The Town of Hay River has passed a new bylaw that prohibits some behaviours deemed “not socially acceptable” in public.
The public behaviour bylaw makes it an offence to fight, urinate, defecate, spit, loiter or litter in public spaces, and prohibits public intoxication. If convicted of an offence under the bylaw, people can be fined up to $2,000 or face up to six months in jail.
Glenn Smith, Hay River’s senior administrative officer, told town councillors the municipal legislation was developed in response to a recommendation from the town’s social issues committee, following a request from the RCMP to help with downtown loitering issues.
Deputy mayor Keith Dohey said the new bylaw is nearly a “carbon copy” of an existing bylaw in Inuvik.
A report on the new bylaw provided ahead of a Monday council meeting shows that the town sought feedback from the RCMP and Inuvik protective services. Both said the legislation can be an effective tool, but there first needs to be an area where behaviours like public intoxication are accepted, such as a warming shelter.
“Otherwise, authorities would be chasing people around town from place to place, ticketing them for loitering and other various behaviours with no real change to our current situation,” the report states.
“This bylaw can be an effective tool to support enforcement, but we will need a designated area where individuals can spend their time without being harassed for it to truly be effective.”
Hay River’s bylaw passed first and second reading in July, as reported by NNSL at the time, before the town sought more feedback.
Smith said the reaction from residents had been mixed.
Some raised concern that the bylaw would further marginalize people affected by intergenerational trauma from colonization, or criminalize homelessness and addiction, Smith said. Others, particularly property owners and people who spend time in Hay River’s downtown, supported the legislation as they felt it would increase safety.
Smith recommended a community education campaign that would tell residents the bylaw will be used alongside other resources to address social issues and ensure people are healthy and well.
Councillors Robert Bouchard and Brian Willows said they were in favour of using a “soft hands approach” when it came to implementing the bylaw.
“It’s important for members of the community to understand that the intent of this isn’t to approach this with an iron fist or, you know, that mentality,” Dohey said.
“This is one tool in a large toolbox of things that are being worked on by the social issues committee, health, justice … all the players that are involved.”