One bylaw won't stop drug use, says mayor
St. Albert a pioneer in how it deals with head shops
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 06:00 am
Mayor Nolan Crouse is clear – restricting what head shops or stores that sell drug paraphernalia can sell, in isolation, isn’t going to change the world. It’s just part of a package of steps that he hopes can make illegal drugs less appealing to youth.
“Cumulatively, everything you do has an effect,” Crouse said. “It doesn’t matter what you do. The individual act is a very minimal act.”
Yet St. Albert, for the last two years, has been blazing a trail no other community in Canada has ever really travelled. While other municipalities have explored the idea of making it more difficult for head shops to sell pipes, bongs and other drug-related items, none have ever passed any kind of bylaw. Until St. Albert did last year.
“This was a bit of a pioneering effort on the city’s behalf,” said city solicitor Gene Klenke.
But that pioneering effort is having a difficult time before the courts. The changes to some city bylaws, that prohibit how much of any particular product a business can sell, was struck down just before Christmas in Court of Queen’s Bench after The Chad 420 Smoke Shop on Hebert Road appealed the bylaw changes.
The judge who heard the case subsequently ruled the city was making criminal law, which, under Canada’s constitution, municipalities are not allowed to do.
The city has since appealed that ruling, which is going to be a long process, Klenke says. St. Albert will hire an outside law firm to argue its appeal, which it must first file in writing with the Alberta Court of Appeal. The law firm representing The Chad 420 will then respond with its own written submission. While a three-judge panel will likely hear the arguments by the fall, it won’t be until 2014 that a decision is likely released.
“It’s quite possible we won’t have a final resolution in this appeal until some time next year,” Klenke said.
No specific budget has been set for this appeal as no work has yet been conducted on it, Klenke said. He said the bulk of the work that will need to be done was completed for the first court case last year, which cost the city approximately $30,000.
“At this point (the appeal) will cost less than we’ve spent thus far,” Klenke said. “Most of the work has been done. It’s just bringing that information in for the purpose of filing documents.”
If the Court of Appeal rules against the city, the city could always seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, Klenke said. But Crouse isn’t sure he would want that. If the city’s appeal is denied, he would want the bylaw changed to be more reasonable from a legal point of view, but that’s all.
“My opinion is we redo the bylaw or make it acceptable from an appeal point of view,” said Crouse. “Staff has taken the position that they feel there is an appeal that’s worth it. I guess time will tell whether or not it’s going to be accepted.”
A win by the city would restore the bylaw in its full effect, which would make business a little more difficult for The Chad and similar businesses in St. Albert. But the bylaw in isolation won’t have a significant impact on drug use in the city, not when Edmonton hasn’t tried to curtail head shop activity in any way and not when anyone who wants to can make their own drug paraphernalia with instructions from the Internet.
Still, Crouse said again, it’s not the individual bylaw amendment but the package of law as a whole that will help.
“There’s a long list of how cities deal with these things and they are usually in a reactionary mode,” Crouse said. “By us being out ahead of it, all we’re really trying to do is head this off.”