted by the Prince Albert Daily Herald, a PAGC representative said they were aware of the bylaw, but didn’t realize it had been passed. The representative declined to comment, but promised a response from Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte later in the week.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski was responsible for kick-starting the curfew bylaw debate last year. In past meetings, he’s argued there is no evidence the bylaw would lead to racial profiling. He also argued it’s unfair to assume Prince Albert police would implement the bylaw in a racist manner.

“Back alleys and walkways area conduit to petty crime in our city, perhaps unlike any city in the province,” Zurakowski said during a September 2019 city council meeting. “We need to deal with that problem and not run away from it by speaking about unreasonable fears, by speaking about red-herrings, the ifs and the what-abouts.”

Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen has welcomed discussion about the new bylaw. In a press conference last September Bergen said he didn’t believe the bylaw would drain police resources if the majority of the community followed it.

Prince Albert has more than 30 public walkways which will be affected by the curfew. Administration estimates that creating signs informing residents about the curfew will cost around $150,000. Those costs have been forwarded to the next budget meeting.

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