This Silencer carries some risks



On paper, Brockville's revised noise bylaw has enough in it to get people worked up.

That's evident in the online responses to our story, and the lopsided (if unscientific) poll results.

There's something primordially irritating about anyone shushing us. We didn't like it when our mothers did it; we can't stand it when our spouses do it; and the last thing we want is Big Government doing it, armed with a decibel meter and a $300 fine.

And there may be some reason to worry, as Councillor and self-avowed punk rocker Leigh Bursey does, about garage bands having their evening sessions rudely interrupted.

The aptest warning I have heard so far about the dangers of this new Silencer bylaw came last week from Councillor Jason Baker.

“The Hatfields and the McCoys are going to use this to one-up each other in their little neighbourhood disputes,” he warned the planning committee.

Indeed, this process remains complaint-driven. And a McCoy is only really a McCoy in the eye of the Hatfield beholder.

I suspect the likes of Councillor Bursey, in his previous Mantra incarnation, would be likelier to get a visit from The Silencer than I would, were I to crank up Yo Yo Ma playing Bach's Viola Da Gamba Sonata No. 2.

The city's logic is unassailable. Having set decibel limits, and reliable technology to determine whether they are being exceeded, is preferable to a subjective approach governed by the ear of the enforcer.

The devil, as always, is in the details, and this devil could, in some critics' minds, be able to speak softly and still carry a $300 stick.

Fifty decibels, as measured at the point of reception, amounts to the equivalent of someone else's noise being loud enough to sound like a normal human conversation by the time the sound reaches you.

That might be loud enough to wake people up in the middle of the night. But it might also be enough to allow a spiteful neighbour to interrupt someone's violin practice.

Councillors, meanwhile, seem genuinely satisfied with Mayor David Henderson's assurances that enforcement of the bylaw will be “pragmatic.”

The bylaw is a blunt instrument meant to target specific irritants, as it has been all along, the mayor assures, and it won't be used to target other things like air conditioners.

That's fine. My read on the current batch of councillors is they are sincere about using common sense in enforcement.

But there are at least two risks with a strict bylaw accompanied by promises of pragmatic enforcement.

First, one could always end up with councillors formed of the Hatfield or McCoy template.

And second, the city's “pragmatic” enforcement of what's set down on paper could always lead to legal challenges, by any given Hatfield or McCoy claiming to have evidence of a violation that was deliberately overlooked.

A Silencer is a Silencer, after all, and if you choose to discriminate when applying it, there are always implications.

This Silencer may have to be misused a few times before it is fixed with some quiet tweaking.