By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Some councillors remain concerned about civil liberty issues, but council has overwhelming supported a bylaw designed to prevent situations like the Fleming Drive riot from happening again.
During council’s meeting on Tuesday (May 22), councillors voted 11-2 to support a much stronger nuisance bylaw that will give the London Police Service expanded power to deal with disturbances on private and public property. According to the bylaw, a nuisance party would include social gatherings where people engage in activities such as disorderly conduct, public drunkenness or intoxication, fighting or open burning.
Only London’s chief of police or the city’s manager of bylaw enforcement — or their individual designates — would have the authority to give the order to break up any party or gathering considered a nuisance.
Public Safety Committee chair and Ward 11 Councillor Denise Brown said council should be clear the nuisance bylaw was not just a reaction to the Fleming Drive riot. In fact, it was first presented to council in 2008.
“This was not something put together in a couple weeks to be pushed through. Yes, what happened on St. Patrick’s Day did help to move it forward,” Brown said. “I think we need to put this in place to give the police the authority they need to make sure this doesn’t occur again. It was an embarrassment to the city in its entirety.”
While the majority of councillors supported the bylaw, Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson was the first to speak out against it. Henderson said he was afraid the bylaw was, despite what Brown said, an overreaction to what happened on St. Patrick Day.
“I am concerned with this bylaw, the way it has happened. It has happened so quickly. I am concerned with liberties and freedoms,” Henderson said. “I am concerned we, as a city, are jumping on the bandwagon to take away some rights. I think we are moving way too fast.”
Ward 5 Councillor Joni Baechler said she also had concerns with the bylaw, particularly as the issues around the riot were ones she said should be addressed in the city’s planning department.
“I know the Fleming riot was a very serious issue and council is trying to find solutions to the problem. For my opinion, this goes too far,” Baechler said. “My concern is the problem with what we have on Fleming Drive is a lack of planning tools that we have in terms of our municipal kit to zone or define a use. We have known that for some time.”
Baechler, along with Henderson, both expressed concerns the police could not be pressed to report to council around the future use of the bylaw. City solicitor James Barber explained that under the Canadian legal system, the police do not report back to the government around how laws are utilized.
“The police go out and enforce the laws. The police are accountable through various statues, various procedures,” Barber said. “This council doesn’t decide who to charge, the police do that. Courts then decide, if the police decide to enforce the laws, whether that enforcement was proper.”
Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan said he recalled several conversations with London Police Chief Brad Duncan in the days following the riot, asking how the situation spiraled out of control. The reason for that, Swan said, was that police didn’t have the types of powers available to them under the nuisance bylaw.
In addition, with those new powers, Swan said he feels the public shouldn’t expect the bylaw to be used except in the most unique of situations.
“The way it is written, in my understanding, is in a way that is prudent and cautious. It has to be used with the utmost care and concern,” Swan said. “Any large gathering that puts the public at risk, puts police officers at risk, we now have a mechanism or tool for earlier intervention to break up high-risk situations.”
And if it is misused, Swan said there would be consequences. “If the police overextend their powers and authority, they will face their own tribunals and their own enforcement agencies.”
•Nuisance bylaw ready for council’s approval
•Debate for nuisance bylaw
•Fleming Drive riot sparks city to host public meeting on Monday
•Council agrees public debate on riot needed – sooner than later
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