SIMON NATTRASS: City’s noise weapons target our youth

It’s difficult to describe the sound emitted by mosquito machines.

It’s difficult to describe the sound emitted by mosquito machines. Far from the mild whine suggested by their name, machines like the one installed at the corner of Douglas and View spew forth a squealing metallic vibration which forces itself into the dark corners of the skull. I discovered this noise — designed as a deterrent against loitering youth — a few weeks back. Had I been curious about the quality of my hearing (I wasn’t), I would have been interested to know that I’m one of only a handful of people outside of their teens who are able to hear the sound produced by the machine.

Mosquito machines have been used in Vancouver and a handful of other towns throughout B.C. and, despite communities’ often negative reception, have thus far evaded regulation by any level of government. According to the City of Victoria, the machines — which rely on tone rather than volume to ward off unwanted youth — don’t register on the meters used to enforce noise bylaws.

While quiet relative to the din of an average city street, a German study on the effects of mosquito machines found that “disruption of the equilibrium senses, as well as other extra-aural effects are well known.” Other effects mentioned by the study include dizziness, headache, nausea and impairment, all to be expected at the machine’s higher volumes.

“As a community, we need to be asking more insightful questions than ‘How can we get youth to cease loitering in front of our businesses?’” says Kluane Buser-Rivet, coordinator of the City of Victoria youth council. “By allowing mosquito machines in our city, we send a clear message to youth that they are not wanted on our streets.” Victoria councillor Lisa Helps echoes Buser-Rivet’s concerns, suggesting that businesses work with youth “to see how they would like these spaces shaped and to engage them in making them that way.”

There are few things that are as ethically repulsive as creating a weapon, which targets groups based only on a shared physical trait. That this practice remains unexamined by government or the broader community launches our reality into a dystopic future once reserved for science fiction. Imagine for a moment that these machines targeted any group other than youth — what would our response be? M

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