MONTREAL — Hanging out at the mall to get away from mom or dad is no longer an option for some Quebec teens after their local shopping centre took the controversial step of banning people under the age of 18 unless accompanied by a parent.
UPDATE: The mall has now walked back its decision. Read more here.
Le Carrefour du Cap shopping centre, located halfway between Quebec City and Montreal in Trois-Rivieres, refused to comment on its decision.
But police and the local school board said Wednesday the mall recently banned unaccompanied minors from its property after receiving complaints that students from two nearby high schools were disturbing merchants at lunch time.
No 'major problem' at location: police
Trois-Rivieres police spokesman Luc Mongrain said he was surprised by the mall's decision because he doesn't consider the location to be particularly problematic.
He said officers were called to respond to loitering complaints about 10 times in the last year but did not make any arrests.
"It's never in relation with a major problem, it's more to disperse them and ask them to leave," he said in a phone interview.
Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are three times more likely than adults to be accused of property crimes such as theft or vandalism but are still responsible for a minority of the total property crime committed, according to a 2016 Quebec government report.
Mongrain said crime isn't higher at the Carrefour du Cap compared to elsewhere in the city, despite the presence of numerous students.
"Every shopping centre makes complaints about shoplifting — most on a weekly basis — and this location isn't targeted more than any other," he said. "It's not a major problem for us."
Meissoon Azzaria, a spokesperson with Quebec's human rights commission, wouldn't comment directly on the case, but said it would be discriminatory to deny people access to a public place based on age.
The provincial Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms guarantees equal right to access public places, which include businesses, restaurants and hotels, according to Azzaria.
"A public place that would deny access to a group of individuals solely on the basis of such personal characteristics (for example, because they are 'young'), would be contrary to the principles of the Charter," Azzaria said in an email.
Most students are well-behaved
Anne-Marie Bellerose, spokeswoman for the local school board, said the schools have received sporadic complaints about student behaviour at the shopping centre over the years, ranging from corridors being blocked to rare accusations of shoplifting or bullying.
Bellerose said the schools have worked with merchants in the past to address the issue and regularly remind students to behave respectfully in public.
"The situations we have (seen) are isolated cases involving a few youth," she said in a phone interview. "As for the rest, the students behave well and are good customers, too."
The schools, mall management and police are expected to meet next week to discuss solutions to the problem.