Kamsack reviews loitering bylaw that critics say targets Indigenous people

A loitering bylaw in the town of Kamsack is under review, according to the town's administrator, following criticism that it unfairly targets First Nations people.

Council tables bylaw to next meeting to review 'safety and quality of life issues'

People from Kamsack and surrounding First Nations communities gathered in the town on Aug. 24 to protest a loitering and public nuisance bylaw that they felt unfairly targets First Nations people. (Facebook )

A loitering bylaw in the town of Kamsack that critics say unfairly targeted First Nations people is under review, according to the town's administrator.

Laura Lomenda says Kamsack's council discussed the bylaw at its Sept. 10 council meeting, but decided to table the item so council could consider "safety and quality of life issues" the bylaw was meant to address.

It was originally drafted to give the town another tool to get drug dealing off its main street, she said.

"At the end of the day, there was nothing changed," she said, adding the item will likely be brought up again at council's Sept. 24 meeting.

Targets people struggling with addictions: chief

The bylaw, approved in March, states people cannot pose a public nuisance by "collecting, loitering or standing idle" on any street or sidewalk or parking lot.

The bylaw restricts soliciting, and lays out rules against fighting, being intoxicated or impaired, and spitting, defecating or urinating in public spaces in the town, about 225 kilometres northeast of Regina.

Chiefs of First Nations communities around Kamsack, including Key, Cote and Keeseekoose First Nations, raised concerns that the bill unfairly targeted First Nations people.

Key First Nation Chief Clarence Papequash says he's encouraged by the Kamsack mayor and council's willingness to revisit a contentious bylaw. (Submitted photo)

Following an Aug. 24 protest calling for an end to the bylaw, Key First Nation Chief Clarence Papequash told CBC that he felt it was aimed at First Nations people who may struggle with addictions.

Labelling people as a nuisance for simply standing on the street is "like they're calling us garbage," he said.

He called for a different approach to dealing with the problem of addictions.

Mayor Nancy Brunt addressed people at the protest, saying she wanted everyone to feel welcome to the town, in "a safe and happy environment," and affirmed the town's desire to work with the neighbouring bands.

Drugs on main street

After the bylaw was drafted last year, the town sent it to its legal counsel, RCMP and neighbouring bands for review, said Lomenda. The town's solicitor and RCMP both sent in feedback, while the town also discussed the issue with band councils, she said.

"There was consensus at that time, that yes, we needed to do something to get the [drug] dealing off the main street, and to do something to help people that are trying to beat addictions that are on main street," she said.

The issues the bylaw was initially developed to address still exist.- Laura Lomenda, Kamsack town administrator

Since the bylaw was approved in March, Lomenda said no tickets or violations had been issued under it.

However, her perception is that in the months since, there have been fewer people hanging around downtown.

Drugs continue to be an issue, however, she said.

"The issues the bylaw was initially developed to address still exist," she said. "Those issues are still important to us."

Council will have more time to consider its next steps on the bylaw, but Lomenda said the town is committed to working with First Nations chiefs on addressing loitering and other issues of common interest.