Inuvik had a public behaviour bylaw first. Did it work?

The bylaw prohibits behaviour like fighting, spitting, littering, loitering, urination and defecation in public. Stated consequences for breaking these rules include fines of up to $2,000 or six months in jail.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because Hay River recently passed its own public behaviour bylaw to address similar needs. The town even consulted RCMP and Inuvik protective services on the effectiveness of the Inuvik bylaw, according to a Town of Hay River report.

Inuvik's mayor, Clarence Wood, says no one has been ticketed or jailed for breaching the bylaw since it passed in 2020. Still, Wood says the bylaw is working as designed.

"Things seem to have quieted down to a certain degree in the downtown area," said Wood. "I'm not saying we still don't have some issues, because we do. But I think it's cleaned it up a lot."

While no tickets were issued under the bylaw, Inuvik senior administrative officer Michael Trabysh says the bylaw is enforced by reports from the public to bylaw officers, or warnings issued by municipal enforcement and RCMP on patrol.

Wood says the bylaw is meant to educate people and help encourage change in the right direction.

"We'd sooner issue warnings to people and give them a chance to correct their behaviour," said Wood.

"If you issue a ticket, for example, to a homeless person or to a person under the influence, how are they going to pay it?

"I don't think that's a positive act."

The commander of Inuvik's RCMP detachment, Sgt Jesse Aubin, said the bylaw is "an educational piece."

Verifying the precise number of warnings issued under the public behaviour bylaw is tricky. RCMP said the Inuvik detachment's records management system "does not differentiate which infraction occurred, nor which bylaw it was under, unless charges are laid."

One Inuvik resident, asking for anonymity to discuss the bylaw for fear of consequences for their business, said they didn't agree with the mayor's suggestion of a downtown improvement.

"I've had people drinking on my steps. I've had people passed out," the resident said.

"I don't see much being done about it. I brought it up to the town umpteen times and they keep telling me it's not their problem."

But other Inuvik residents say that kind of problem isn't simple and can't be solved with any quick fix – or a bylaw. And that's the same conversation Hay River has just been having.

Since the public behaviour bylaw recently passed in Hay River, some residents have voiced concern that the bylaw criminalizes residents experiencing homelessness or addiction, and does not address root causes of social issues.

Hay River's mayor, Kandis Jameson, says the bylaw is meant to serve as a "guideline" and will not be implemented in black-and-white terms.

"It's easy to sit back when you're not in the thick of things, or you're not in the conversation, and criticize," said Jameson.

"The intent is to help and support moving forward. It's working together to find solutions and make stuff happen."

Wood says other communities interested in adopting their own public behaviour bylaw can use Inuvik as a guideline – though he added it's important to consider the context of a community first.

"We're not all the same. What works in Inuvik or doesn't work in Inuvik may not be the case in Hay River or Yellowknife, because they are completely different," said the mayor.

"Each community is unique."

In a Facebook post last month, one Inuvik town councillor – who declined to be interviewed – said council would soon revisit the public behaviour bylaw as it wasn't being actively enforced, which they said could "lead to other liabilities."

Wood says talk of revisiting the bylaw hasn't reached his ears.

"I think it's exaggerating when they say it's not enforced," said Wood.

"Warnings are issued. To me, that's enforcement of a bylaw and an attempt to correct a behaviour."

Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio