Toronto Urban Legends: For Whom The Curfew Bell Tolls
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Toronto Urban Legends: For Whom The Curfew Bell Tolls

Sounding the bell on a little-known piece of legislation.

The truth behind the tales people tell about Toronto.

More often than not, when youth are the perpetrators of crimes and misdemeanors, a hue and cry goes up demanding curfew laws. Proponents argue a citywide curfew would prevent young people from getting into mischief at all hours. Opponents claim curfews cast upstanding young citizens in the same light as ne’er-do-wells.

Although no city bylaw exists, both sides may be surprised to learn Toronto police already routinely enforce curfew laws. Yes: they’re already on the books.

Curfews have always been contentious. Toronto has been struggling with the issue for more than a century.

Local councils believed nine o’clock was an appropriate time to clear the streets of children. In 1894, city fathers in Toronto Junction passed a bylaw requiring those 12 and younger to be home no later than then. Firehouses announced the start of curfew by ringing tower bells. The bells pealed again at seven the next morning, lifting the nightly lockdown.

The practice of ringing bells to commence curfew wasn’t unique to Toronto, though. In fact, curfew bells date back to the middle ages.

Torontoist was unable to verify either the effectiveness of the Toronto Junction bylaw or how long it remained on the books.

With juvenile delinquency on the rise in the 1960s, the idea of a curfew was once again in vogue. In one instance, former mayor and city councilor Allan Lamport suggested imposing one in the Yorkville area, which at that point in time was a counterculural enclave. In a 1967 Toronto Star article Lamport described Yorkville as “A haven for criminals and undesirables.”

In Lamport’s view, an eight o’clock curfew for youth would have shielded teenagers from the influence of pot-smoking hippies. The recommendation went nowhere.

An inordinate number of gun crimes in 2005, plus last year’s brazen shooting on Danzig Street reignited the curfew issue. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) continues to be a curfew proponent.

Claire McWatt, chair of Toronto Youth Cabinet, said her organization was unaware curfew legislation was currently in place in Toronto. McWatt said the idea “seems like an archaic solution to a bigger problem,” and would do “nothing to protect youth and enrich communities.”

If there’s no curfew bylaw in Toronto, what legislation are police enforcing when officers stop and apprehend curfew violators?

Section 79(5) of Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act states that youth 16 and under are prevented from loitering in public places and places of entertainment between midnight and six in the morning, if unaccompanied by a parent or an authorized person 18 years or older.

So if you’re out after midnight and under 16 without adult supervision, and you happen to bump into Toronto’s finest, the curfew bell tolls for you.

Additional material from the Toronto Star, September 5, 1894 and August 4, 1967.