Edmonton looks at harassment bylaw targeting hate, fines start at $250

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Harassers targeting Edmontonians with hate in public could soon be hit with financial consequences.

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City councillors will be looking at adding harassment based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation, among other identifiers, to punishable behaviours in the Public Places bylaw. Violators would face a $250 fine for the first incident, but that amount would double for repeat offences. The community and public services committee will go over the proposal next Wednesday, and the bylaw will come before city council for three readings Aug. 16 if the committee recommends it.

The possible change comes amid a wave of apparently hate-motivated harassment and attacks in Edmonton and the surrounding area. At least eight people, all Black and or Muslim, have been attacked since December 2020.

Edmonton doesn’t have any bylaws that deal with harassment. As it stands, the anti-bully section of the Public Places bylaw bans targeting minors but city administration says that age requirement should be removed.

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‘Not acceptable’

Assault is already a crime, and Coun. Andrew Knack said passing this bylaw would make it clear that even verbal harassment isn’t acceptable here.

“If it’s a physical attack, that obviously has substantial impacts on somebody’s life, but I would argue the verbal attacks that members of our city that have been going through because of their religion, because of their gender, because of a variety of factors, can be equally damaging, because it makes people feel unsafe to go through the city,” he said.

“We need to treat that with the same level of severity as a physical attack because that can have a very similar impact on somebody’s life.”

Harassment, as laid out in the proposed amendment, includes “feeling tormented, troubled, worried, plagued or badgered.”

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Banned behaviours would stem from someone “experiencing objections or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or actions that could reasonably cause offence or humiliation, including conduct, comment, or bullying, or actions because of race, religious beliefs, colour, disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation” as well as a “sexual solicitation or advance.”

Knack said the changes were sparked by the attacks on Muslim women, but also noted street harassment targeting women with derogatory, sexual remarks has long been a problem in the city as well.

“That needs to be clearly shown, through our laws, that that is not acceptable, and ideally, we now need to hold those people accountable if the bylaw is updated.”

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Knack said he hopes the federal and provincial governments will also take action on hate crimes.

Enforcement difficult

But the bylaw could be a challenge to enforce.

A staff report notes this may be a challenge given how quickly these incidents happen, and investigations can be lengthy and resource-intensive.

Knack acknowledged the potential snags, but he said the first step is to put the law in place.

“This is certainly better than not having it at all, even if it’s not going to be perfect.”

City staff heard during consultations that restorative justice could be a problem for this kind of offence, according to an administrative report.

The report says feedback during their consultation process found restorative justice could be a problem for this kind of offence. Staff are proposing coming back to council in the second quarter of 2022 to go over the implications of restorative justice.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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