The tribal council representing 12 First Nation communities in central and northern Saskatchewan is calling for a chance to provide more input on a bylaw that would restrict access to alleys in Prince Albert.
The curfew for walkways and alleys in the city was proposed last year as a way to address property crime in the gateway to the north. A motion was approved earlier this year and a third reading next week could put it into law.
The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) asked for the city’s executive committee to press pause on its third reading of the proposed bylaw in a news release issued on Friday.
“To date, we haven’t contributed to this debate and we feel it’s important enough to merit more important discussions,” Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said.
Hardlotte said PAGC originally issued a press statement that “very cautiously” supported the proposed bylaw but stopped short of offering full support.
But after a closer examination, he said the tribal council can no longer support the city’s decision. He said police already have the authority to investigate suspicious activity, if they’re called to do so.
Mayor Greg Dionne has been contacted by CBC for comment.
Petition opposing bylaw calls curfew unacceptable
A petition presented by lawyer Estelle Hjertaas to Prince Albert’s executive committee last Monday was one of the ways the PAGC became aware of additional ramifications of the proposed curfew, Hardlotte said..
Hjertaas said she wanted to give people in the community a platform to show their opposition to the bylaw. By Friday, it had 197 signatures.
The online petition said the curfew bylaw is unacceptable and said it limits the rights people have through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Every defense lawyer that I’ve talked to about this [has said] when somebody gets arrested because they were stopped in the back alley, when that’s the grounds for approaching a person, we will do a charter challenge,” she said.
Hjertaas said although there is a crime problem that needs to be addressed in Prince Albert, the bylaw will likely be ineffective in solving it.
She, like Hardlotte, said police already have the power to investigate suspicious activity.
Hjertaas said the only additional power police gain is being able to stop anybody between midnight and 6 a.m. without grounds or any suspicion.
“The reason that this becomes concerning is because we see it in Prince Albert and there’s data from other jurisdictions that the kind of people that are likely to be stopped… are in particular, low-income people, homeless people, people of colour,” Hjertaas said.
Bylaw isn’t the way to go: Grand Chief
PAGC’s press release said the tribal council agreed with critics of the bylaw, which the statement said called it punitive in nature, and that no data-driven evidence shows the practise of carding lowers crime rates.
“I commend the city for trying to address the issue of break-ins, but I don’t think this is the way to go,” he said.
He called for the core issues related to property crime — poverty, homelessness and increasing addiction rates — to be addressed instead.
Hardlotte said the tribal council’s concerns about the bylaw being punitive in nature and that it could lead to carding are compounded by high incarceration rates of Indigenous people in both the provincial and federal prison systems.