Rumour Has It: Saskatoon Could Make Gossiping in Public Illegal

A word of caution for the sh*t-talkers in Sakatoon: Bullying and repeated gossiping could soon be illegal in the city.

Under a proposed City of Saskatoon anti-bullying bylaw, rumour mongering, name-calling, taunting, mocking, and ostracizing would be outlawed in ‘Hub City.’

In February 2014, Saskatoon city council asked city hall legal staff to draft a by-law to address concerns over bullying. Now, more than two years later, the final product will be considered by city council on Monday.

The proposed bylaw would apply to anyone over the age of 12 who engages in the above outlined behaviour anywhere from parks, buses and streets, to bars, restaurants, and movie theatres. Being a gossip or a bully won’t come cheap either: Fines for a first offence could be as high as $300, with fines for subsequent offences as steep as $2,500.

Saskatoon’s bylaw offers a more refined and specific initiative than the anti-bullying law enacted in Regina a decade ago, with the proposed bylaw defining bullying as any unprovoked and repeated comment that can cause another person “harm, fear or physical or psychological distress.” The by-law also includes taunting, ridiculing, shunning, and – somewhat surprisingly – excluding another person.” It also includes physical acts of violence like kicking, pushing, hair pulling, and pinching.

Not surprisingly, the bylaw also forbids aiding or encouraging bullying in public places. There are currently two versions of the bylaw: one that would apply to schools and schoolyards during school hours, and one that wouldn’t.

Of course, the bylaw is the product of careful consideration when it comes to things like the Charter’s freedom of expression. And it should be noted that it can still be changed before it becomes a law.

The question is, how will it effectively be enforced? Most bylaw enforcement is complaint-driven, inviting a slippery slope between unsavoury behaviour or unpleasant conversation, and gossiping or bullying. Not to mention, gossiping isn’t exactly the easiest thing to prove, unless it’s secretly recorded. Furthermore, the whole thing could backfire if the scorned, immature, or vindictive use it to accuse someone else of something they in fact didn’t do.

We’ll have to wait until Monday to see if it materializes, but ‘rumour has it’ that it’s quite possible.