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EDITORIAL: Noise and confusion

A St. John's resident living in the downtown area believes there's confusion in making a noise complaint. He said there's a disconnect between the after-hours 311 operators (who are Telelink employees) and city bylaws. Photo by Darrell Power/
A St. John's resident who lives downtown told The Telegram recently there’s a disconnect between after-hours 311 operators and the enforcement of city bylaws. — Darrell Power photo

It wasn’t supposed to work this way.

It was supposed to streamline the process.

For years, the ability to issue tickets for municipal bylaw infractions has been touted as a way for towns and cities in this province to gain control over bylaw infractions, including noise violations, garbage problems and home repair issues.

St. John’s and some other municipalities have been able to hand out bylaw offence tickets since 2008. Other municipalities have been added through the years by the provincial government, making it far simpler for communities that used to have to go through the court system for each individual infraction.

The argument was that the tickets would make bylaw enforcement far more effective.

As the provincial government pointed out in a news release as it expanded the program in 2015, “The issuance of tickets has proven to be a more effective and efficient way to enforce property-related municipal bylaws. It is less time consuming and expensive than the previous options of recovering costs as a civil debt, seeking an injunctive relief or court prosecution.”

But it only works if there are actually municipal bylaw officers working at the time you make your complaint.

The fact is, this is not a workable system. Not for people trying to sleep who have to get up in the morning for work, nor for anyone else.

And St. John’s residents, particularly those fed up with noisy neighbours, are finding that the ability of bylaw officers to write tickets is directly proportional to the number of officers working.

Right now, if you have a noise complaint and contact the City of St. John’s 311 municipal help line, you won’t get someone who can dispatch a bylaw officer. You’ll get a call centre employee who can write up a report on the noise, but your complaint won’t be dealt with until business hours on the next working day, long after the noisemakers themselves have probably tottered off to bed.

The 311 operators have also referred people who complain about late-night noise to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. The RNC may respond if they have the resources available, but their only real interest is if there is some sort of criminality beyond simple noise. They don’t enforce the city’s noise bylaw.

So, the choice is between officers who don’t enforce the bylaw, and bylaw officers who aren’t working.

The city says that it takes reports seriously, and investigates them after the fact, potentially writing a $100 ticket if they can establish that a noise issue actually existed — something they could do instantly if they had ears on the ground at the time.

The fact is, this is not a workable system. Not for people trying to sleep who have to get up in the morning for work, nor for anyone else.

All it really does is lead to the potential for personal interventions — neighbour-on-neighbor solutions that are almost guaranteed to end badly.

The city wanted to be able to write its own bylaw tickets — now it has to live up to its responsibilities.

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