Court backs city's right to regulate noise
By Janice Tibbetts

OTTAWA - Canada's cities and towns retained their power to regulate pesky noise in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that was a defeat for a Montreal strip club. Refusing to elevate noise-making to a constitutional right, the court concluded the Chateau du Sexe was not protected by freedom of expression when it piped its goings-on through a sound system to attract passerby.

The court, by a 6-1 margin, overturned earlier rulings that a section of Montreal's noise bylaw banning amplified sound outdoors violated the Charter of Rights. Similar bylaws exist in municipalities across the country and routinely spark hundreds of complaints annually. "Noise pollution is a serious problem in urban centres and cities like Montreal are entitled to act reasonably and responsibly in seeking to curb it," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Marie Deschamps wrote for the majority.

Justice Ian Binnie, in a biting dissent, argued Montreal's bylaw should have been struck down because it is so general it effectively outlaws everything from playing Mozart softly through an open window to annoying cellphones ringing in public places and even squawky baby alarms. "The above mentioned encounters with sound equipment are all imaginable circumstances which could commonly arise in day-to-day life," wrote Binnie. "It would catch people who can only make themselves heard using sound equipment, such as Dr. Stephen Hawking, one of the world's foremost theoretical physicists ... who can only communicate through a voice box."

  Binnie argued that the city should have been forced to find a better way to deal with its noise pollution, rather than being given such a broad discretion on what sounds it considers a menace.

The nine-year legal battle was sparked by a noise war between competing strip clubs on Montreal's vibrant Ste-Catherine Street. Chateau du Sexe decided to blare its interior soundtrack into the street, prompting the competition to follow suit. The strip club was charged under Montreal's nuisance laws with an offence that carries a maximum $300 fine for a first offence. Rather than cough up the money, Chateau du Sexe went to court with a two-part challenge. Lawyers contested the city's control over noise under its long-standing power to regulate nuisances, given that the meaning of noise is so subjective.

The city, for instance, makes exceptions for stores that blast music outside to attract Christmas shoppers, and for demonstrations, and other special events. The strip club also argued that its actions met the "individual self-fulfilment" principle behind the charter guarantee to freedom of expression. Chateau du Sexe was run by a numbered company, whose owner died before the case reached the Supreme court.

- CanWest News Service / The Vancouver Sun

Just Dance sound-levels
By Norman Cousins

Excerpts from an email exchange about loudness of music at Just Dance ( ) a twice-per-month dance.

I mailed: "At Halloween, for me the music was overwhelmingly loud, and that was with earplugs. I had to leave at 11, much earlier than I would have liked. In my opinion it was loud enough to be causing hearing damage in your guests. No doubt you know your business, but I pass this on in the hope that you might consider reducing the volume in the future."

The informative reply was: "Thank you very much for your comments. I always appreciate hearing about people's experience at the dance. As you may know, I have purchased a new sound system for JD. Amongst other things, it is more powerful and thus I am still finding my way around calibrating the correct volumes. This being said, I should also let you know that I was approached last Friday and asked if the music could be louder. The range of preferences at an event like ours varies considerably and trying to find a good middle point has always been a fine edge. Nevertheless, I will certainly keep your comments in mind next time I DJ, hoping that you will be more comfortable."

I then took sound readings, partly to discover how loud the music was, and partly to find my personal limit, and mailed: "I used a Sound Level Meter (set to "fast" response, dBA) at the last 4 dances to measure loudness, at the end of the hall furthest from the stage. For your information, the results were:

  Nov 11: Typically 85 dBA, up to 90 dBA

Nov 25: Typically 88 dBA, up to 95 dBA (with live group playing)

Dec 9: Typically 85 dBA, up to 91 dBA

Dec 16: Typically 85 dBA, up to 93 dBA

Presumably the readings would be higher nearer to the speakers. I now know that my limit of comfort is about 90 dBA. The risk of hearing damage at Just Dance is much lower than I thought. According to Health Canada guidelines: below 81/2 hours per day at 85 dBA, below 21/2 hours per day at 90 dBA, or below 45 minutes per day at 95 dBA, do not put hearing at significant risk (providing no other exposure to hazardous sounds). Whew! I understand that some folks want the music even louder, and I renew my plea for lower levels."

The reply was: "Thanks for your efforts and care. I, too, don't like it so loud! The new sound system is lacking in full frequency response - I find myself turning it up in vain to hear something not there with certain songs! Remind me!"

Note: Exposure time to 85 dBA should be 8 hours only (by WCB regulations) and be halved with every increase of 3 dBA,as the sound pressure doubles.

Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Winter 2006
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