Noisy partiers take note—city council has approved a toughened nuisance bylaw, which will give police a wider authority over situations they deem to be out of hand.
The new bylaw will now, among other things, allow police officers to break up out-of-control parties on both public and private property, based not on a warrant, but on the permission of either Brad Duncan, chief of the London Police Service, or the city’s bylaw manager.
While the idea to strengthen London’s nuisance bylaw has been thrown around since 2008, the St. Patrick’s Day Fleming Drive riot, which drew international media attention, may have catalyzed a renewed interest in doing so.
“I think sometimes you need to experience something like Fleming Drive to truly realize that a public safety tool needs more teeth in it,” Harold Usher, Ward 12 councillor, said.
The bylaw, which had already been edited once to omit vague wording, met with little resistance during council’s vote, passing 11-2. Dale Henderson, Ward 9 councillor, was one of the two councillors, along with Joni Baechler of Ward 5, who opposed the bylaw’s approval.
“The bylaw is quite encompassing. One of the police officers can now, based on their judgment, come into your home and can start enacting some real laws with quite punitive and fairly serious effects,” Henderson said.
Violation of the bylaw carries steep fines—ranging from $500 to $10,000.
Henderson added he is uncertain the new bylaw will hold up if scrutinized by the federal government.
“This is the city doing this without necessarily having taken into account civil liberties or all the legal opinions about what the federal government might have to say about these things.”
Police Chief Brad Duncan countered that the bylaw is not meant to encroach upon Londoners’ civil liberties, and is only meant to be used in the most dire of circumstances.
“It’s really designed to get at multiple behaviours at one location. So although it mentions noise and other elements, independent of one another, they would be dealt with on a one-on-one basis with one of our [officers]. But when you have a culmination of activity that is really disturbing a neighborhood, that’s when I would expect I would issue the order to make use of this new nuisance bylaw,” he said.
“It would have to reach a fairly significant threshold for us to use the bylaw.”
Duncan also stressed the police will not unfairly target students, nor do the police blame students as a whole for the Fleming Drive riot.
“I want to emphasize that although students were part of what happened on Fleming, we have evidence of others travelling to London who aren’t students and we’ve charged a number of individuals who aren’t students. It’s really about behaviours of individuals in a neighbourhood, regardless of whether you’re students or not,” he said.
Henderson, however, remained unconvinced that the bylaw will not be abused by police officers.
“All it takes is one cowboy,” he cautioned.