Winnipeg Is: Strange bylaws

The five dumbest laws and policies in Winnipeg, according to me

Matt Kehler

1. We over-regulate our psychics.

It’s no surprise that governments waste an absurd amount of time on arbitrary and unnecessary endeavors. Important tasks get put on the backburner while resources are wasted on the least pressing issues. There are few examples more emblematic of this dichotomy than the weird historical legislation of Winnipeg’s psychics.

Prior to 2008, psychics and fortune tellers required a license to operate within the city. The licenses were painstakingly specific, even going as far as specifying the type of fortune telling practiced by the individual (tea reading, card reading, etc.). But on April 23, 2008 the City of Winnipeg repealed the necessity for psychics to obtain licenses. They’re still required to obtain permits for all the other aspects of their business, but the license for psychics themselves were made unnecessary.

Now, I’m not taking a shot at psychics. But the entire field is undeniably subjective. An individual’s psychic abilities can’t be proven or disproven. They require no credentials or certification. A practicing psychic could openly admit to being a fraud without any legal impact on their business, since their legitimacy is irrelevant. 

But, ultimately, who cares? Even if you’re a non-believer, psychics are basically harmless. No one’s forcing anyone to pay for psychic readings. At the end of the day, it’s not especially significant. So why, then, has this field in particular been a subject requiring the close attention of civic authorities while much more pressing issues remain untouched? Marijuana and sex work laws remain stagnant and archaic, and racialized poverty and public indifference has turned into an epidemic costing hundreds of Indigenous women their lives. 

So, can we please agree to let Winnipeg’s psychics just do their thing, and focus on what really matters?

2. Stupid pet bans.

The need for animal legislation in any city is obvious. No, we cannot have lions, tigers and bears roaming the streets. Alligators and poisonous snakes are clearly not reasonable pets to keep in a crowded city. But a quick look into Winnipeg’s laws regarding prohibited animals reveals bans that are nonsensical.

The first and most obvious error is Winnipeg’s ban on pit bull ownership. Pit bull bans are common across North America, and there’s a surprising amount of public support for the practice. With bans in effect in Winnipeg and the entire province of Ontario, there’s serious advocacy for nationwide provincial bans of pit bulls. 

Many dog trainers oppose the stigmatization of pit bulls. Their use in illegal dog fighting has led to the misconception that pit bulls are inherently violent. According to the ASPCA, although pit bulls are more easily trained for violence than other breeds, pit bulls respond to the same socialization training as any other dog breed. Like with any other breed, pit bull violence is a result of irresponsible dog ownership.

But pit bulls aren’t the only pointless pet ban. Winnipeggers are still prohibited from keeping chickens. It’s a law that, again, stems from a misconception based in irresponsible ownership: that chickens are smelly and loud. Preventing Winnipeggers from keeping urban chicken coops prevents access to an inexpensive source of food. It’s also associated with many other benefits, including sustainable weed and pest control, a reduced carbon footprint, and an alternative to factory farming. 

Among the dozens of other pointless pet bans are the ban on domestic pigs, which falls under the ban of “all even-toed ungulates…other than domestic sheep.” Which begs the question, why can we have sheep, but not pigs?

3. A parade bylaw is being used to silence protesters.

The freedom to peacefully assemble is a fundamental right of all Canadians. Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlines it as a fundamental freedom of all Canadians, along with freedom of religion, expression and association. But one of Winnipeg’s dumbest bylaws serves as a tool to circumvent this most basic of Canadian freedoms.

The bylaw in question is the “City of Winnipeg Traffic By-Law No.1573/77”. Among a myriad other regulations, sections 9 through 11 of the bylaw explain that any Winnipegger holding or taking part in a parade must first receive a permit from the Chief of Police. The bylaw defines a “parade” as “any procession or body of pedestrians excepting members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, numbering more than thirty (30) standing, marching, or walking anywhere on a street.” 

What that means is that any group of more than 30 people in Winnipeg’s streets is technically a “parade.” And without a parade permit, any individual in a group of 30 or more people without a parade permit can be arrested and charged under the bylaw. This allows authorities to silence protests and deem them unlawful.

So in conclusion, the parade bylaw is bullshit. A protest and a parade are not the same thing. The necessity to regulate parades should not supersede the fundamental freedom to peacefully assemble. The attitude that arbitrary regulations trump human rights reveals a deeply flawed attitude in the culture of security in our city.

4. Rent control and condos are screwing low-income renters.

Home ownership is on the decline. According to Forbes, renting is becoming increasingly popular, especially among millennials. In light of real estate mishaps and economic woes over the last decade, the 20th century ideal of owning a house is looking increasingly dated.

So why is Winnipeg so difficult for low-income renters? The growing trends of rent control and emphasis on condos make it seem as if Winnipeg simply doesn’t care about renters. 

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Winnipeg’s vacancy rate was only 2.5 per cent in October 2014. That means renters in search of apartments are already big fish in a tiny pond. But Manitoba’s rental laws are permitting landlords to drastically increase rent costs through renovations. Essentially, a landlord can make minor renovations to their building as a basis to drive the price of rent way up. Even though landlords are legally obligated to offer renovated apartments to their previous tenants, that practice doesn’t hold much water if a renter can’t afford a steep increase.

The problem extends to condo developments as well. Just last week, I interviewed an Osborne Village resident whose three-apartment house is about to be torn down, along with two others, for a condominium complex. That’s nine potential low-rent apartments whose tenants are now several more big fish in the ever-shrinking pond.

The City of Winnipeg seems to value condo conversion over protecting low-income renters. With the trend moving away from home ownership, this is a serious error in judgement on the City’s part. Winnipeg’s housing priorities are in need of serious reevaluation.

5. A bizarre sidewalk-shovelling law.

Of all the weird and arbitrary Winnipeg laws, this is the weirdest and most arbitrary. We all know that Winnipeg winters are brutal. Sidewalks obviously need to be cleared. We’ve all witnessed snowbanks too tall to see over and been thankful for the fact that we don’t have to snowshoe our way through them.

1983’s Sidewalk Cleaning By-law (No. 3422/83) states that “all persons owning or occupying property abutting the street or streets listed…shall remove or cause to be removed and cleared away snow, ice, dirt, or other obstructions from any sidewalk adjoining to their property…within forty-eight (48) hours of the time when the snow, ice, dirt or other obstruction was formed or deposited thereupon.”

What that hilariously worded paragraph states is that there is a specific list of streets that are obligated to clear their own sidewalks of snow. For some reason, the city decided these areas weren’t theirs to clear. The owners of the properties risk a potential $150 of fines for not complying.

What’s especially weird about this is that the “list” of streets is actually just a two-block stretch. Specifically, it’s Osborne Street between River and Stradbrook Avenues. This two block stretch, home to beloved institutions like Music Trader and Little Pizza Heaven, is the only place in the city required to shovel their own sidewalks. Why? Who knows.

Part of the series: The Urban Issue 2015

Published in Volume 69, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 25, 2015)

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