Calgary councillor calls for bylaw against street harassment

·3 min read

A city councillor is hopeful Calgary could soon join the ranks of cities with bylaws against harassing women in public places.

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell said the City of Calgary has a responsibility to support the well-being and safety of all people in public spaces.

So, she'd like to see the city engage with Calgarians on the issue of street harassment and draw up a bylaw to help control it.

She said street harassment includes unwelcome comments, gestures and actions forced primarily upon women by people who aren't known to them. Typically, they are sexually charged comments which are disrespectful, alarming or insulting.

"It's most frequently an attack, a verbal attack on women but it's also against many LGBTQ people," said Farrell.

"We certainly see that harassment happening in Calgary."

Widespread problem

She cites a Statistics Canada report that found one-in-three girls and women were victims of unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous 12 months.

Farrell has a motion which will be discussed at council's priorities and finance committee on Tuesday.

As per council's screening process, if the motion is properly drafted, it will go on to be discussed at a city council meeting later this month.

"With all of our bylaws, we look at education first and then establish a social norm. It's not OK to harass strangers on the street," said Farrell.

Her motion states that other Canadian cities including Edmonton, Vancouver and London have already passed bylaws to regulate street harassment.

Statements like this from governments essentially saying we hold ourselves accountable for your safety and we're going to work towards it, I think that they make a difference. - Andrea Silverstone, Sagesse

The executive director of the Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society, Andrea Silverstone, said a bylaw is a step toward increasing public safety.

"Everyone can relate to an experience of feeling harassed or an experience of doing something different to try and experience greater safety on the street because they don't believe that it might exist because of their gender or their sexual identity," said Silverstone.

She said street harassment is an example of coercive control which can erode a person's feeling of safety, even if they haven't been hit or threatened.

That kind of harassment can make women or targeted people rethink the choices they make about where they go for dinner or where they choose to work because they may feel unsafe.

"I think that you can't underestimate just how pervasive a lack of a sense of personal safety is on the streets and how it can actually relate to all aspects of one's life," said Silverstone.

From her vantage point, it's important that government realizes it can play a role in helping all citizens feel safer and welcome in public places — a bylaw can be a piece of that puzzle.

"Statements like this from governments essentially saying we hold ourselves accountable for your safety and we're going to work towards it, I think that they make a difference."

Farrell's motion calls on the city to assess Calgary's jurisdiction to draw up a defensible bylaw to address street harassment.

If council approves it, there would be a report back to council by administration by the first quarter of 2022.