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B.C. city repeals 130-year-old bylaw banning drunken singing

City of Nanaimo retains bylaw banning nuclear weapons, but takes several other bylaws off the books
Nanaimo city council, at a meeting this week, voted to repeal a bylaw relating to public morals which prevented people from making use of any “profane, obscene, blasphemous or grossly insulting language.” (City of Nanaimo image)

Citizens can feel comforted in the knowledge they’ll continue living in a nuke-free Nanaimo.

A bylaw establishing Nanaimo as a nuclear weapons-free zone will stay on the books, but city council, at a meeting Monday, July 4, voted to repeal a number of other outdated bylaws, some dating from the 1890s.

Karen Robertson, deputy city clerk, presented a report on bylaws recommended for repeal as city staff compiles all of Nanaimo’s more than 6,100 bylaws into a database listing them by category and status.

More than 100 bylaws were repealed at this week’s meeting, including a public morals bylaw.

“That was passed in 1890 where one could be fined between $5 and $50 for using grossly insulting language, selling of a lewd picture or drawing, or found drunk while screaming and singing,” Robertson said.

For those who didn’t pay the fine, “the goods and chattels that you own could be forfeited and sold,” and those who couldn’t pay the fine could be sentenced to up to six months’ hard labour.

A bylaw passed in 1896 set the maximum speed one could ride a bicycle at eight miles per hour on streets and lanes and six miles per hour through intersections. Bicycles could no longer be ridden on sidewalks and the bike had to have a “bell or whistle that when sounded can be distinctly heard at a distance of at least 40 yards, and such person so riding such bicycle shall sound such bell or whistle when passing or meeting any other person, whether walking or driving, when he arrives at a distance of 30 yards of such other person,” the bylaw read. Lanterns attached to the bike were required at night, too.

“Fines were $25, and if not paid, goods again could be sold, only this time you could spend up to two months in jail,” Robertson said.

In fairness to cyclists – and what might be seen today as promoting active transportation – the bylaw also included a clause prohibiting anyone from throwing down broken glass, tacks or obstructions on paths and streets that could harm or delay a bicycle.

Billiard rooms were regulated in 1963. Gambling of any kind was prohibited in Nanaimo’s pool rooms and window blinds had to remain open to provide an uninterrupted view of interiors. No one under 16 was allowed to play.

“Thank God I waited until 1965 when I was 17 or I might not be here today,” joked Coun. Jim Turley.

A liquor licence regulation bylaw from 1913 prohibited women from entering bars.

“No female customers were allowed in the bars, at all, period, and not even permitted to ‘come upon’ the bar,” Robertson said.

No gambling, dice games, cards, lotteries of any kind were allowed, either. The fine for violating the regulations was $100 or up to four months in jail for those who didn’t pay.

“So, it was a really interesting and fun project to see those snapshots in time, to see what those laws were on the books,” Robertson said.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo adopts new animal responsibility bylaw

The only bylaw from the list that council debated at this week’s meeting was one from 1987 prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, storage and distribution of all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons components.

Coun. Don Bonner said he took issue with the proposal to repeal the bylaw, saying Canada was not a party to a United Nations treaty outlawing use and development of the weapons because it was among the North American Treaty Organization member countries that did not vote on the treaty.

“Therefore Canada is not a party to the treaty, which means it’s not a treaty here in Canada,” Bonner said. “Therefore, the argument that we need to get rid of this because they’re unlawful doesn’t hold, so this is a bylaw that I think still needs to be in place.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he supported Bonner’s motion, but “without much enthusiasm.”

“I recall the debate when it was passed in the first place and, quite frankly, it’s something which is well beyond our jurisdiction and is, basically, meaningless,” Thorpe said.

Council voted unanimously in three readings to pass a bylaw to repeal outdated bylaws, with the exception of the nuclear weapons prohibition bylaw.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo city council votes to reinstall nuclear-free zone signs

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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