By Doug Hallett
It appears city councillors aren’t being overwhelmed with protests against a proposed public nuisance bylaw that would tighten city hall’s control over protests in Guelph.
Five of the 12 ward councillors responded to a Tribune query Thursday asking them what they think of the draft bylaw and whether they’re hearing much about it from their constituents yet.
“The question for me is what does the public think of it? I feel a bit conflicted,” Ward 3 councillor June Hofland said in an email. She indicated she’s conflicted partly because the bylaw combines prohibitions on “very serious matters,” such as being in possession of a weapon, with prohibitions on things like obstructing a sidewalk or knocking over a waste collection container, which could be seen as “just mischievous behaviour.”
“I have only had one email regarding the bylaw, and the resident suggests that the right to gather in public places is in the Charter of Rights (and Freedoms). Other than this one comment I have not heard anything,” Hofland added.
“Feedback has been sporadic and mostly in support” of the bylaw, Coun. Karl Wettstein said by email. People who are “concerned about some of the more difficult student houses have been very supportive,” he said, referring to some houses rented out to University of Guelph students.
The other Ward 6 councillor, Todd Dennis, said he’s heard “very little” about the public nuisance bylaw from his constituents so far. By contrast, he has been hearing a lot from “motorcycle enthusiasts” who don’t want the city to clamp down on noisy motorcycles, he said. “From a Ward 6 perspective, there are several items in the draft that will allow (the city’s bylaw enforcement operation) to be more effective in dealing with certain situations we have in the south end – excessive and loud parties especially,” he said in an email. “The more tools we have to deal with situations, the better we will be able to respond to issues.”
Ward 2 councillor Ian Findlay said he’s been hearing a lot of response to the draft bylaw, both in person and through email. Responses have generally been supportive, he said by phone. People especially seem to support the provisions dealing with nuisance parties, he said.
Some people have expressed concerns to him that the city is trying to limit protests, he said.
“We are not trying to discourage protests,” Findlay said, but he thinks it’s reasonable to require protesters to get a city permit if their protest lasts over 24 consecutive hours. “If it is going to be longer than 24 hours, the city needs to get involved,” he said, recalling the “mess” created by Occupy Guelph protesters last fall.
Ward 1 councillor Coun. Bob Bell said he’d received “a couple of emails, both pro and con.”
In the past, Bell said, people have complained to him about protesters camping in parks and on city property. “We have Freedom of Movement (protest marches), Freedom of Assembly (listening) and Freedom of Speech,” Bell said.
“What is at issue here is the Freedom to Occupy, a group can own through possession, public property,” he said in an email.