A recent article about the Town of Nipawin’s passing of a new noise bylaw at the January 14th, 2019 council meeting by the local newspaper, the Nipawin Journal, shed light on a little known section of the town’s, soon to be repealed, original noise bylaw.
The article led with the headline “Nipawin has new noise bylaw. Your music cannot be heard off of your property at any time of day.” While the headline was correct in that the town bylaws do prohibit residents from playing music in their home loud enough for neighbours to hear, and the bylaw is, in fact new, it omits the fact that much of what is contained in the new bylaw has been carried over from the town’s Bylaw 747/99 which has been in place since 1999 and is now repealed and replaced with the new Bylaw No. 1060/19.
When the article was shared to the Facebook group Nipawin News Group, the reaction from some residents ranged from a select few who agreed, to those who saw it as an overreaching bylaw designed to take away their rights and freedoms. Many poked fun at the seemingly draconian measures the town appeared to be taking.
The article did not quote the by-law, nor provide a link for residents to view it on the Town’s website, but rather it was the journalists interpretation of the regulations as set out in the bylaw, using phrases such as “music ban” and “also banned” that resulted in a misunderstanding of what had occurred at the most recent town council meeting.
To add to the confusion, a copy of the draft of the new bylaw had not been uploaded to the town’s website yet and was only available as a link from the agenda for the January 14th meeting. Recent changes to the town’s website have resulted in the necessity to “dig” for documents and require a basic knowledge of how the town organizes their uploaded documents. If you know how they organize it, it is easy to find a specific document, but if you don’t it can be difficult. To further complicate the issue, anyone who, at the time the article was published, simply went to the town website’s Bylaw page to view the Noise Bylaw, would have found the old, soon to be repealed version. (A second step formally repealing the old bylaw should appear at a future council meeting).
The day the music died really was a long, long time ago
Gaining the most attention was a section of the bylaw that was actually one of the few sections to not be reworded much, before incorporating into the new bylaw.
Bylaw No. 1060/19 (new bylaw) Domestic Noises – Section 7, No owner or occupant of any premises shall operate, or permit to be operated, or suffer to be operated, or allow to be operated, play or allow to be played, any radio, phonograph, CD player, record player, tape recorder, television set, musical instrument, or any other apparatus, appliance, device or machine used for the production or amplification of sound, either in or on private premises in a residential district in such a manner that the same can be easily heard by an individual or member of the public who is not on the same premises from which such noise or sound emanates.Town of Nipawin Bylaw No. 1060/19 (new noise bylaw) Domestic Noises – Section 7
At issue for many of those who reacted, and possibly the reason for the Nipawin Journal sub title drawing attention to it, was in the wording of Section 7, specifically “…. can be easily heard…“. While the wording remains the same from the old bylaw, and other local municipalities, such as the Town of Carrot River, use the exact same wording in their existing noise bylaws, it is an ambiguous choice of words, not seen in many similar bylaws throughout Saskatchewan. Many municipalities have noise bylaws that basically attempt to achieve the same results, however most have clearer wording that provide a basis for appeal, based on unreasonable standards of such sounds emanating from your home. The definitions are vital to act as a safeguard against abuse of the bylaws that have been put in place to help ensure all members of a community’s rights are respected and protected.
The term “Can be easily heard” creates the ambiguity in the bylaw that leaves it wide open for abuse, and that was a primary concern for many who spoke up in the comments of the Facebook post. Can easily be heard is not the same as being loud enough to create an annoyance for your neighbour. Some fear the bylaw will be abused and expressed that through both criticism of the bylaw and the council, and in the form of making fun of the extreme the bylaw appeared to go to.
Use of GVW to define trucks over “one ton” creates misunderstanding
The old noise bylaw addressed trucks idling on the basis of use and engine type, focusing on large trucks with diesel engines as a source of unnecessary noise in residential areas, if the idling was done for a period typically longer than what is necessary to warm the vehicle’s engine on a cold day. The new bylaw completely rewords the section addressing trucks idling in residential areas;
(Old bylaw) “No person shall allow the diesel motor on a tractor which pulls a trailer or on a semi-trailer truck, or any other truck, to remain running for longer than 30 minutes while the tractor-trailer, or tractor alone, or truck, is stationary in a residential district.”
(New bylaw) “No person shall allow the motor on any truck over one ton (GVW) to remain running for longer than 30 minutes while the unit is stationary in a residential district.”
In the new bylaw, and in the same manner as many municipalities do in their bylaws, the use of the term GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) appears to be erroneously used to describe the types of trucks that are what is commonly known as “one ton” or larger. The proper term to differentiate between 1/2, 3/4 or One ton pickup trucks, in this case, is not in their GVW, nor GVWR, but by their payload. A one ton truck does not weigh one ton. It has a payload rating of about one ton.
The actual weight of a car is known as the gross vehicle mass or weight (GVW). It refers to the current weight of a vehicle will all of its parts and everything inside it including cargo and passengers. On the other hand, the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) indicates the highest load that an automobile can carry.
By changing the wording of the portion of the bylaw that refers to trucks idling, the town seems to have attempted to ensure all trucks, including those with gas engines and light duty trucks are included in the bylaw. It clearly defines the practice of idling for longer than 30 minutes in a residential area is what they are targeting, however the GVW mentioned is more likely an oversight and simply the incorrect terminology used.
The town council and the ratepayers should look on the bright side
There is no doubt that the reaction of many residents and even non-residents, was not appreciated by some and even left a few people quite offended. But there is a bright side to the viral attention both the article and comments have garnered for the new bylaw.
Engagement has always been an issue for many towns and their ratepayers. Just as in any other community, social media is used as a venue for extremes. We live in a “shock and awe” society these days and social media drives the topics of the day. Mainstream media (MSM) are widely cited when selective reporting creates an atmosphere of misunderstanding, even outright misinformation. Some of the MSM do it because the story itself does not get attention online amidst all that “shock and awe”.
The town of Nipawin, just as any other municipality, should look on these social media discussions as a natural occurrence and part of the process of engagement. The sheer implication that people, no matter how misguided their information source may have been, should not have the right to voice their opinions or even criticize their municipal government is wading across a boundary that no one should be crossing.
As the excitement (and the laughter) dies down, both sides come out of this ahead. Ratepayers are now more educated about some of their local bylaws and the council has achieved tremendous exposure.
To the town and it’s ratepayers; Don’t dwell on the words, seize the opportunity to continue to engage.
Nipawin Journal article – Nipawin has new noise bylaw
Town of Nipawin Bylaw No. 1060/19 (new noise bylaw)
Town of Nipawin Bylaw 747/99 (old bylaw being repealed)
Feature image source: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/users/bogitw-851103/