03/14/2015 01:23 EDT | Updated 05/13/2015 05:59 EDT

Taber bylaw attention blown out of proportion, say residents in Alberta town

Town residents who turned up at a meeting in Taber, Alta., expressed more concern about the media reaction a new bylaw is generating than the bylaw itself, which bans swearing, yelling and spitting.

"I think it was all blown out of proportion," said resident Linda Christensen.

She said there are now "crazy" misconceptions about the town she grew up in, even though many other small towns in Alberta have the same rules.

The Community Standards Bylaw was passed in late February to amalgamate other existing bylaws, so a lot of it content was not new.

"I think people just wanted to be sensational and hype it up," said Mayor Henk De Vlieger​.

He said social media comments became a game of telephone where many aspects of the bylaw were taken out of context. 

Mennonite connection

The bylaw also grants power to officers to break up assemblies of three or more people they deem "unreasonable" — like people standing around after bar hours are over — which many critics say is unconstitutional.

Police say they have received 70 complaints from residents concerned about gatherings in the local Mennonite community, which prompted them to request Taber's police commission and town council to include something to address the issue in the new bylaw.

Taber has become a settlement area for Mennonites fleeing violence in Mexico.

"During the development of the bylaw, those issues were addressed directly with that community with its leaders," said Taber police Chief Alf Rudd.

While the bylaw is not intentionally targeting the group, Rudd does expect the bylaw will affect their "cultural traditions" in the future.  

"All we are asking for is an acceptable manner of behaviour, common decency be extended to one another — that's all that bylaw really covers," he said. "We shouldn't have to have it, should we, but we do."

Officials say the town has never breached charter rights, and will continue to allow protests and parties.

Town's image tarnished, say residents

But at the meeting held at the Taber Police Service building, many of the roughly 60 people in attendance said they were more concerned about the town's image than the bylaw itself.

"I'm very disappointed in the black eye that the community has been improperly given," said Insp. Graham Abela with the Taber police.

Police say the bylaw will give them tools to be less heavy handed than Criminal Code charges, and won't clog up the courts. The fine income will also come directly to the town, not the province.

There is no list of swear words that will be fined. Officials say it will be at the discretion of an officer if someone is being "obscene."

Out of the 55 bylaw tickets issued in the town in 2014, there were 54 convictions. The town doesn't expect citations to increase. A bylaw ticket cannot be challenged, but if not paid it could end up in court.

Meanwhile, the town's mayor says council is going to give the bylaw a six-month trial before reviewing it. He hopes residents can remain positive.

"I think everyone knows where Taber is — that's a good thing," said Vlieger. "We'll dwell on that and we'll tell the world this is a great place to live, work, retire and play."