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Yellowknifer criticizes shrill sound outside downtown mall as anti-homeless tactic

A piercing noise can be heard from the Centre Square Mall parkade in downtown Yellowknife. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC - image credit)
A piercing noise can be heard from the Centre Square Mall parkade in downtown Yellowknife. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC - image credit)

The shrill noise coming from the parkade at Centre Square Mall in Yellowknife, N.W.T., continues and has people in the city criticizing the 24-hour squeal in the capital's downtown.

CBC has not been able to confirm the source of the noise; the condo board associated with the building has said it has nothing to do with the parkade, and recent calls and an email to the mall's property manager went unanswered.

"That mall holds the visitor centre for the GNWT as well as the library," said Joseph Bannon, a Yellowknifer and father.

"It's really given me second thoughts about whether or not I should go to the library and take my son there, because we would be bombarded by that sound on the way in."

The sound is also giving Bannon's wife a headache, and some of her coworkers have reported similar symptoms, he said.

Some Yellowknifers guess that the sound is coming from a noisemaker, a device that emits a piercing sound to discourage loitering.

"I'm really frustrated because it seems like the entire tactic of it is just to push homeless people away," Bannon said. "They're already a vulnerable part of society."

But city councillor Rob Warburton, who is also a downtown business owner, said it's unfair to paint the initiative as an attack on people who are homeless.

"My understanding is that is there to try and prohibit the loitering from occurring," Warburton told CBC.

"[The city] has no loitering bylaw, and in the territory, we have no trespass act, so there's no bylaws or rules or regulations that anyone can use to address it in any way."

A sign in a window in Peace River, Alta. The Town of Hay River enacted its first public behaviours bylaw this week, which includes fines for spitting, loitering, fighting and public intoxication.
A sign in a window in Peace River, Alta. The Town of Hay River enacted its first public behaviours bylaw this week, which includes fines for spitting, loitering, fighting and public intoxication.

A sign in a window in Peace River, Alta. The City of Yellowknife considered enacting a public behaviours bylaw, which could have included fines for spitting, loitering, fighting and public intoxication, but did not believe it would have the desired impact of eradicating bad behaviour. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The town of Hay River passed a public behaviour bylaw last year outlawing spitting, fighting and public urination, largely adopting a similar bylaw that passed in Inuvik in 2020.

Yellowknife administration raised the possibility of developing such a bylaw during a Governance and Priorities committee meeting last October but said that it would not be "expected to have the desired impact of eradicating bad behaviour."

Warburton said he would like council to look at what other jurisdictions have done to address loitering and create tools to solve the problem in Yellowknife.

"What are we doing as a community right now to address this?" he asked.

"Essentially nothing – because it seems like as soon as you have a conversation around public safety or loitering, it just gets painted with this brush that you're insensitive or you don't care, [and] nothing could be further from the truth."

Two noise complaints filed

Right now, businesses are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on security, and shoppers are paying for it in their purchases, he added.

The City of Yellowknife does have a noise bylaw that prohibits noise that disturbs people's rest or comfort during the city's quiet time, which is between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The noise from the parking garage can currently be heard around the clock.

Yellowknife's bylaw manager has been off the job for more than a month, CBC News has learned.
Yellowknife's bylaw manager has been off the job for more than a month, CBC News has learned.

The City of Yellowknife says it did not approve the shrill noise to be emitted 24-hours a day downtown. (CBC)

Noise is defined in the bylaw as any unnecessary and excessive sound, including any sound that is "loud or harsh or undesirable."

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 for an individual or up to $20,000 for a corporation.

The city manager has not approved any noise exemptions for the area, officials said.

Two noise complaints have been filed in relation to the sound, they said.

"Municipal Enforcement Division has been in touch with Centre Square Mall property management and continues to work with them to find resolution," Abby Schelew, corporate communication advisor with the city, wrote in an email.

Bannon said he would like to see the sound stop entirely – or at the very least, be turned off at night.

"I remember growing up when they used to play classical music really loudly outside of that mall, trying to push people away," he said. "It seems like they stopped, and now they've just upgraded it to a high-pitched screech."