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New Calgary bylaw to target incidents of street harassment

Calgarians who harass others on city streets could face a stiff penalty once a new city bylaw takes effect.

Amendments to the city’s street harassment bylaw go into effect June 1, restricting the harassment of another person in a public space.

This will be done through collaboration, education, and enforcement to regulate behaviour that impacts Calgarians’ enjoyment of public spaces, said Aalika Kohli with the City of Calgary.

“Street harassment is a cultural, systemic and an intergenerational issue that has been a part of society for a long time,” said Kohli.

The amended bylaw is one of the numerous measures The City of Calgary is taking to support victims and discourage harmful practices. Those caught breaking the rules can face a $500 fine. Those convicted could also face summary conviction and a $10,000 penalty and/or six months in prison.

“Calgary is a safe and welcoming city. We won’t tolerate issues around racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or other forms of overt bigotry,” said Ryan Pleckaitis, Chief Bylaw Officer.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the vast majority of Calgarians are good people and have good intentions. There are, however, a few bad apples, she said.

“There’s a pretty clear message to Calgarians that we live in a civil society and we should treat each other with respect and dignity and we’re not going to tolerate harassment,” Mayor Gondek said.

How incident reporting works

By calling 311 or the police non-emergency line at 403-266-1234, Calgarians will now be able to report personally experienced or witnessed instances of street harassment in public spaces.

Individuals who report incidents will be asked to share the nature of the concern. That could include a description of the offender and the location of the incident. In addition, it could include other details they feel comfortable providing that will support the investigation.

Categories of harassment according to the bylaw. GRAPHIC COURTESY: HAJAR AL KHOUZAII

In the bylaw, to ‘harass’ is defined as:

‘Communicating with a person in a manner that could reasonably cause offence or humiliation, including conduct, comment, or actions that refers to the person’s: race/colour/ancestry/place of origin, religious beliefs, disability, age, marital status, source of income, family status, gender/gender identity/gender expression, sexual orientation; and includes a sexual solicitation or advance.’

Bylaw officers will investigate once a report of an incident is filed.

“We’d have to collect statements from victims, from witnesses, some issues or incidents may be recorded. There are some environments where a police officer might be present where it’d be much easier to deal with and to enforce for us,” said Pleckaitis.

According to Kohli, a public education campaign will be rolled out to raise awareness of the bylaw.