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She Governs model council passes Calgary’s street harassment bylaw, adds community service

Members of Calgary’s She Governs mock council hiked the fine for visible knives and approved community service for those ticketed under the faux-approved street harassment bylaw.

Fifteen young Calgary women from across Calgary took part as delegates in a model city council meeting Monday. There, they debated the city’s upcoming street harassment bylaw. They were aided by city admin and city clerks, along with law enforcement to answer questions.

They were participating in She Governs: Participating in Municipal Leadership event in partnership with Equal Voice Calgary. It was for young women in Grades 9 to 12.

Though their decision isn’t binding, the group did discuss aspects of the bylaw that elected officials hadn’t addressed.  Calgary city council will officially discuss proposed harassment changes in Tuesday’s combined meeting of council.

The delegates raised concern about a lack of support for victims of street harassment. They said instead it focused solely on punishing the offender.

Delegate Mackenzie Huang said the bylaw focuses on enforcement and relying on peace officers witnessing the incidents. It’s sometimes difficult for victims to step forward, she said.

“I’m wondering if we don’t need some sort of encouragement to help these victims report these incidents of street harassment because, as we’ve talked about extensively, this can affect victims in a variety of different ways,” Delegate Huang said.

“I’m wondering if maybe we can switch the focus of this sort of bylaw into helping victims rather than going after perpetrators. I believe that because victims could be so heavily impacted by these incidents of street harassment, providing them support might be more important than offering them retribution in the way of fines or those types of punishments.”

Awareness across a diverse Calgary

Delegates also touched on the education and awareness aspect of the proposed bylaw.

Delegate Raj Dosanjh acknowledged the language and communication barrier for many of her northeast constituents.

“I’m always kind of boarding and going and traveling and you see a lot of Punjabi elders taking the bus,” she said.

“And they are very, very, unfortunately, the victims of hate crimes and a lot of times they don’t even know it.”

Dosanjh said all Calgarians to be able to access information on harassment.

“I think it’s important that we put out resources to make sure that they get the information as well because they are victims and they represent a huge population of the victims,” she said.

To ensure that offenders received an education, an amendment to their motion was added. It included direct community service and awareness training for anyone ticketed with an offense. 

Delegates also thought the fine for visible knives was low at $50. They upped it to $500 to match the harassment fine.  They did add an amendment that clarified the visible knife had to be used for intimidation purposes. That was due to potential carrying for religious reasons.

Their amended bylaw passed unanimously.

Panel for future women leaders

Afterward, there was a public Q&A panel that included Mayor Jyoti Gondek, and Couns. Sonya Sharp, Jennifer Wyness, Jasmine Mian and Kourtney Penner. These five women won their council seats in the last election.

They were peppered with questions about the job, their inspirations and how they could support more female leaders.

“Every girl, every young woman that has decided to come into the She Governs fold is carrying on what we started so many years ago,” said Mayor Gondek.

“Knowing that all of you have an interest in civic affairs as well as democracy absolutely warms my heart and makes me happy to see all of you with us today.”