Some information is finally emerging with regard to the impact of the implementation of last year’s most controversial piece of municipal legislation in Ponoka.
Impaired driving charges have reduced since the implementation of the business hours bylaw in Ponoka, says RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm.
After requests from town council to show how the business hours bylaw has affected the community, Chisholm compiled information that, he believes, shows how the Town of Ponoka has become safer.
Taking data from July 7, when council passed the bylaw, up to Dec. 16, Chisholm compared 2012 to 2013 in four areas:
• Impaired driving
• Disturb the peace calls between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
• Domestic violence calls between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
• Assaults charges between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“This is a preliminary analysis with a small set of data and a full analysis would best be done over a longer period,” explained Chisholm.
He feels a proper evaluation of how the business hours bylaw has affected the community should be done over at least two years to follow trends.
Chisholm said the vast majority of calls late at night are alcohol related. Impaired driving numbers dropped — in the studied time period — to 21 charges laid in 2013 from 39 in 2012. Ever since Wetaskiwin first passed their business hours bylaw in 2009 impaired driving charges had doubled, said Chisholm. Those charges were only within town limits and he said eight per cent of the 2012 impaired driving charges came from Check Stops.
“There was a clear linkage between the impact of the Wetaskiwin bylaw against what criminal activity was occurring in Ponoka. And impaired driving was the most significant one,” he explained.
Calls for disturbing the peace after 10 p.m. dropped as well; there were 17 in 2012 and 22 in 2013, a drop of five. Domestic violence calls have also dropped to nine in 2013 compared to 16 in 2012. Chisholm said in 2011 the RCMP changed the way they score and investigate domestic violence related calls. The criteria states domestic violence is conflict between to partners that are in an intimate relationship.
“We’ve actually improved in reporting domestic violence,” said Chisholm.
While he did not investigate each case to determine the cause, the staff sergeant believes the majority of domestic violence calls involve alcohol. Some of this information is anecdotal from his Mounties who deal with these calls, said Chisholm.
Assaults saw a minor drop in 2013 with seven charges compared to nine in 2012. Chisholm said he did not conduct a complete file review of each charge but said alcohol and assaults usually go hand in hand.
“There is a direct correlation between alcohol and violence,” he said.
The provided statistics are to try and answer some of the new council’s questions related to how this has affected the community, Chisholm added. He believes the bylaw has made the Town of Ponoka safer and it shows in his staff. “We’re the ones that are out there at 3 a.m. providing safety to this community.”
The owners of the Leland Hotel, Marc and Abby Yaworski have recently closed their liquor store the Leland Liquor Loft. Abby Yaworski said they have had to cut back their employees. “A year ago we would’ve had 12 employees. Now we have four.”
Much of their income came from off-sales, which could be sold until 3 a.m. Since they own a hotel, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) allows liquor sales until that time but the bylaw restricts off-sales until 10 a.m.
Since the bylaw passed, the value of her business has dropped by half, said Yaworski. She disagrees with the implementation of the bylaw and waiving certain days such as Almost Midnight Madness and New Year’s Eve.
“They (council) say it’s for safety, yet it’s exempt during the Stampede,” she added.
Her customers have become confused as to which day they can buy liquor after 10 p.m. A new liquor store in town last year affected her business but she says not enough to warrant shutting down her store.
“We were still ordering the same amount of liquor and beer,” said Abby.
The Royal Hotel is the only other establishment that had off-sales.
Representing town council on the protective services committee is Coun. Loanna Gulka. She voted in favour of the bylaw and still supports it. The recent report provided by Chisholm is a step towards positive change, she said. “It appears to me that something’s making a difference.”
But she feels a proper study of the effect of the bylaw should be done over a longer period.
“I truly feel that we need more time to decipher whether this is working or not,” said Gulka.
She suggests that the bylaw should not have given concessions for liquor sales during the Ponoka Stampede. Since then, council has received two requests, which were approved, to waive the bylaw for certain times.
“A lot of these things are coming up because of that,” explained Gulka.
She mentioned an alcohol strategy that the province is working on and Ponoka’s bylaw touches on many of those issues.
Chisholm, for his part, said he was a part of the strategy when stakeholders first started discussing it.
For more information on the strategy, visit: http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/AddictionsSubstanceAbuse/hi-asa-alberta-alcohol-strategy-handout.pdf.