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No singing allowed on the bus?

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What kind of society would fine citizens for singing in public? The question is relevant in city council's coming discussion of what makes for safe riding on city transit buses. Banning singing is one of the numerous proscribed offences city council's public works committee believes are necessary to keep bus riding a "civilized" affair.

The proposed bylaw includes reasonable restrictions: Leave firearms and explosives at home; drinking alcohol or toking is a no go; keep your artistic fervour at bay, because spray painting a bus or bus shelter is verboten. And use the loo before you board -- the bus is not your toilet.

The fines for all offences would be a maximum $100, but offenders can be barred from riding the bus, or sitting in bus shelters. And therein lies the real intent of the bylaw. Transit director Dave Wardrop says the rules on behaviour are targeted at chronic offenders, in hopes of making bus riding safer for the drivers and commuters.

if the proposed bylaw passes, Shoeless Joe (or Jane) will be kicked out of the shelter if he or she lingers longer than 90 minutes. No huddling from the storm or sheltering from the biting wind for the homeless who wander the city's streets, because the police cadets Winnipeg Transit hopes to use will move you along.

The cadets would have the power to demand identification, to know your birthdate and address, for enforcement. They could apprehend offenders, to make real Transit's authority to boot a rider permanently off the bus.

How a bus rider bursting into song becomes a threat is anyone's guess. Causing a disturbance in public and vagrancy are already well covered in law and rules of trespassing, but this bylaw would reach beyond the parameters of what most people would consider real risk.

The bylaw strays into Victorianism with its intent to regulate what people can wear while riding, although it doesn't define "appropriate" attire. Who has ever been under threat by a man's decision to go shirtless, or a teenager's short shorts? Or a homeless person's unshod feet?

The need to protect bus drivers from violent individuals is pressing. City council can negotiate, with the Winnipeg Police Board, use of police resources -- cadets seem a reasonable option -- to be at the ready when drivers or passengers are threatened. But kicking a "vagrant" off the bus or out of a shelter simply because they linger too long seems heartless and unnecessary. When fines are considered a more reasonable way of dispatching "problems," it suggests social services are not up to the task in this city.

The intent to ban singing and to ensure people are properly attired is not about propriety anymore than it is about protecting people. At worst, it attempts to keep the easily offended free from bother. More likely, this bylaw offers a scatter-gun approach when a deft, surgical solution is required for a real and specific problem. Bus drivers must have sufficient protection at their call. Winnipeg Transit ought to be able to kick offenders off permanently. But there is regulation and law to deal with those who threaten others on the bus. City police resources, rightly, should be used to keep transit a safe service for all.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2014 A8

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