Editor’s note: The following is a submitted op/ed article on the ‘Community Standards’ bylaw, which will be discussed at the special meeting of the Administrative Policies Committee on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. It should be noted that Kingstonist has published an op/ed on this subject matter before, which voiced opposition to the draft bylaw. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
On Labour Day, my wife was verbally accosted as we were unloading our young son from our car. The person screamed at her, calling her terrible misogynistic names while walking menacingly towards us. She asked that I do or say nothing, so we moved off the sidewalk, got our son strapped into his stroller in the road, and tried to make the best of our day. She and I were shaken.
I share this story with you because, as the Councillor for King’s Town District, an area stretching from downtown Kingston north to the Waaban Crossing, I have heard stories like mine, and far worse, repeatedly. People have told me they feel unsafe.
There needs to be a change and it needs to be systemic in our policies and approach to these problematic behaviours.
The Administrative Policies Committee has organized a special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, to discuss recommending the ‘Community Standards’ bylaw to City Council for approval. I am in support of approving this bylaw and wanted to provide you with my rationale.
Development of this bylaw comes from directions the previous City Council gave to staff in June 2022 to create a bylaw which would help address specific types of nuisance behaviours. In July of this year, the first draft was made available on the City’s ‘Get Involved’ website, where it is, by far, the item that has received the most engagement from the public (the opportunity for public feedback closed in mid-August 2023).
This draft was the result of staff research and municipal scans of nuisance bylaws throughout Ontario (London, Brampton, Waterloo, and Cambridge have similar bylaws). I am very appreciative to members of our community for providing detailed feedback either on specific points or concerns about such a bylaw discriminating against and further stigmatizing members of the community who are homeless.
When you take time to review the final draft, you will see this feedback was considered, and City staff have been working diligently to integrate key points.
The purpose of this bylaw is to target specific behaviours and not specific people. For example, causing a public disturbance and using threatening language is not a behaviour unique to any group of people. But it is also true that most complaints I receive from constituents, business owners, and employees who work in the King’s Town District have been about these behaviours being exhibited by the unhoused.
We must take great care to be empathetic, compassionate, and avoid stigmatization toward the unhoused and others who may suffer from addictions and/or acute mental health issues. Based on my experience working with the unhoused in both my current role as Councillor and previously as a Constituency Assistant, my experience shows me the majority of unhoused individuals suffer from severe trauma and are simply trying to survive without meaning for their actions to negatively affect anyone else.
It is important here to note there is a difference between simply being uncomfortable because you are seeing those who live in extreme poverty and feeling unsafe because of threatening behaviours. It is essential to know this poverty exists and that we, as a community, need to address it in all its forms.
We all need to remember the unhoused and those suffering from acute mental health issues and/or addictions are experiencing many systemic barriers, including lack of access to proper mental health and addiction treatments and crippling benefit payments. There is also the need for providing truly affordable housing with wrap-around supports so people have the services needed to live the best lives possible.
To do this, members of Council will need to continue allocating the appropriate resources intelligently, and working together to ensure we meet the goals put forward in our Strategic Plan. We also need to continue to appeal to our provincial and federal partners to move forward with greater resources because, as a city, we cannot do it alone.
This is why I was happy to second Mayor Paterson’s motion declaring a Mental Health and Addictions Crisis to the provincial government at the same January meeting where I moved a motion for a moratorium on the encampment eviction at the Integrated Care Hub until the spring.
Unfortunately, as I said earlier, I have heard from constituents sharing their experiences with the described problematic behaviours and expressing how they are feeling unsafe. I have heard from people about being the victim of verbal abuse; the use of threatening language; the use of sexual language and intimidation; the unsafe disposal of drug paraphernalia around the District, including in park playgrounds where they have been discovered by playing children; and people experiencing harassment based on their gender and/or race.
It is unacceptable and cannot continue. Whatever the roots of these behaviours are, they still have a negative impact on those experiencing them. The public space we have in our community is for everyone and everyone deserves to feel safe.
The framework required to build a thriving community that promotes harmony, collaboration, and collective growth begins with a Community Standards bylaw. A Community Standards bylaw helps to guide communities toward a future of unity, mutual respect, and progress. By outlining expected behaviours and responsibilities, the bylaw sets the stage for a higher quality of life for all residents, ensuring a safe, clean, and welcoming environment for everyone. It also contributes to a peaceful coexistence and fosters a sense of community pride by curbing disruptive actions and activities.
I realize this bylaw will not solve everything. But it is a step in the right direction. I am hopeful that its effects will be positive and that it can set the stage for further changes in the future.
Councillor Gregory Ridge
King’s Town District
Vice-Chair, Administrative Policies Committee
Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].