Watch your language in the small Alberta town of Taber, where the council has passed a bylaw that outlaws swearing in public.

The first offence would cost $150, while a second offence could set you back $250 — and that goes for yelling or screaming in public as well.

Taber Mayor Henk De Vlieger​ said council is going to give the bylaw a six-month trial before reviewing it. The mayor said the bylaw will only be enforced in extreme circumstances.

"It's just like every other tool, you can use it and abuse it," he said. "A hammer I can use to pound a nail, which it is intended for, or it can kick in your brains."

The swearing portion is not the only new rule turning heads in Taber, a town of 8,100 located 250 kilometres southeast of Calgary .

The bylaw also includes a $75 fine for spitting in public and a curfew on kids and teenagers from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. MT daily.

It was adopted by Taber town council late last month and was recommended by the police commission and the Taber Police Service. 

Amalgamation of existing bylaws

Taber police Chief Alf Rudd said the Community Standards Bylaw came about as an exercise to amalgamate other existing bylaws.

In the process, officials conducted research on what other communities throughout the province were doing and added sections on fighting, assembly, spitting and public urination. 

Rudd said portions of the new bylaw were previously enforced under the Criminal Code or the Gaming and Liquor Act.

"We just felt that ... by putting them into our bylaw here, it seemed to align better with our community policing principles here, in streamlining the system and not having to take such a heavy-handed approach." 

A ban on spitting is common in many municipalities in the province, and it's also not unusual for small towns in Alberta to implement a curfew for young people.

Calgary's Community Standards Bylaw, for instance, addresses loud noises.

"No person shall make or cause or allow to be made or continued any noise which disturbs or annoys a person, including any loud outcry, clamour, shouting, movement, music or activity," states the bylaw.

Calgary Transit also hands out tickets for profanity on public transportation.

Assembly ban 'unconstitutional'

But the bylaw also grants power to peace officers to break up assemblies of three or more people — and that is raising some eyebrows. 

"No person shall be a member of the assembly of three or more persons in any public place where a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe the assembly will disturb the peace of the neighbourhood, and any such person shall disperse as requested by a peace officer," states the bylaw.

It's that part of the bylaw that has University of Calgary political science instructor Lisa Lambert fuming.

"Constitutionally this is egregious. That's the only way to say it," she said. "Under the Charter of Rights we have the freedom to speak, the freedom to assemble, we have freedom of religion. And all of these freedoms are under attack when bylaws like this are put in place."

Rudd said it's easy to say any law is unconstitutional if you feel it restricts your freedom in some way.

"We understand very well the Constitution, we deal with it all the time here and we know what our rights and freedoms are, and we set out each day to make sure we don't violate those." he said.

The Lethbridge Defence Bar says it will consider taking on any case that arises from the bylaw.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that Taber's Community Standards Bylaw was passed on Monday night. It passed in late February.
    Mar 10, 2015 3:39 PM MT
With files from The Canadian Press