City attorney rejects downtown Saskatoon proposal to ban street musicians with amplifiers


Saskatoon's city attorney has politely rejected the downtown business improvement district's proposal to draft a bylaw banning street performers and preachers from using amplifiers.

The reason: The city has already passed a noise protection ordinance for this purpose.

Saskatoon's Downtown Manager Brent Penner first presented his proposal to the city's Environment and Utilities Committee on April 2. The proposal was based on a proposal from Edmonton city councillors.

Just over a month before the meeting, Penner wrote in a letter to the mayor and city council that the number of people using loudspeakers for microphones or instruments had “increased significantly” in recent years.

“This amplified sound takes the form of 'music' and 'street sermons,' and is often concentrated on the corners of 21st Street and 1st Avenue,” he wrote.

“The sounds coming from these speakers or amplifiers are often extremely loud and sometimes last for hours.”

Penner said his organization has received complaints from both ground-floor businesses and office tenants in adjacent buildings.

“Sometimes office tenants have to vacate offices and conference rooms closest to the street because of the noise pollution and the disruption it causes to their work.”

To be clear, Downtown Saskatoon supports street music, Penner said, and her concerns focused only on the use of amplifiers.

“Someone playing an acoustic guitar or a musical instrument without amplification was not a problem and we did not receive any complaints about it.”

In Edmonton's proposed bylaw, Penner said the use of amplification systems in public spaces would be prohibited “except when used by a person who has a permit to use the space” or by the owners and operators of a public space.

Penner argued that the city's current noise ordinance is broad and does not specifically address the use of loudspeakers in public.

In a report to the city's Environment and Utilities Committee, which meets Tuesday, city attorney Cindy Yelland disagreed with that view. The same goes for Saskatoon police.

“The City Attorney’s Office has discussed the provisions of the ordinance with the Saskatoon Police Department,” Yelland writes in the report.

“Both parties agree that there are currently provisions in the statute that could be used to remedy this situation.”

Both in its breadth and in its precision, the noise protection ordinance seems to solve Penner's problem perfectly.

The current noise protection regulations were passed in 2003 to protect the “health, well-being, peace and quiet” of citizens. This requires controlling and preventing noise that “unreasonably disturbs the well-being of reasonable people with normal sensitivity”.

Of course, what we consider reasonable and normal is worth discussing.

Section six of the regulation fleshes out these noble goals with an actual list of prohibited activities – although not exhaustive, it refers to the use of a stereo, a musical instrument “or a similar device” and specifies set times for their use outdoors.

Curiously, one of the devices on the city’s list is a “ghetto blaster.”

In principle, it is a violation of the regulation if the use of such a device “unreasonably disturbs the peace and well-being of people living nearby”.

According to Yelland, Saskatoon police are prepared to enforce the ordinance in its current form.

“The Saskatoon Police have determined that they are willing to use the existing bylaws to resolve any issues that arise and will communicate whether they conclude that bylaw changes are preferable to resolve these situations in the future,” Yelland said.

For a first violation of the noise ordinance, the minimum fine is $100, for a second violation, $200, and for any third or subsequent violation, the minimum fine is between $400 and $10,000.