By Doug Hallett
Opponents of the city’s proposed public nuisance bylaw greatly outnumbered supporters at an unusual public input meeting Saturday morning at city hall.
There were four tables labelled to express an attendee’s stand on various parts of the bylaw. Tables expressing negatives views on the bylaw were far more popular that those espousing the positives.
Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin and Doug Godfrey, the city’s manager of bylaw compliance and security, circulated between the tables answering questions. They heard some strong criticism of the draft bylaw, which among other things puts limits on protests and rallies.
City hall says the bylaw would provide city bylaw officers and Guelph Police with new tools.
New tools in the proposed nuisance bylaw would allow police and enforcement officers to deal with unwanted behaviour on city-owned property and, in certain cases, on private land, without laying criminal charges.
Godfrey told a group at the “No” table that the bylaw could allow police to deal with downtown bar scene fights by issuing a ticket under the bylaw, so police could then “move on to other issues.”
The draft bylaw would also give the city more power over bothersome parties on private property.
However, people at the “No” table were concerned about limits on protests and rallies, especially with the bylaw providing for a fine as high as $10,000 to be levied on individuals for a first offence.
“It’s a $10,000 fine for someone exercising their democratic rights,” one young man at the “No” table challenged Chief Larkin.
“City property is OUR property,” was one of the remarks written on a large comment sheet at the “No” table. Another read: “Too much power seems to be given to bylaw officers.”
Many large pages of comments, reflecting the discussion around each of the four tables, were compiled and then hung on a wall for all to see. One of the comments from the “Yes” table read: “Bylaw required because police/bylaw response doesn’t allow for situations to be adequately addressed.”
There were also tables labelled ‘No – bus” and “Yes – but” for people with less clearcut views on any of four major sections of the draft bylaw, which were considered individually.
Godfrey said city staff will respond to all of the comments in a report to go to city council in February. Staff are accepting comments from the public by email, voicemail, fax or letter until Dec. 7.
Saturday’s meeting from 10 a.m. to 12 noon was considered a test of new types of public input the city hall is looking at, said Derek McCaughan, the city’s executive director of operations and transit services.
“This is a far more engaged process than we have traditionally pursued,” he said in an interview.
McCaughan, who is Godfrey’s boss and will have a lot to say about the final content of the public nuisance bylaw that staff propose to council, said Saturday’s meeting seemed to work well. It attracted more than 40 people.
It followed another test of a new type of public input last Wednesday evening, when Guelphites were invited by the city to participate in an hour-long telephone “town hall” discussion on the draft public nuisance bylaw.
Organizers were disappointed when a total of only 12 calls from the public came in during the hour, said Lynne Briggs, the city’s manager of partnerships and inclusion. “We felt that would be a convenient way for people to provide input from the comment of their own home,” but it didn’t attract as many callers as the city expected, she said in an interview.
The city hired Elizabeth Pinnington, a Guelph resident who works nationally and internationally as a professional facilitator, to lead Saturday’s unusual morning meeting at city hall. “This is democracy in action on a Saturday morning,” she told the crowd just before the meeting ended.