By: Chris Wiebe, Engel Law Office
On July 5, 2021, in response to a recommendation from City Administration, Edmonton City Council voted unanimously to pass Bylaw 19782, which repealed the anti-loitering provision from Bylaw 8353 (the Conduct of Transit Passengers bylaw. The anti-loitering provision used to read: “[a] person shall not loiter on Transit Property or in a Transit Vehicle for longer than required to reach their destination.”
To me, the repeal of the anti-loitering provision was welcome news. In December 2019, while working at Student Legal Services of Edmonton (SLS), I co-wrote “No Fixed Address” with my friend Megan Washington (now an associate of Queck Law) recommending that Council repeal the anti-loitering provision. I wrote about that report in a post from last year’s Access to Justice week.
“No Fixed Address” found that Transit Peace Officers issued 561 loitering tickets to Edmontonians with no fixed address. That represented 79% of all loitering tickets that Transit Peace Officers issued in 2018.
We also found that the wording of the anti-loitering provision was vague. For example, the anti-loitering provision did not define loitering. It also left it up to Transit Peace Officers to determine whether someone is taking longer than required to reach their destination. The vagueness of the anti-loitering provision enable officers to act unjustly, as illustrated by a case from 2019 when Edmonton Police Service investigators determined that two Transit Peace Officers had acted lawfully by assaulting a Black teen who had waited too long on a cold winter day inside the Belvedere LRT station.
The anti-loitering provision made news again in February 2021, when the Edmonton Police Service cited it to justify its officers clearing unhoused Edmontonians and Bear Clan Patrol out of Central LRT station into -21 degree weather.
The Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force called attention to the effect that City bylaws and policies have on unhoused Edmontonians in their March 2021 report “Safer for All.” In response to “Safer for All”, City Administration released data regarding the number of loitering tickets that Transit Peace Officers have issued every year from 2016 until October 31, 2020. The data demonstrated that Transit Peace Officers consistently gave Edmontonians with no fixed address around 500 loitering tickets per year, accounting for over 70% of all loitering tickets issued.
In response to a motion by Councillor Aaron Paquette, City Administration presented Bylaw 19782 to the Community and Public Services Committee on June 30, 2021. Five days later, Council passed it unanimously and the anti-loitering provision was repealed.
This will mean unhoused Edmontonians will receive about 500 fewer $250 transit tickets every year, and law enforcement officer will have less discretion to target unhoused and racialized peoples.
There is more work to be done. Council and Administration still have not addressed the biggest problem that SLS identified in “No Fixed Address”: trespass tickets. Transit Peace Officers issue to Edmontonians with no fixed address about 2,000 trespass tickets every year – roughly four times the number of loitering tickets that Edmontonian with no fixed address receive.
People receive trespass tickets on transit after breaching transit bans, and bans are issued under City of Edmonton policy. Calgary has a policy that limits why and how its Transit Peace Officers can ban people from transit. Edmonton has no such policy and its Transit Peace Officer may currently ban people from transit for unjust reasons, including mental health episodes, intoxication, and even…loitering.
Implementing a policy that limits why and how Transit Peace Officers may ban people from transit is a crucial next step for City Council and Administration to take towards making our public transit more just and inclusive.