Last week, city council directed administration to look into options to potentially outlaw smoking on all city properties, including parks.
The city needs to take a deep breath.
If it isn’t careful, the smoking bylaw could end up in the same pile as the poop-and-scoop rules it passed in 2014. Three years after the law came into effect, the city had yet to give out a single ticket and dog poop still litters the city.
Smoking is bad for your health and the health of others. Smokers must accept a dwindling access to the public sphere where they light up – a campaign that began in Yellowknife more than a decade ago when smoking was banned in restaurants and bars. Council needs to find a balance between knowing how and when to enforce rules and when to back off. In some cases, like with the bylaw around bicycle helmets, the city struck the right tone. With poop bag bylaws, not so much.
Nobody wants the smoke police. Especially if enforcement marginalizes already marginalized people.
According to Statistics Canada, while smoking rates haven generally fallen, as of 2014, 33.3 percent of adults in the NWT smoked, the second highest rate in the country, beaten only by Nunavut. Indigenous people are even more likely to light up: a 2010 First Nations regional health survey showed 57 per cent of Indigenous adults smoke daily or occasionally and smoking is more prevalent among people who are unemployed or with lower incomes. Banning smoking on municipal property could consequently mean sticking people — especially the most vulnerable people — with onerous penalties.
If the city gets really draconian with a smoking ban, the likely effect will be to drive smokers out of parks and near city facilities and into other areas, such as into the bush, where there is an increased chance of starting fires.
A good place to crack down on smoking would be cigarette butt litter. The city has made a good start, installing 45 special butt receptacles last year. There should be more public ash cans and more tickets going to people who leave behind butts in city parks and streets.
Butting out is good. But the city needs to make sure it doesn’t start a bigger fire.
Quashing hate is a community responsibility
There’s nothing new about racist graffiti. Sadly, the ‘white power’ slogan spotted in an Old Airport Road pedestrian underpass last week is just a bigger and bolder example of the stupidity rendered on the walls of public washrooms the world over.
Usually acts like these are legitimately written off as the yelps of bored teens hungry for attention – youth lashing out at the world with the pointiest stick they can find.
While Yellowknifer agrees it’s not likely the dawn of a nascent neo-Nazi era in the North, it’s great to see institutions such as the city and RCMP take matters like these seriously. Their swift response last week sends a strong message that there’s no room for hate in this community.
As city hall is the obvious first point of contact when people see racist or homophobic symbols, slurs or graffiti on municipal property, it’s also good to know it will now contact the Mounties immediately when notified.
From the grassroots perspective, it’s good to hear a local chapter of Stand Up To Racism is putting down foundations in Yellowknife. The group was scheduled to hold a candlelight vigil for victims of hate crimes last night.
Society in general needs to be vigilant against hate. We all need to take responsibility for eliminating it in our communities.