Come on feel the noise

Posted by: | October 19, 2009 | 2 Comments

The UNA just started a public consultation about their proposed noise bylaw which runs until November 9.

This process has been ongoing since well before the appearance of Bill 13, which would give UBC the ability to regulate noise all over campus. The University Neighbours’ Agreement, the document which defines the governance of the UNA, outlines how rules regarding noise, nuisance, parking, and traffic can be put in place. Although the UNA does all the legwork to develop the rule(s), UBC’s Board of Governors would be the ones to ultimately put them in place. The Neighbours’ Agreement is clear that any new rules would apply only to the areas falling under UNA jurisdiction, not all of campus.

The fact that Bill 13 exists is a tacit acknowledgment that the BOG never really had the legal authority necessary to enact any noise rule the UNA came up with (not that it would have stopped them, of course.) Since it’s likely Bill 13 will pass, this is probably a moot point but still worth noting.

Reading through the proposed bylaw the image that comes to mind, to borrow a phrase, is that of a wildly overlapping Venn diagram. It contains some very broad, very vague rules with seemingly contradictory clauses, odd exceptions and an uneven mode of enforcement. Naturally, this is a subject on which UBC Insiders cannot keep quiet.

Scroll to barely halfway down the first page and you’ll already come across a very large morsel of food for thought:

“Cause” means to make, cause or allow, or to permit to make, cause or allow. A person who rents to a person, or issues a license or permit to a person, is responsible for that person’s conduct;
(emphasis added)

Pop Quiz: What percentage of UNA residents own the property the live on?

Answer: 0%

While people and strata corporations can own the buildings, all of the land is ultimately owned by UBC and leased to the people who live there. While the intent of this rule was meant to be for people renting out their units to students or others, that amount of clarity is not there in the wording. Is might be reasonable to interpret that as meaning UBC is the one ultimately responsible for everyone’s conduct.

And what would they be responsible for exactly? What types of noise are not allowed?

5. No person shall Cause any Noise in a street, park or similar public place which disturbs or tends to disturb unreasonably the Quiet of any person.
10. No person shall Cause Continuous Sound the sound level of which:

(a) during the Daytime exceeds a rating of 55 on an Approved Sound Meter when received at a Point of Reception; or

(b) during the Nighttime exceeds a rating of 45 on an Approved Sound Meter when received at a Point of Reception.

11. No person shall Cause Non-continuous Sound which disturbs or tend to disturb unreasonably the Quiet of any person.

For those unaware, 55 decibels is approximately the volume of a normal conversation, and 45 decibels is… quieter than even a normal conversation. Jan Fialkowski, executive director of the UNA said the rules are deliberately vague and that being too specific would mean specifying a huge number of details to avoid creating loopholes. While that is valid, being so broad is no better. Pretty much anything could be considered against the law. Crying babies? Community shuttles? Even using your washer and dryer could be construed as tending to disturb another person through noise.

Think that the suggestion that complaints would be made about crying babies is absurd? Maybe. But maybe not. In the minutes of the September UNA board meeting, residents are on record complaining about children making too much noise at the playground. Playgrounds in UNA areas are clearly meant only for quietly reading books and other silent activities.

It will come down to how the enforcement of the by-law is handled. Will it be handled reasonably and fairly? Will a noise complaint that is investigated and found not to exist still be considered a valid noise complaint?

This leads to the next question: who will be the ones making these complaints? The enforcement section outlines, in detail, how UNA residents can lodge complaints against other UNA residents under this by-law. It also has a section describing how UNA residents can lodge complaints against people who are not residents of the UNA. Curiously, there is no reciprocal provision allowing non-residents to lodge complaints.

The UNA reserves the right to complain about you, but you are not allowed to complain about the UNA. And as we learned over the summer, UNA residents often complain about people outside their borders.

Of course, the UNA can put in place whatever bylaws it likes. But the danger is that this bylaw could become the blueprint for a noise rule that would be in effect for the whole of campus. Broad restrictions on almost any type of noise are absolutely unsuitable for campus life. If the SOL database is any indication, giving discretionary power to the RCMP and expecting them to apply these powers fairly is a path fraught with danger. Despite UBC’s assurances that it wants to “let students be students” and preserve campus life, this commitment is still viewed with skepticism (hospice, anyone?). If the UNA wants regulations put on themselves so be it. But since noise is a localized problem, the Board of Governors would be wise to leave the rest of the campus out of it.


2 Comments so far

  1. CT on October 20, 2009 1:35 pm

    Well done Neal!

  2. Thomas Beyer on July 24, 2011 10:55 am

    Why has this very reasonable noise bylaw not been passed yet ?

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