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Snitching communities of anonymous neighbours?

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi this week reminded us of the importance of being nice, with a statement in the legislature announcing Ottawa’s second annual Kindness Week.

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi this week reminded us of the importance of being nice, with a statement in the legislature announcing Ottawa’s second annual Kindness Week.

One might question how this squares with unfriendly Bill 106, his private member’s bill for so-called Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) legislation, which has passed second reading.

SCAN laws, which are already in effect in Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Yukon, rely on anonymous tips, surveillance and court orders to cleanse neighbourhoods of junkies, hookers and, well, anyone else deemed undesirable.

A director of safer communities would investigate complaints from neighbours about buildings they think are being used for illegal or unsavoury purposes. Ultimately, problem buildings could be shut down for 90 days and the people living in them evicted without recourse to their rights under the Residential Tenancies Act.

Police, who complain of how time-consuming and resource-draining it currently is to get a Community Safety Order and shut down a crack house, love the idea.

Local activists, like People Against SCAN and the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, see SCAN as an end-run around due process and yet another tool for picking on the vulnerable, the poor, the addicted and the mentally ill.

The example proponents of the bill almost always offer is that of the proverbial crack house, and point taken. Nobody who isn’t on crack wants to live next to one.

But the wording of Bill 106 is vagueness itself, ready to spring into action to counter not only substance abuse and prostitution, but any activities that “have an adverse affect on communities or neighbourhoods.”

What does that mean? The definition provides even less clarity, gesturing widely at any activities which “(a) Negatively affect the health, safety or security of one or more persons in the community or neighbourhood; or (b) interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of one or more properties in the community or neighbourhood.”

Please take a moment and try to imagine an activity that couldn’t be said to interfere with a neighbour’s “reasonable enjoyment.” Communism, witchcraft and bad taste in music aren’t specifically mentioned, but neither are they specifically excluded.

Then consider the complete anonymity granted to the person bringing the complaint, notwithstanding access to information and privacy laws. Those accused of nefarious activity have no right to face their accuser, whose anonymity also obscures possible motives for wanting the weirdos next door kicked out.

Faceless snitches and quickie evictions? That’s not the kind of neighbourhood — or neighbours — I’d hope for in Ottawa.

 
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