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'Embarrassing' new bylaw in Taber, Alberta outlaws swearing, restricts public assembly

With a sweeping new bylaw, the southern Alberta town of Taber has outlawed swearing in public, instituted a nightly curfew on kids and teenagers, and granted local law enforcement the power to break up any assemblies of three or more people.

The new “Community Standards Bylaw” is clearly unconstitutional, said Lisa Lambert, a PhD candidate and instructor in political science at the University of Calgary, who lives in Coaldale, about 35 kilometres west of Taber.

“Little towns get bad names because of this kind of nonsense,” Lambert said. “This is so embarrassing.”

The way the bylaw is worded, even whispering a curse word in public could land you a $150 fine, Lambert noted, while events like bake sales and car washes could be caught up under the “panhandling” definition.

There’s “just no way” it would stand up to a Charter challenge, she added.

Taber chief administrative officer Greg Birch said the bylaw was drafted in part by the Taber Police Service “to provide for better and more consistent oversight, bylaw enforcement and policing of various matters,” according to town council minutes.

Neither the Taber mayor, nor the police commission chairman, nor the lone town councillor to vote against the bylaw (which passed by a 6-1 margin) replied to interview requests Monday.

Mayor Henk De Vlieger offered tentative support for the bylaw, according to the local newspaper.

“I’m not saying this thing is perfect, but I think we should give it a chance and try it out, and let the police work with it,” he was quoted as saying in the Taber Times. “After a period of time, we might make some adjustments, but let’s see how it works.”

Coun. Joe Strojwas was the lone voice of dissent on Taber council, according to the newspaper, raising concerns over several aspects, including the fines for graffiti that begin at $2,500 and escalate to $7,500 for a third offence.

“Generally, graffiti is done by 12 or 13 year old kids,” Strojwas was quoted as saying. “Do I gather if they get caught doing that they get a $2,500 fine? Do their parents have to pay that?”

The bylaw defines a daily “curfew period” between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. during which time anyone under the age of 16 is prohibited from being in a public place unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Exceptions to the curfew are made for minors who are “involved in an emergency” or travelling in a motor vehicle “from one point to another without any detour” or “acting in the interests of an employer or voluntary organization.”

Adults are also prohibited from assembling in a public place in a group of three or more where a peace officer “has reasonable grounds to believe the assembly will disturb the peace of the neighborhood,” according to the section of the bylaw that deals with “Assembly of Persons.”

Taber is a town of 8,000 people located about 250 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

The full text of the bylaw:

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