FREDERICTON - A New Brunswick skateboarder, jailed Wednesday after he insisted he would rather be locked up than pay a fine for riding his board on Fredericton's streets, says the city's "nuisance bylaw" discriminates against a legitimate form of transportation.
"I'll see you all in five days," Lee Breen shouted to about 100 supporters who gathered outside the provincial courthouse after a rally at city hall, which attracted about two dozen skateboarders.
One protester carried a placard that said: "Police state - free Breen." Another said: "Sustainable transportation is not a crime."
Soon after Breen turned himself in to authorities, a judge signed a warrant for his arrest and deputies immediately took him into custody to begin serving a five-day sentence.
However, justice officials said Breen could be released as early as Wednesday night, mainly because the offence is not that serious.
Bylaw S-9 prohibits anyone from using a skateboard, sled or toboggan on city streets.
The 25-year-old local businessman, who owns an eco-friendly lawn care company, said the bylaw is at odds with the city's bid to become an environmental leader.
"The Fredericton City Green Matters campaign states that they want citizens to use alternative modes of transportation, and that's what I was doing when I was ticketed," Breen said before he was jailed. "I'm just trying to do what the city wants."
Breen argues that if cyclists are allowed on the streets, skateboarders should be allowed to use them as well.
"It's a form of transportation," he said. "I was just riding on the street, trying to get from A to B."
Wayne Knorr, a spokesman for the City of Fredericton, said the bylaw was introduced in 1990 to ensure safety on the streets.
"This is not about a 12-year-old skateboarding in your neighbourhood," he said. "This is about a young male who is skateboarding in very busy downtown traffic."
Knorr said Breen has been spotted holding up traffic, and his argument that skateboarders and cyclists should be treated equally is not legitimate because skateboards are not considered vehicles under the province's Motor Vehicle Act.
Municipalities across Canada have a hodge-podge of rules dealing with skateboards, in-line skates and other modes of people-powered transportation.
In St. John's, N.L., for example, a bylaw names specific streets and public spaces where skateboarding is not allowed, and while helmets are required, there are exceptions for those with medical or religious reasons.
The town of Innisfil, Ont., also has a bylaw prohibiting skateboards, in-line skates and scooters from specific streets and public places. A first offence carries a $25 fine, while subsequent offences are $50 and the skateboard can be seized for 30 days.
Victoria, B.C., prohibits the use of skateboards in a broad area of its downtown. Violators are subject to a $60 fine.
In Fredericton, Breen was originally fined $50 in the summer of 2007, but the fine was bumped up to $100 when he refused to pay. He later said he wasn't looking forward to going to jail, but he decided he had to take a stand.
Skateboarder Inez Rudderham of Fredericton said she took part in the rally at city hall because she wanted to show city officials she, too, believes skateboards represent a legitimate form of eco-friendly travel.
"It's my mode of transportation," she said.
Rudderham said police have occasionally warned her to be careful but have left her alone. However, some motorists have made her the target of derogatory remarks, and one driver tried to run her off the road.
Breen's supporters said they will take the issue before city council in a bid to have the bylaw rescinded.
"We don't have a problem if the city wants to pass a bylaw that you have to wear a helmet or a bylaw against dangerous skateboarding - there are already laws against those things - but to just outlaw the activity of skateboarding really makes no sense," said Breen's brother Fergus.
"I refuse to obey this bylaw, so they are putting the city police in a bad position, and they're on the wrong side of this issue from an environmental standpoint."