Any person found to have made an offensive comment about another person’s race, gender or disability — or otherwise abusive remark — in a Calgary public space could now face a $500 fine after city council amended an existing bylaw to add policies on street harassment.
Calgary city council voted in favour of the change in early March.
The amended public behaviour bylaw comes into effect June 1.
“Street harassment is a cultural, systemic and an intergenerational issue that has been a part of our society for a long time,” said Aalika Kohli, business strategist with the city’s community standards team.
“The City of Calgary is using a holistic way that includes measures that are collaborative, educational and use enforcement to stop harassment on public spaces that infringes Calgarians’ ability to enjoy those public spaces.”
City council first passed a motion to study and address street violence in 2020, adding councillors have a responsibility to support the well-being, comfort and safety of Calgarians in public spaces.
The new amendment defines “harass” as: “Communicating with a person in a manner that could reasonably cause offence or humiliation, including conduct, comment, or actions,” and includes references to a person’s race, religious beliefs, disability, age, marital status, source of income, family status, gender, sexual orientation; and includes a sexual solicitation or advance.
“I think it’s important to underscore the important message that this bylaw sends just by having this bylaw in place,” said Ryan Pleckaitis, chief bylaw officer with Calgary community standards.
“Calgary’s a safe and welcoming city, and … we won’t tolerate issues around racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or other forms of overt bigotry.”
How it works
If someone personally experiences or witnesses street harassment in a public space, they are being encouraged to either call the Calgary Police Service non-emergency line (403-266-1234) or contact 311 online or over the phone.
Public spaces include spots like restaurants, sidewalks and libraries.
Victims or witnesses should gather as much information as possible, according to the city’s website, like the location of the incident, a description of the offender and even a recording of the individual if it’s safe, which helps community peace officers during their investigations.
“In terms of enforcement, there are some challenges because this is a transient offence,” Pleckaitis said.
“We would investigate just like we would investigate any other type of bylaw infraction.”
Coun. Terry Wong said the bottom line is no one in Calgary should be walking the streets feeling unsafe. He has experienced harassment himself, he said, as a councillor and as a member of the Asian community.
“People just need to understand that this is not acceptable behaviour and only through this enforcement type of action will people modify their understanding of what’s acceptable,” said Wong, whose Ward 7 includes the downtown.
City officials said they do realize the bylaw amendment will not solve street harassment, but they’re looking into other measures to ensure Calgarians feel safe in the city’s public spaces.
They’d like to join the UN Women’s Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Program, which is a global initiative that prevents and responds to sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces.
The city is also increasing public awareness of the new bylaw with an advertising campaign that’s already underway.
“There are going to be more eyes on the streets,” said Kohli.
“Street harassment will not be tolerated in Calgary, and there are going to be consequences for this kind of behaviour.”