Six months after the city introduced its street harassment bylaw, Calgary peace and police officers have handed out a total of 23 tickets, but the city’s top bylaw officer says enforcement alone won’t make the problem go away.
The regulation, which came into force on 1 June, goes far beyond hooliganism and sexual harassment to include any form of bigotry, such as racism, xenophobia or harassment for someone’s sexuality or gender.
Ryan Pleckaitis, head of the city’s community standards division, said 22 of the tickets — which carry a $500 fine — were written by police officers, and one was written by a peace officer.
He said the one ticket issued by the city was handed out in July.
“This was an individual who made sexually explicit comments to a young person,” he said.
Pleckaitis said that of all the tickets issued, 11 were withdrawn or destroyed. The remaining 12 have either received a guilty plea or are going through prosecution.
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“I think one of the important things we recognize when we passed this ordinance is that we’re not going to force our way out of this situation,” Pleckaitis said. “It’s important that we have this bylaw in place, and it’s important that it sends a message of what kind of behavior and actions we’re going to tolerate here in Calgary. But I think it has to be tackled a lot with education.”
Pleckaitis has given presentations at local high schools about the ordinance and why it is an important issue. He said the city budget approved last week includes funding for two community relations officers, and their role will also include education.
The city also launched an advertising campaign to remind citizens of the ordinance and the possible fine.
Bo Masterson, executive director of the Women’s Center of Calgary, said she was happy to hear the bylaw was being enforced.
“I’m just very happy to see that the city has clearly acted on this issue and they’ve listened to the community,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to see them take that action. And hopefully in the long run it will have more of that deterrent effect.”
Masterson said she knows Calgary is a community of caring people, and one of the things she’d like to see more advertised is what people can do to intervene if they see street harassment happening.
“Mmaybe that’s something that’s yet to come, but it’s important that people know that they too can disrupt street harassment when they feel safe enough to do so,” said Masterson.
She agrees with Pleckaitis that education will be more important than enforcement to address the problem.
Pleckaitis said anyone who receives a ticket has the choice of pleading guilty and paying the fine, or fighting the ticket in court.
“The burden is on us to prove that someone we allege committed the offense actually committed the offense. And the standard when we get to court is beyond reasonable doubt. So it’s a high standard.”
He said officers must gather enough evidence to meet the standard. This may include witness statements and cell phone recordings.