On June 19, around 930pm, my friend and I drove by Reggae’s Caribbean Restaurant a new Jamaican restaurant on Christina St, and they had a full patio. The owner is from out of town and moved to Sarnia to set up this business with his family, and it was exciting to see a new restaurant drawing out folks for a night out in the downtown area. So I turned the car around and walked up to their patio, hoping to get a seat to join in. The owner saw us and quickly went inside to get another table and put it out for us (socially distanced, of course). We ordered some drinks and then just enjoyed taking in the evening with the group there.
Thirty minutes into our visit, a police officer pulled up and asked to speak to the owner inside. So off they went and stood right at the window next to the patio and continued. I quickly followed them and went inside to listen in, partly because I’m nosey but also because it was a strange situation that shouldn’t involve the police. It turned out that someone had called in a noise complaint. The officer was there to give them a warning. I asked the officer what designates an appropriate level of sound for a complaint that is followed up on, and he explained that it was up to the officer that showed up for the call.
I’m telling you, I was right there, just a few feet away from this “noise,” and there was nothing to complain about. I could have a conversation with the people beside me without raising my voice while being directly beside the speaker. So I was confused as to why the officer was exercising his subjective opinion by telling the owner that he was doing something wrong. He also told the business owner that he could apply for a noise exemption for every night he wanted to be open past 9 pm and bring it to city council (which would never fly because the noise occurring should not need an exemption). He told them to turn down the bass of the music, but the volume seemed fine. He also warned them that they would get a ticket if it happened again. The officer left, ordered some food but had no idea how much an interaction like that was feeding into a much larger problem.
After observing this situation, I spoke to the owner who frustratingly exclaimed that this wasn’t the first time this happened. They had a few folks from the apartment next door who were explicit in their intent to sabotage their business with multiple noise complaints until they got fined and eventually shut down. I reached out to the police chief who responded with, “I have forwarded your questions to the Inspector in charge of General Patrol Peter Murphy and have copied the Chair of the Police Services Board (who is Mayor Mike Bradley).” After multiple follow-ups and no answers, I made a successful motion at a council meeting for Sarnia Police and city staff to report to council the following:
How it is determined if something is excessive noise (either through a decimal level or some other instrument to give an objective answer). How complaints are handled that are considered vexatious or repetitive so that they don’t put a continual burden on the person that is being complained about.
The situation has since escalated. A week ago on August 3rd, the owner called me to share an update and ask for help. The same folks who have threatened to shut down their business have now been harassing customers and telling them not to go into the restaurant. They have made racial slurs and insults, insinuating that they do not belong here. One man exposed his penis to the owner’s thirteen-year-old daughter. He quickly called the police to let them know what was going on and the response? Without proof, there is nothing they could do. Maybe they could set up some video cameras to capture the harassment?
I reached out to the police chief and city council to express the urgency of this situation. How are noise complaints being followed up with by multiple officers on multiple occasions (with police leadership fully aware of the problem), but sexual and racist harassment is being ignored in the same situation? Certainly, they would deal with these situations with some common sense and deal with it accordingly? What kind of response did I receive? Crickets.
A few days later, the owner called me again; this time, two officers showed up from the direction of their Sergeant on August First Friday, also the Jamaican Independence Day and presented them with a fine for “Noise likely to disturb: namely music and yelling.” This was after their night was over, as people were getting in cabs and heading home and after I pleaded with them to put these complaints into context and recognize what was going on here. This is after I got a motion passed to report on how we can have better and more objective standards for noise complaints.
So I reached out to the Police Chief and City Council again, updating them on the situation and this time I received the following response from the mayor:
Councillor Colquhoun: Members of Police Boards in Ontario are not allowed by law under the Police Act to interference in the day to day operations of a Police Service. The law is in place to stop political interference in the day to day activities of Police Services. If anyone has a complaint against a Police Service or Police Officers on Service or Conduct there is one law for the Province. The information on how to file a complaint is on the Sarnia Police Service Web site under How to contact us Section called Complaints and Conduct. Complaint can be made directly to the Police Service in question to the Professional Standards Office or to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director which in independent office staffed by civilians.
Trust this will be on interest to you.Mayor Mike Bradley
As a bar owner, I cannot imagine being fined for my patrons yelling and music playing – on a First Friday night when the streets, and twenty other restaurants, are full of people and on my national holiday. Frankly, it just would never happen. Could it have anything to do with the colour of my skin?
I am greatly disturbed that our city is so racist that this kind of systemic discrimination happens intentionally and without remorse. They know. Those in power know, and they are now directing their officers to make it even worse on this business owner. It was only a few years ago that our mayor and police chief disagreed with the Maclean’s article calling us the second most racist city in Canada. The irony is dripping.
I’m not even sure what to do anymore besides make this public and hope that we have enough citizens in this city to make up for the ineptness, racism and corruption of our leadership.
So shower Reggae’s with your love and business, write letters to the police board, the mayor and council and stand against this kind of horrific actions in our community. That may be all we can do right now is show that love can overcome hate and that we won’t stand idly by while those in power continue to make excuses and make matters worse.