A helmet bylaw in Yellowknife is not being enforced, and the parents who campaigned for its introduction are furious.
Last summer, the City of Yellowknife passed a bylaw commanding anyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while out riding a bike or skateboarding.
Not wearing a helmet would, according to the law, lead to a $25 fine. A six-month grace period was put in place, up to the end of 2014, to allow people time to become familiar with the rule.
However, by June 2015, not a single person had been issued a fine under the new bylaw – and parent Jackie Hardy is crushed.
“I feel like they’re ignoring the bylaw. That may not be their intent, but that’s how it’s coming across,” she said. “It’s a law. They should be enforcing the law.”
Jackie and husband Ed lost their son Josh to a head injury he suffered while longboarding in 2012. Josh was not wearing a helmet at the time, and the Hardy family has since campaigned vigorously for stricter rules to ensure helmets are worn.
Getting the bylaw passed last summer was a victory. Now, Jackie feels like it was a waste of time.
“To be honest, if they’re not enforcing the law, to me, it’s just a joke,” she told Moose FM. “Why did I go through what I went through in order to get this law passed?
“To me, it’s going to be interpreted as a joke – just another bylaw that’s not going to be enforced. What’s the point of the city even doing it?”
Doug Gillard manages the city’s municipal enforcement division. While admitting not one fine has yet been issued, he explained to Moose FM that enforcing the bylaw is not that simple.
“It’s a last resort,” said Gillard. “The difference from other bylaws is it’s for anyone under 18. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, you can’t charge anybody under the age of 12 for any kind of offence.
“So you have to charge the parents, and you can run into issues if the parent sent the child out with a helmet but they didn’t keep it on.
“We’re a small division and law enforcement isn’t the answer to the issue. The answer is the community and it starts with schools, and parents, and everybody talking to kids and changing behaviours at a young age. It’s the community that has to get behind this and we can’t do it alone.”
Gillard points to this weekend’s forthcoming bike rodeo, organized by municipal enforcement, as an example of a tactic he would rather use: encouragement, in place of enforcement.
Officers give out small rewards to children who do wear helmets, as opposed to fining those who don’t. Anyone without a helmet will be asked to get off their bike or skateboard and walk.
“The idea is to change these behaviours at a young age so, as they grow older, they see the necessity,” said Gillard.
Jackie Hardy doesn’t buy that.
“I can understand maybe giving one warning to somebody,” she said. “But after that, it should be a fine – not a ‘Happy Meal’ coupon to say ‘It’s great that you’re wearing a helmet. You’re not, but that’s OK, too.’
“Obviously, the education for those kids ‘educated’ through the bike rodeo is not working. You see kids still on their bikes, not wearing their helmets.
“It is election year. Quite frankly, if council can’t get this bylaw in place and enforced, a lot of those councillors won’t be getting my vote in the fall.
“Ultimately, it’s all about protecting your head and ensuring there are no accidents – no deaths, like what happened to Josh.”
Ed Hardy, meanwhile, wants to see the bylaw extended to apply to people of any age.
“We were hoping for part two of the law, for ages 18 and over,” he said. “People should be setting an example. We need to have part two implemented, for all ages.
“The city is spending a lot of time and energy promoting bike lanes. This is just the next natural part.”
Following on from this weekend’s bike rodeo, the Hardy family will run its own Helmets for Hardy campaign day at St Joseph School on June 13. Helmets will be given out to children in the school parking lot (or inside the small gym if it’s raining) from 1pm till 3pm.