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Castlegar and the Mosquito

The City of Castlegar recently installed a device called the Mosquito. Its purpose: to deter youths from loitering by emitting an annoying sound apparently only audible to people under the age of about 26. This device was approved and installed with no public input, Council made the decision and it was done before the news even hit the press. From the news paper reports, at this stage it appears that the device is only going to be activated during the early hours of the morning.

Creative Commons on FlickrOn hearing this, (sorry for the pun), I expressed my concern to one of the councillors, stating that this device has the potential to breach civil rights, and that the effect may be to offset the problem to another location anyway. It is interesting that the device has been installed near the nightclub that was so controversial when first approved a few years ago. I wasn’t around back then, but I’m sure the citizens and business owners were pacified with claims that the police will ensure the security and safety of all people. Now it seems the problem is at the point where a controversial device needs to be installed.

Update: After writing this post, I realized that there are a few questions that I’d like answered.

  • Was this item in the annual budget? If not, what part of the budget was cut to purchase and install this device?
  • Were community stakeholders given an opportunity to discuss and search for alternate solutions prior to the installation of the Mosquito?
  • Did the City undertake a review of problems with the technology, or was the sales brochure the only literature examined?
  • Why did the installation in Castlegar cost nearly 6 times that of an installation in the UK (quoted in a London newspaper)? ( I know the Kootenays are expensive, but that’s ridiculous!)
  • Does Council have a plan to deal with complaints from people affected from outside the target group?
  • Could this device be offsetting the problem to other areas of the City?
  • Is it within the City’s rights under the Community Charter and/or Local Government Act to prevent an age group of people (in an intentionally discriminatory manner) from any public area? If not, how is the City justifying the use of the device?

Don’t get me wrong – I think something needs to be done about anti-social behaviour, however, there has to be a better method than this.

Now let it be made entirely clear that I do not believe that anyone has the right to engage in anti-social behaviour that threatens or damages any person or property, and in arguing about the Mosquito device I am not supporting anyone’s right to engage in such activities. However, there is another side to the story… (as there usually is), and it’s one that hasn’t been told in Castlegar… yet.

International Opposition

[ad#125-right]Privacy International (PI), the London-based organization intent on protecting personal privacy states the following about the use of the Mosquito in situations such as the one in Casltegar…

National Post – Thumbs up for the Mosquito

PI’s director, Simon Davies, insist[s] that “ultrasonic technology used in this way should be regarded as criminal assault.” He also… adds that “directing sound waves aggressively with intent to create harm, annoyance or distress would be unlawful in most civilized countries.”

Also in the UK, the Children’s Commissioner for England demanded that the devices be banned as they indiscriminately target all youth…

Buzz off! | Mail Online

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green claimed the device was “demonising” young people, while civil liberty campaigners claimed it breached laws safeguarding the right of free assembly.

Some 3,500 of the £600 devices have been installed by businesses and councils blighted by gangs of intimidating “hoodies”.

A speaker emits an irritating but harmless high-pitched ringing sound at a frequency which is audible to children and teenagers, but which most people lose the ability to hear in their early 20s due to the normal process of age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis.

Teenagers are typically driven away within a few minutes, while adults are blissfully unaware of the sound.

But the Children’s Tsar is unimpressed. He said: “These devices are indiscriminate and target all young people, including babies, regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving.”

It is reported that autistic people have a terrible time with the sound, while some adults as old as 50 can hear the sound, the teen-only slogan is pure marketing.

To top off this post, I have a link to an editorial blog from the National Post disagrees with the opinion article quoted above, with the hypothetical question…

Daniel Goldbloom: Counterpoint: Ban the Mosquito – Full Comment

Imagine, if you a will, a store that employs a man to stand outside and yell at every passerby under the age of 25 — from babies up to university graduates. The store manager tells his enforcer that while he is not to say anything threatening, he must aurally accost everyone too young to have a mortgage, no matter what they are doing, no exceptions.

Is there a Human Rights Issue in Castlegar?

So the question to Castlegar City Council… you installed it, are you aurally accosting your constituents? They may not be the people who voted individually for you, but many of them are eligible to vote – so, like the scenario laid out above, I have to question is this really a good thing for business? You are not in the business of policing, let the RCMP do that.

Does it make sense to determine someone’s right to move freely about a public space by the results of an age dependent hearing test? The City is responsible for the maintenance of public space, and this may have been determined to be a cost effective way of ensuring that less vandalism occurs in a specific area of town. But public space is just that – Public.

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CBC covered this story last week, (click the link to read through the pages of comments…

Castlegar battles drunken crowds with ultrasonic device

Castlegar spent almost $7,000 on the ultrasonic devices, and Chernoff says there has been a drop in the nightclub problem.
“It has discouraged, and it has moved them along,” he said. “We’re not cleaning the streets constantly or the Element nightclub with their people out there cleaning, because these things just aren’t happening anymore in the downtown core.”
Now the council is considering installing more of them throughout Castlegar, but not everyone thinks the device does what it’s supposed to do.

Jessilyn Melville, 20, recently heard the noise when she was with a group of friends.
“It was not anything that would have driven me out of the area that’s for sure. I was just curious as to what the noise was. It was just sort of a buzzing noise that was unfamiliar, really,” said Melville.
Melville agreed there are groups of young people who do need to be moved along, but said she thought the devices were probably not the best way to spend tax dollars.

If the City chooses to allow a night club to operate within its City Limits – it has to face up to the consequences of that decision by ensuring adequate policing and taxes to pay for such a service, not install a controversial device in an attempt to clean up the City by removing the offenders (and anyone else who can hear the sound) from the streets. Nightclub areas around the world require policing to ensure that appropriate behaviour is maintained, I don’t know what the RCMP staffing and priorities are like in the early hours of the morning in Castlegar, but a couple of officers on the street would reduce anti-social behaviour and allow all nightclub patrons to feel safe. (Disclaimer: I’ve never been to the nightclub in question, but I’m tempted to head down one night just to see how young my ears are).

Let me know what your thoughts are on the matter of youth and devices like the Mosquito – leave a comment below, or contact me.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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