'You're criminalizing homeless people,' says advocate as Inuvik to make public disorder bylaw

Town councillors in Inuvik, N.W.T., will vote Wednesday night on four new bylaws, including one designed to give the municipality the ability to crack down on public disorder. Experts call it "insensitive" and say it will criminalize the homeless population.

Town SAO says bylaw gives town the ability to move loiterers with no trespassing legislation in N.W.T.

Joey Amos, former manager of the John Wayne Kiktorak Centre (emergency warming centre), says the town's proposed new bylaw is insensitive to Inuvik's vulnerable population. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

No spitting, no loitering, no littering and no urinating. 

At least, not on public streets in Inuvik, N.W.T., where council is pushing forward with a new public disorder bylaw as part of the town's effort to put its foot down on untidiness and disorder. However, the former director of the local warming centre says the bylaw is "insensitive" to those struggling with homelessness or addiction.

Grant Hood, senior administrative officer, explained the bylaw will give the town a lever to deal with people who are acting out of line in public.

"There's always been an issue of people panhandling or whatever you want to call it ... and bothering tourists," he said.

"The big thing is it gives us some ways that we can do some enforcement."

We're not out there looking for people spitting on the sidewalk.- Grant Hood, SAO of Inuvik

He added there's no trespassing legislation in the territory, meaning that the town is limited in its ability to move people off property. Hood cited loiterers in front of Inuvik's Northmart as a regular occurrence.

Bylaw could have negative impact 

Joey Amos, former manager of the John Wayne Kiktorak Centre, a warming centre in Inuvik, says the pending bylaw could be harmful to the town's vulnerable population.

"When I look at it, it's definitely targeting the vulnerable population or homeless folks. There are folks struggling with addiction and have no place to go to," Amos said.

"It's going to make our people that are struggling on the streets more vulnerable because they're already down in the pits right now. It's only going to make it worse.

If there's a problem with public urination, the solution is providing access to a bathroom, not fining the person.- Joey Amos, Former manager John Wayne Kiktorak Centre

Amos thinks the town would be better off finding more spaces for people needing a place to go rather than creating bylaws that could punish them.

"It definitely is insensitive," he said.  "Instead of working against them, why not work with them?"

Lydia Bardak, a past Yellowknife city councillor and advocate for homelessness outreach work, said the bylaw has been done unsuccessfully in other jurisdictions. She said it's a backwards approach to deal with a social issue.

"It means you're criminalizing homeless people. So as if life isn't bad enough when you're homeless and unemployed, living with disabilities, addictions and in poverty, now we're going to call you a criminal as well," she said.

"If there's a problem with public urination, the solution is providing access to a bathroom, not fining the person and trying to get money they don't even have out of them."

Bardak said it will have "insurmountable" unintended effects, like preventing people with these outstanding fines from renewing a drivers licence, which could then hinder chances of employment. She added it could also end up being an added cost to the municipality, since it will have to have its peace officers attend court for those who wish to fight their tickets. 

A new Inuvik bylaw could mean fines for those found acting in a disorderly way in public, like loitering or spitting on public streets. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"You can't legislate your way out of bad behaviour," Bardak said. 

"I have to say that I don't know anyone that wants to be homeless and unwelcome out on the streets. And being homeless doesn't mean that you won't need to use a washroom. But if you're not welcome to use one, you're going to do what you're going to do."

Hood says the bylaw, if passed, will be enforced at the town's discretion, and that fining people is not necessarily the intention — it simply gives the town the ability to do so, if needed.

"We're not out there looking for people spitting on the sidewalk," he said.

Modernizing old dump, fire station bylaws

Town councillors will also give third reading and vote on three amendments to current bylaws Wednesday, part of an ongoing effort to review Inuvik's bylaws, Hood said.

Those include a change to the allowed age of taxis from 10 years to 15, which Hood said was based on a request the town received.

The town is also planning on making changes to fines for people who are not following the rules of the dump to help deter unsafe behaviour. That includes bumping up fines to people who are found scavenging at times when the dump is closed to the activity.

While Hood did not link the dump fine changes to any specific incidents, he did add there were a couple of close calls this summer with bears at the dump, when it was closed to scavenging.

Fire department legislation was also rewritten to bring it up to modern standards, Hood said. The most notable change is the removal of restrictions on how far out of town the fire department will respond to calls. Previously. the limit was set at 75 kilometres.

All of the bylaws have passed first and second reading and will be enacted if they are passed by council Wednesday evening.


Written by Amy Tucker, with files from Garrett Hinchey