RM of Rosthern passes bylaw to regulate conduct from 'difficult individuals' toward council, staff

A new bylaw governing interactions between the Rural Municipality of Rosthern Council and the public might be over-reaching, according to both a resident and a University of Saskatchewan professor.

The bylaw, passed Tuesday, addresses some concerns of safety and harassment. It prohibits members of the public from conduct which causes another person to fear for their safety; repeatedly following from place to place a member of the RM council or staff; or watching the home or place of work of a member of the RM.

But a resident of Neuanlage, which falls in the RM, said she’s concerned that the bylaw also labels submitting inquiries or requests for service that are “frivolous or vexatious” as inappropriate conduct.

“It seems like a lot of overreach for what they need,” said Sara Unger.

“There are already laws in place against harassment and that sort of thing but it just feels like this gets us to a place where it discourages anyone from bringing a legitimate concern to the RM.”

Unger added she’s afraid her requests for service from council might be seen as frivolous in council’s view and it could land her in trouble.

“They are the ones deciding what is frivolous and what is vexatious and not listening to the public when we are bringing concerns forward,” Unger said.

Associate professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan Scott Thompson said he sees an issue with council deciding both what is inappropriate conduct as well as enforcing the bylaw.

“This makes them both the makers of the rule and the judges of the application and in our society that’s a distinction or a separation we have in our justice system, not having the people that make the rules enforce them,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the bylaw may create a barrier to those who bring legitimate concerns to council if council deems them as frivolous.

“Yes this will make things more efficient if you can stop people from speaking, however in a democracy sometimes things aren’t efficient and this inefficiency is important to ensure we hear the voices of all people within our society,” Thompson said.

He said if a member of the public is deemed as inappropriately emailing, calling and interacting with elected officials, RM council may take these methods of communication away, forcing individuals in different directions to have their voices heard.

Thompson said there’s a long-standing tradition in social justice in making change through non-violent disruption of processes.

“And this is the concern, if you take this tool away people are going to have to turn to other types of solutions in order to make themselves heard by the council.”

Unger, she tells CTV News she’s not confident the officials elected to office will deal with the tough decisions, rather than sweeping them under the rug.

“They are in the public service position it is literally their job to listen to the public and take our concerns seriously and to deal with them,” Unger said.

The RM council said in a statement to CTV News that the bylaw would be a secondary option in “dealing with difficult individuals” in “extreme circumstances.”

“To date, the kind of conduct that would be regulated by the proposed bylaw has been addressed on an ad hoc basis,” the statement said.

“At the recommendation of the Ombudsman Saskatchewan, and after having to defend itself (successfully) in court, it is the strong preference of the RM to have a clear bylaw that allows the RM to be able to deal with these sorts of serious concerns, and which provides appropriate guidance to elected officials, staff and members of the public in terms of what sorts of communications are appropriate and what recourse the RM may have in the event that these guidelines are not adhered to.”