The following blog is written by a law student for informational purposes only. It is not – and should not – be construed as offering legal advice. If you are seeking assistance with a legal matter, consult a lawyer.
University students are known for working hard… and sometimes, playing hard. Partying is an issue at a lot of schools, especially around events like Homecoming and holidays like Saint Patrick’s Day. Municipalities sometimes feel the need to intervene – such as the City of Kingston, which took action by enacting a Nuisance By-Law to regulate social gatherings within the City as a response to student parties. These are rare in Canada, but have been adopted by some other municipalities (such as Guelph).
Kingston’s Nuisance By-Law came into effect on March 20, 2018. It provides City Officers with increased powers to tackle a “Nuisance Party” anywhere within Kingston. There are many activities that fall within the definition of a Nuisance Party, such as:
- Public intoxication;
- Unlawfully selling alcohol;
- Damaging public property;
- Obstructing traffic;
- Excessive noise;
- Unauthorized fireworks;
- Public fights;
- Public urination; and
- Standing on a roof you shouldn’t be standing on.
For a first offence, individuals can receive up to a $10,000.00 fine. For a second offence, up to a $25,000.00 fine. Charges are not restricted to party hosts – anyone whose conduct satisfies the above may be charged. More controversially, individuals charged under this By-Law will face a mandatory summons before a Justice of the Peace. This means that they must show up to Provincial Offences Court in response to their charge instead of simply paying a fine or settling out of court.
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The purpose of the By-Law is to impose a duty on hosts of a social gathering to control their participants’ behavior. Officers can use this By-Law to disperse crowds when things get out of hand. To be clear: Officers can still enforce other By-Laws and statutes to regulate this type of social conduct. For instance, they can still charge your loud neighbor under the City Noise By-Law. Or they could charge your publicly drunk friend under the Liquor Licence Act. Yet, both of these examples are recaptured by the Nuisance By-Law.
So what makes the Nuisance By-Law special?
For starters, the duty placed on hosts of a social gathering will make the host think twice about their guest’s conduct – a regulatory burden that goes beyond worrying about just your own conduct.
Second, the Nuisance By-Law acts as an “additional tool” for Officers specifically dealing with large gatherings. Notably, the By-Law sets a lower threshold than the Criminal Code when it comes to unlawful assembly, allowing Officers to take faster action against public nuisances.
Finally, the mandatory summons required by the By-Law imposes an increased burden on anyone charged under it – a burden that may not always apply for a similar charge under a different statute.
In summary, there are three things that make the By-Law stand out:
- Hosts are now liable for punishment from the conduct of their guests;
- Officers have a lower threshold for action than the Criminal Code has set;
- There’s an exceptional mandatory summons that wouldn’t apply to most of these infractions under normal circumstances.
Our very own Queen’s Legal Aid Clinic is concerned with the consequences that the Nuisance By-Law will have on students. The Clinic argues that the By-Law specifically targets students despite Kingston’s position that it applies across the City.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and so the Clinic has made a serious effort to educate students who may find themselves charged under the By-Law if they aren’t careful.
Perhaps many residents welcome the Nuisance By-Law as it attempts to curtail wild parties. Or perhaps the Nuisance By-Law goes too far by unfairly singling out students who face overly harsh punishments. After all, do we really want to force individuals to appear in court – in a judiciary already strained for resources – for every charge under this By-Law?
As a student, I’ll think twice about how I participate in these events. Will a mandatory summons prove to be a stronger deterrent than the past system of existing By-Laws resulting in fines? With the By-Law this fresh on the books, that remains to be seen.
- Christopher Lupis (Queen’s Law, class of 2019)