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Nuisance bylaw confab an interesting encounter

The city’s public meeting Saturday morning on its draft public nuisance bylaw was an interesting exercise in democracy. Police were involved in the preparation of the draft bylaw, along with the city’s bylaw enforcement operation. So it had to be useful for Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin and Doug Godfrey, the city’s manager of bylaw compliance and security, to interact for a couple of hours with more than 40 citizens who turned out for the unusual public-input event in city hall’s front lobby.
People had a chance to express their concerns and ask questions, while Larkin and Godfrey had a chance to size up some of the public reaction to the controversial bylaw. Meanwhile, Derek McCaughan, the city’s executive director of operations and transit services, who is Godfrey’s boss, watched the meeting unfold from the sidelines. Coordinating the whole exercise was a professional facilitator hired by the city.
It was interesting to see people move between the tables labelled “Yes,” Yes – but”, “No” and ”No – but” as discussion progressed in 20-minute segments on the draft bylaw’s four main sections. The “No” table drew as many as a couple of dozen people at times, while the “Yes” table drew a lot fewer than that. It was an effective set-up for figuring out what people think, which can be tough sometimes at regular public meetings where people sit in rows and face a podium and most people don’t say anything.
It’s now up to city staff to decide how much to change the draft bylaw before a final proposal goes to council in February. Should the final version continue to require a permit from city hall to “host or participate in a public rally or protest that exceeds 24 hours?” Should it continue to ban the erecting of any structure, “including any tent or booth,” on city property without a permit? Should it continue to forbid people from distributing or displaying handbills, notices and other items on city-owned land without a permit? Should it continue to provide for fining individuals up to $10,000 for a first conviction and up to $25,000 for any subsequent conviction under this sort of bylaw, which has provisions that could easily be seen as infringing on people’s democratic rights, including the right to protest against injustices?
We think not.

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