Skip to content

Targeting youth iswrong and unjust

Citizens who walk or drive eastbound on 49 Street to 50 Avenue will surely notice the graffiti inscription on the east wall of the library that asks the question, "So what exactly is the curfew for?" We are not sure if the graffiti's author was wonde

Citizens who walk or drive eastbound on 49 Street to 50 Avenue will surely notice the graffiti inscription on the east wall of the library that asks the question, "So what exactly is the curfew for?"

We are not sure if the graffiti's author was wondering whether the inclusion of a curfew section in the town's Community Standards Bylaw last fall was the right move to address a problem with youth under the age of 16, or whether the question implies there was not a problem to begin with.

But one thing is certain. The graffiti was a message that has been seized at town hall to sort out, and not only because a building was vandalized.

Coun. Jason Heistad, who last fall opposed the curfew section's inclusion in the bylaw, wants to have it re-examined to determine if it is working or if more needs to be done. Perhaps we should also add whether having any bylaw that targets a specific group at all is appropriate, or even legal under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During council's passionate debate on the issue last fall Heistad sensed it was being rushed and pushed through council chambers because the civic election was just around the corner.

More importantly, he and former councillor Patt Churchill felt the town's youth were not adequately consulted.

Churchill also pointed out a curfew bylaw would be hard to enforce, and while many other municipalities have one, it is rarely used. She added a curfew bylaw by its own would not solve local crime and vandalism issues, and that a more proactive, positive and less heavy-handed community policing initiative was a better route.

Her views are supported by past research and opinions from various other Canadian communities, as well as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, who collectively stated curfew bylaws are rarely enforced.

Added to this ambivalent attitude towards enforcement is the always present concern among many municipalities in both Canada and the United States that curfew laws are invitations to constitutional court challenges, that they could contravene a young person's right to freedom of movement and freedom of assembly regardless of age.

As well, it must be stated that Heistad is also raising the additional concern that curfew regulations have the potential of needlessly pulling the RCMP and the town's community peace officer off more urgent matters in order to target and yank kids off the street.

While we support the re-examination of the town's curfew regulations, as well as whether any law targeting one group is appropriate or even legal, it must at the very least come with comprehensive discussions with youth, and input from the RCMP, which is already doing an admirable job in engaging youth through existing discussions on many other important issues.

The RCMP is dialoguing with youth through public awareness presentations on impaired and distracted driving as well as the recent creation of its Student Crime Stoppers Program. Curfew bylaw discussions can be added to the RCMP's mandate with youth.

In the meantime, the town may want to seriously look at alternate ways to deal with this issue, without specifically targeting youth.

Other jurisdictions are using provisions under provincial legislations that address youth and family issues without any specific targeting. Some will employ other municipal bylaws, like those for nuisance and loitering, to allow for time prohibition measures to address youth crime and victimization - again without specifically targeting youth.

Some police forces have also used Criminal Code mischief laws and provincial trespass statutes to deal with youth issues.

But what is paramount is that any community initiative with a goal of addressing an issue that comes with a specific target group must at the very least make a sincere and welcoming invitation that will want that group to not only attend but to contribute. It can't be insulting, oppressive or blatantly pointing a finger that it is the problem to begin with.

In this case, we are talking about Innisfail's youth, most of them decent, hard working and honest citizens.

Sadly, however, they have already been tarred with the brush that they were a problem that had to be resolved in a mad dash before last October's civic election. And they were not even invited to the table to talk about it.

It was not only unfair but also irresponsible. Town council should rip apart its current curfew regulations and start the entire process all over again.