Canadian Civil Liberties Association urges council to reject back alley curfew

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has asked Prince Albert city council to vote against imposing a curfew between midnight and 6 a.m. on all back alleys.

The curfew bylaw is up for third and final reading on Friday, and CCLA Fundamental Freedoms Program director Cara Faith Zwibel worries the wording is too vague to effectively deter crime. She also believes it could be used to unjustly target homeless people in the community.

“It is a step towards the criminalization of poverty and empowers the police to engage in intrusive questioning of anyone deemed ‘suspicious,’” Zwibel wrote in a letter included in the meeting agenda package. “In particular, the long list of exceptions to the restriction on being in an alley during the ‘curfew’ implies that officers will be empowered to seek a significant amount of information from those who they believe may be violating the bylaw.

“We suspect that those outside your exceptions are not in an alley as a matter of choice, but simply as a result of having nowhere else to go. There is little point in trying to extract large fines from a population that is in no position to pay.”

Previous critics have also argued the bylaw will lead to increased racial profiling. Zwibel also echoed those sentiments, saying the City’s Indigenous population could also be unfairly targeted.

She also criticized the wording of the bylaw. Zwibel wrote that the preamble suggested there was a temporary need for new measures, but there was nothing in the bylaw to elaborate or explain why the curfew was necessary. She argued the bylaw also lacked a sunset clause or other mechanism to make sure the bylaw gets repealed when it’s no longer needed.

Sunset clauses are provisions that automatically terminate laws, statutes or regulations after reaching a certain date or goal.

“The language in the preamble of the bylaw suggests that the curfew measure is the result of a temporary need, but there is nothing in the bylaw that elaborates or explains what temporary situation has rendered the curfew necessary,” Zwibel wrote. “There is also no sunset clause or other mechanism to ensure the bylaw, if passed, is repealed when the need for it has subsided.”

Monday’s agenda also includes a presentation from at least one local resident who opposes the bylaw.

The back alley curfew bylaw was supposed to receive three readings on April 27. However, council passed just two readings in order to meet with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), who expressed concerns over its impact. The City has since committed to working proactively with the PAGC to resolve any concerns that arise, according to information included in the agenda package.

Bylaw supporters say the curfew will help lower crime in Prince Albert. Prince Albert saw an increase in violent crime and property crime in 2019, reaching levels typically seen in a city of 100,000, according to Prince Albert Police Chief Jon Bergen. In January, Bergen linked the rise in crime to “readily available” quantities of Methamphetamine and opioids.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski and Mayor Greg Dionne have been the bylaw’s most vocal supporters. Both say they’re confident the bylaw will fulfill its intended purpose.

“I’m not going to cover my eyes and ignore the problem of property crime,” Zurakowski said at the April 27 council meeting. “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.”

“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.,” Dionne said shortly afterwards. “If I’m that rude … I’ll be doing it long before you get to that back alley.”

Both the first and second readings passed by 7-2 votes. Couns. Charlene Miller and Terra Lennox-Zepp voted against. Both worried the bylaw would lead to increased racial profiling, while also failing to deter crime.

“This is going to be one more bylaw that we don’t enforce and cannot enforce,” Lennox-Zepp said in April. “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.”

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