Bizarre bylaws: These are some of the strangest rules on the books across Canada
Next time you sing a song or hammer a nail, you might want to first check to make sure you’re not breaking the law.
While those activities are legal at all times in most parts of Canada, that’s not the case everywhere.
Each of the country’s approximately 3,700 municipalities is able to create bylaws that prohibit certain activities.
Breaking a bylaw won’t land you in jail. Penalties are more likely to take the form of fines, which can vary wildly based on the community and the offence.
Anyone caught ice skating on a road in Wetaskiwin, Alta, for example, will be fined $78. The city also bans its residents from doing anything to “tease, torment, injure or annoy” any animal, with penalties rising from $100 for a first offence to $500 for a third.
Teasing animals is allowed in most circumstances in Red Deer, Alta. – unless the animal is a cat that happens to be caught in a cat trap. Tease that feline and you’ll be facing a fine of $510.
Human laws for animals
Animals are often the subjects of some of Canada’s more unusual bylaws – like in Gander, N.L., where a $20 fine can be issued to the owner of any cat that damages any plant.
Many communities ban their citizens from feeding wild animals, albeit with exceptions for bird feeders and the like. Stratford, Ont. might be the only city to specifically state that its ban on feeding wild animals does not apply to swans.
People who own household pets, meanwhile, are usually risking fines if their animals chase strangers or make noises that disturb them. Doggie doo is often a problem addressed through bylaws, with Tisdale, Sask. being particular strict. Dog owners in that city must clean up all poop from their properties each day, unless they want to deal with fines that can reach $250 per offence.
Tisdale also requires female dogs to be kept inside when they are in heat. Many communities have similar guidelines. Estevan, Sask. has a somewhat looser rule: Dogs in heat there are allowed outside to use the bathroom.
Parks and recreation
Mostly, though, bylaws govern the activities of people – sometimes with surprising specificity. Victoria’s street entertainment bylaw lays out distinct rules for bagpipers, chalk artists, balloon artists and others to follow. Two bagpipers can’t be playing on city streets at the same time, for example, and balloon artists cannot demand payment for their work.
Elsewhere in Victoria, the city’s parks bylaw outlaws anyone from using the city’s tennis courts or lawn bowling greens while wearing high heels. But the B.C. capital doesn’t prohibit “boisterous conduct” or swearing in parks, both of which are outlawed in parks in Summerside, P.E.I. Things are taken one step further in the parks of Calgary, where it’s against the law to “do anything which is likely to attract a crowd” outside of areas where sports, performances and so forth are specifically allowed.
Back in Estevan, anyone using a park should know that the city forbids them from installing an irrigation line there. There are many bylaws that, similar to that one, seem to have been created in response to a specific incident or a fear of a specific incident. Dawson City, Yukon has a few of these: If you’re there, it’s illegal to destroy a highway, to transport material which would be likely to “imperil” people living nearby, and to build a pipeline across a highway without written permission.
Rules of the road
Highways and roads are among the topics most frequently covered in bylaws. While provinces and territories look after drivers’ licences and behaviours, municipalities are able to set rules governing the use of local streets and sidewalks.
That’s why taxi drivers in Halifax must keep a “high standard of personal hygiene,” why bicycles and tricycles can be impounded in Snow Lake, Man., if their owners haven’t paid their annual $2 licensing fee, and why it’s illegal to “crowd, jostle or harass” pedestrians in Edmonton.
In Gander, when bylaw officers aren’t handing out tickets to the owners of plant-destroying cats, they might be keeping an eye out for anyone parked within 200 metres of an active fire. That’s outlawed, as is throwing tacks on a highway.
Legalities aside, throwing tacks on a highway isn’t a particularly good way to spend one’s time. Better to hang out at a playground, right? In Gander, that isn’t particularly easy either. The town restricts the use of most of its playgrounds to children under the age of 10 and adults accompanying them.
Parking lots don’t have age limits – but you could run into trouble there, too. In Red Lake, Ont., playing a game in any municipal parking area will leave you with a $100 fine.
Like most municipalities, Red Lake also prohibits certain loud noises which can annoy people – but its list of outlawed sounds is far more specific than some.
Red Lake residents can’t, for example, use a hammer or saw between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Shouting, whistling and singing are banned during those hours as well – which still leaves its residents with more freedom to make noise than people in Myers Lake, Ont., have. That community enacted a 24/7 ban on those sounds earlier this year.
In Jasper, Alta., meanwhile, motorized lawnmowers can’t be used on weekends until 10 a.m.
While it’s normal for municipalities to ban some things at night that are OK during the day, one part of the noise control bylaw in Souris, P.E.I., is a bit of a head-scratcher. People there are not allowed to ring doorbells or knock on doors at night with intent “to disturb or annoy any person” – but no such restriction exists before 10 p.m.
An odd clause in the noise bylaws of several Ontario communities, including Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, creates exceptions for any “newsboy, peddler, hawker or petty tradesman” who is “plying his calling legitimately and moderately.”
Dredging up a dead horse
One story about a Toronto bylaw has been repeated so often and for so long that it is hard not to think of it whenever the topic of bizarre municipal regulations comes up.
Canada’s largest city, the story goes, has a bylaw stopping its citizens from dragging dead horses down Yonge Street on Sundays.
It stands to reason, right? Yonge has long been considered the city’s main street, and anyone dragging a dead horse down it would be inconveniencing other road users. Additionally, Toronto long considered Sundays sacred, outlawing Sunday sports and forcing movie theatres to close on Sundays into the 1950s.
However, when asked by CTVNews.ca if Toronto banned the dragging of dead horses on Yonge, city staff said they could find no evidence of such a regulation. What’s more, they couldn’t find a reference to such a rule in the bylaws of any of the six municipalities that merged to form Toronto in 1997.
But for anyone reading that and thinking about grabbing the nearest dead horse and heading to Yonge Street, a word of caution: Various municipal and provincial regulations would seem to make that activity illegal even if it is not specifically mentioned.
If that fabled bylaw is in fact a fable, then maybe people will stop beating that dead horse. And never start dragging it.
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