POLITICS

It's against the law: No spitting, swearing or yelling allowed in Alberta town

03/10/2015 04:48 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT
TABER, Alta. - Do not disturb.

Or yell, or swear or spit on the sidewalk.

The southern Alberta town of Taber, population 8,104, which calls itself Canada's corn capital, has brought in a bylaw to clamp down on bad behaviour.

The fines may leave a bad taste in the mouth for anyone who breaks the law.

Reading like a page from the Old West, the bylaw includes a $75 fine for spitting in public and a $150 penalty for yelling, screaming or swearing in a public place. There are also limits on noise from bars.

The town's "quiet hours" are between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

"My personal reaction was well, it's Taber. But my legal reaction was uh oh. I don't think that's going to pass muster with freedom of expression and freedom of association," said Linda McKay-Panos, executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre at the University of Calgary.

"I think it's the culture of that place, but anywhere in Canada we have the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and (that includes) Taber."

The bylaw was put in place to "regulate and prohibit certain activities in order to prevent and compel the abatement of noise, nuisances, graffiti and public disturbances and to provide for a curfew for minors."

Taber's top cop has a sense of humour about the reaction the bylaw has elicited.

"We've got crime and insurrection fought to a standstill," said police Chief Alf Rudd.

"You know 57,000 tweeters in five minutes can't be wrong ... I see people are having fun with it and I can appreciate that, but if they're thinking the Taber Police Service has the capacity to do the type of enforcement that's being talked about, that's not going to be happening."

McKay-Panos, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Calgary, said the bylaw appears unconstitutional and would be unlikely to stand up in a court of law.

"Especially the part about swearing in public. If I'm walking down the street heading to a store and quietly swear to the person beside me, I could be caught by the bylaw," she said.

"I think you could argue swearing is pretty close to the core of what we want to protect because it's either self-fulfilling speech or it's personal expression of an opinion. That is very closely guarded under the Constitution."

Other aspects of the bylaw are disturbing, added McKay-Panos, who pointed out that there is no definition of what a swear word is. She noted there's also a section that allows police to order groups of three people or more to disperse — which goes against freedom of association.

Rudd said the bylaw is no different than a section in the Criminal Code about causing a public disturbance, and allows officers to deal with "momentary lapses in proper judgment."

"The application of this law will be done with discretion, by experienced trained officers who are trusted in the community. If someone finds themselves charged under this section, I would guess it would be pretty extenuating circumstances."

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter