A bylaw to restrict access to Prince Albert back alleys between midnight and 6 a.m. passed first and second reading on Monday.
Council declined to vote on a third reading, and will instead discuss the bylaw with the Prince Albert Grand Council, who requested a meeting in a statement issued on April 24.
Opponents say the bylaw will fail to reduce theft, vandalism and property crime, while leading to an increase in racial profiling. However, Mayor Greg Dionne remains adamant that the bylaw is a necessary tool that will help police protect Prince Albert residents. He said the delay is simply a show of respect for the PAGC.
“We have a group in our community that has brought some questions forward,” Dionne said. “Out of respect we gave it two readings, and we’ll meet with them over the next week to see if we can come to a mutual solution and finish reading off the bylaw.”
Dionne said they took it for granted the PAGC would support the back alley bylaw since they’ve supported similar restrictions on parks and public walkways. On Monday, he said they city may have moved too quickly, but they were committed to involving PAGC leaders in the process.
“They did give us a very good letter of support on the walkways,” Dionne said. “We just took that as an assumption (of further support) and maybe we shouldn’t have.”
Bylaw opponents say they’re worried about structural racism in the community, which could lead police to unjustly target people of colour, specifically Indigenous young men. However, Dionne said they have no plans to invite Prince Albert Police Service representatives to the meeting with the PAGC.
Bylaw supporters have consistently defended the Prince Albert Police Service during the past few meetings, and Monday night was no exception. Dionne said the City works “24-hours a day” to reduce racism, and he’s proud of the role PA police play in stopping it.
“We talk a lot about carding. Let me assure you, if I’m a policeman and I want to do carding, I don’t need a bylaw for the back alleys in P.A. If I’m that rude … I’ll be doing it long before you get to that back alley,” he said during the meeting. “Our force is very open-minded to what this could bring, and they have all precautions in there. If people think their rights are being abused, there’s all kinds of agencies that we’ve now put in place where people can complain…. We do make our officers accountable.”
Monday’s debate lasted more than an hour as council members made their case for supporting or rejecting the motion.
Most councillors admitted it was not a complete solution to Prince Albert’s back alley crime problem, but felt it was an important step to keeping residents safe.
“I won’t be drawn into a hypothetical or theoretical debate between lawyers, because I’m in this room today as a resident and a city councillor,” said Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski, who originally proposed creating a back alley curfew. “I leave my day job at home. In this room, we should all be city councillors and it’s that approach I’m taking here. I’m not going to cover my eyes and ignore the problem of property crime…. This proposed bylaw, it isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not. It’s one piece of the puzzle, and I’m completely comfortable moving forward.”
“If this makes things a little more uncomfortable for (criminals) to commit crime, we win,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards added. “Will this stop crime? No, but it’s a tool that will help… I have consulted with many Indigenous leaders and Métis leaders who support this bylaw because it is for the added protection of all people. That’s the important part.”
Couns. Dennis Ogrodnick, Evert Botha and Don Cody also spoke in favour of the bylaw. All three said their constituents supported it, with Cody even reading a letter of support from the sister of a 61-year-old man who was assaulted and killed in a back alley on March 15.
Couns. Charlene Miller and Terra Lennox-Zepp have been the only two councilors to oppose the bylaw from the beginning, and they continued do so on Monday.
Lennox-Zepp reiterated her concerns that the bylaw could easily lead to racial profiling. She also argued there was no evidence it would cut down on property crime, and said the police service may not have enough officers to enforce it properly anyway.
“This is going to be one more bylaw that we don’t enforce and cannot enforce,” she said during the meeting. “The people who are intent on performing crimes do not follow bylaws anyway. They’re already breaking the law. Those individuals will still be in back alleys. There will be no reduction in crime.”
The bylaw is scheduled for third reading sometime in the next month.