A Prince Albert lawyer says a new city bylaw will unnecessarily enhance police powers and lead to greater racial profiling of Indigenous people.
The new proposed back alley curfew bylaw would make it a finable offence of up to $5,000 if a person were apprehended by police in these areas between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.
Estelle Hjertaas spoke on behalf of a petition against the bylaw, with close to 190 signatures on it, at Monday’s executive council meeting.
Hjertaas said it is not uncommon for police to use racial profiling against Indigenous people in the city and this bylaw will only increase the problem.
“The first example is a client that I had,” she said. “An Indigenous man who was arrested in his own backyard, essentially, because the police felt he looked suspicious because he was an Indigenous man wearing black. They then arrested him. He had a knife and tools on him, they charged him with break and enter, he spent a couple of months in jail before his trial date and the Crown by then had realized that those charges contravened the Charter (of Rights).
The bylaw moved forward by a 7-2 margin but must still pass at a full council meeting before being enacted.
Mayor Greg Dionne is one of the council members who voted in favour.
He said property crime is a big problem in Prince Albert and the back alley curfew bylaw will help reduce it.
Dionne insisted the bylaw is effectively “colour blind” and takes issue with anyone who suggests otherwise.
“When I pass a bylaw it’s for all citizens,” he said. “I don’t pass a bylaw just for one sector. And if they don’t think Aboriginal people and people of colour are being robbed, wake up, they’re victims just like we are and they have the right to be protected.”
The question remains, will the bylaw actually reduce crime?
Hjertaas said there is absolutely no proof of this.
“No one that they are trying to deter is going to be deterred by this bylaw. Deterrents only work on people that are already law abiding, they’re going to make a cost-benefit analysis. So, if you are already committing crimes, the risk of going to jail for life, the max penalty for break and enter, isn’t going to deter you then a fine isn’t going to stop you either.”
Regardless, with no lights, sidewalks or clear pedestrian paths in the city’s back alleys, Dionne said there is simply no good reason why anyone should be in them during the bylaw’s restricted hours and those that are should be liable for prosecution.
The bylaw does contain a few exemptions and does not include area residents and permitted guests who may be accessing their own backyards or parking spaces.
The minimum fine for an infraction is $500.
At Monday’s meeting, Councillor Terra Lennox-Zepp noted the bylaw does not actually give police any additional funds for enforcement.
She said the city would be better off using the $20,000 it plans to spend on bylaw signage for other programming such as anti-poverty and addictions prevention initiatives.
Earlier this year, council passed a similar bylaw that also restricts access to public pathways during certain hours.
(PHOTO: Prince Albert lawyer Estelle Hjertaas says a proposed back alley curfew bylaw in the city will lead to further police racial profiling of Indigenous people. Photo by Fraser Needham.)