Plans to charge landlords hourly rates for using up police time if RCMP are repeatedly called to the same property in Prince George, B.C., are "morally reprehensible" and "constitutionally suspect," according to the Pivot Legal Society.
The legal advocacy group also said in a letter addressed to Prince George mayor and council the proposed fines could harm recovering addicts, women in abusive relationships and other vulnerable people
'We want people to be able to call 911 when they think they need to' - Pivot Legal Society legal director DJ Larkin
"We have serious concerns that ... this may result in people being reluctant to call 911, which can have serious health safety and life safety consequences," said DJ Larkin, legal director for the Pivot Legal Society.
"You don't want someone waiting to call 911 until something has become so, so urgent it has become a crisis. We want people to be able to call 911 when they think they need to."
Larkin said although the fines are aimed at negligent landlords, in practice the consequences would be felt by vulnerable segments of the population.
"If a landlord is being charged an hourly rate for people calling 911 from their building, certainly that is going to be downloaded onto their tenants, whether it is by fining tenants or evicting tenants," she said.
Larkin also said landlords may be reluctant to rent to people they anticipate would generate 911 calls, such as seniors, recovering addicts and women fleeing abusive relationships.
"A woman being threatened with assault ... needs to be able to call 911 and know that she will not have the financial consequence for doing so," she said.
Bylaw aimed at nuisance properties: city
The new rules were proposed by Coun. Brian Skakun after the city shut down the Connaught Motor Inn, which had been the source of over 700 police calls in 18 months.
"People in the community are tired of subsidizing this bad behaviour," Skakun said at a Jan. 8 meeting in which the Nuisance Abatement and Cost Recovery Bylaw unanimously passed its first three readings.
Under the proposed rules, city staff and RCMP would be able to identify "nuisance properties" as the source of frequent calls for service. Council would then have the option of classifying a property as a nuisance, and the property owner would have a chance to contest the classification.
Moving forward, designated nuisance properties would be charged hourly rates for police and fire calls as well as visits from city bylaw services.
Mayor Lyn Hall said he was "comfortable" with the bylaw as written and didn't believe the fines would discourage anyone from calling for help in an emergency.
"This is about us trying to deal with prolific offenders," he said.
"We have proven as a council, as a city, that we are working very diligently on social issues in our community and we'll continue to do that."
City could face legal challenge: Pivot
Hall said the letter would be discussed at a future council meeting, and he was "eager" to hear from other councillors on the issue before the bylaw faces a final vote.
Larkin said she was "hopeful" council would change its position on the bylaw and said if it didn't, the city could face a constitutional challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees access to life, liberty and security.
"We have some serious concerns that this bylaw infringes those rights and, so, if they do pass it, that is something they're going to have to consider," she said.