Taber police angry at town’s “black eye” over bad behaviour bylaw

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

TABER, Alta. - Insp. Graham Abela is an angry man.

Not yell, swear or spit-on-the-sidewalk angry but angry just the same over the public ridicule Taber, Alta., has been subjected to since the town of 8,104 enacted a bylaw to clamp down on bad behaviour.

The bylaw levels a $75 fine for spitting in public and a $150 penalty for yelling, screaming or swearing in a public place. There are also limits on noise from bars, noting the town’s “quiet hours” are between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and police are allowed to order groups of three people or more to disperse.

The mocking has included a group of guys from Edmonton who called it the “Footloose bylaw” and suggested a Kickstarter campaign to pay for Kevin Bacon, the star of the 1984 movie, to attend a dance party outside of town.

More serious critics suggested it could be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

After a one-hour information session with 35 town residents Friday night, Abela told reporters he’s very disappointed in the black eye that the community has been “improperly” given.

“We had a bunch of good people trying their best to make good decisions for this community,” said Abela, who is operational commander of the Taber police force.

“The way the public has reacted in our community has been very positive. But external to this community — the way that others have laughed and joked and made fun of this community —it’s absolutely inappropriate and it’s unwarranted and that’s what I’m mad at.”

He said many of the aspects criticized in the bylaw were already in the books or borrowed from other communities.

He noted transit police in Calgary give out seven tickets a month for spitting with no backlash at all. And he said the rules allow officers to give tickets instead of going one level higher and clogging the town’s courts with criminal charges.

“What was the catalyst that caused all this sensational nonsense?” he asked. “The first is the misdirected, self-interested, driven and misinformed so-called legal experts. The second is opinion-based, non-researched sensationalized reporting.”

Abela received a positive response from the audience. Linda Christensen, who grew up in Taber, said she likes the bylaw and resents the public ridicule heaped on the town, which is best known as being the corn capital of Canada.

“I think it was all blown out of proportion,” Christensen said with a laugh. “I thought people were crazy. These laws are in place in most small communities.”

Taber, located 50 kilometres east of Lethbridge, is a largely agricultural town. The tree-lined streets are wide and the houses well-kept.

Mayor Henk De Vlieger is disappointed with the misinformation that has come out about his community.

“I think a lot of people like to see sensation these days and I think that is the big part of the problem,” he said.

“I think everybody knows where Taber is — that’s a good thing. So we’ll dwell on that and we’ll tell the whole world what a good place it is to live, work, retire and play.”

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© The Canadian Press, 2015

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