Nuisance By-law

October 6th, 2012–jury-of-one-draft-public-nuisance-bylaw-deserves-further-discussion

Dear Honourable Mayor and Councillors: (emailed Sept. 24, 2012)

It is puzzling why a by-law, which ostensibly is being considered as a way to address the unruly and sometimes damaging behaviour of club patrons or neighbourhood party-goers, has, in what appears to be a seemingly stealth addition, included public demonstrations and protests, and the erection of temporary structures on public property.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines a certain number of fundamental rights that are deemed necessary in a healthy democracy. One of them is the public’s right to assembly. At the same time that this by-law is being considered the City is also working on an initiative that covers community well-being. The well-being of a community depends on many things, but one of the most critical is the right to assemble in public. By attempting to constrain that right, regardless of the wordplay used to make this palatable to the public, this by-law would be an assault on democracy as it is currently proposed.

As well, the inclusion of these two activities places us on a slippery slope that could lead to major abuses of the public right to assemble here in Guelph. One just has to look at New York City last week, Anaheim, California earlier this summer, and the G20 in 2010. This is what happens when laws are struck without respecting the fundamentals freedom they are assaulting. It is also the first steps that governing bodies take when their fear of public response is high; but it is also certain that those same bodies, by enacting laws that contravene basic rights and freedoms, ensure an eventual police state where repression of the public is key for social control. I am sure that this is not the City’s intent.

Freedom for the public to assemble must never be constrained or outlawed, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to observers, or how conflicting it may be to currently held attitudes on any level of government. A push-back from citizens of a city, province, state or nation is always a sign of a healthy democracy and that is the purpose of protests and demonstrations. They bring attention to issues that threaten our basic freedoms. The abuses and arrests of peaceful demonstrators in the Occupy Movements and G20 would never have been able to occur had not the states, province and municipalities enacted temporary and illegal laws to curtail the protests.

The erection of temporary structures, the second activity about which I write to you today, includes those structures that may be part of a public protest or demonstration, but could also include the temporary structures of the homeless. Neither are public nuisances. They may be uncomfortable to behold and may offend our sense of tidiness, but both are outcomes of injustices. The homeless are another casualty of either mental health issues or vulture capitalism, and they could be another casualty in the efforts to comply with the by-law.

I urge you all to please consider the direction that this by-law takes us. Fear and power are not amiable companions and when you use both to resolve issues that may be uncomfortable and disruptive it can only lead to a deterioration of community well-being. I understand the need to curtail unruly behaviour and vandalism in both the downtown and in residential areas. Living in close proximity to downtown I have firsthand experience with this type of behaviour and vandalism. But, please, consider this proposal carefully and in the end I hope you will decide to strike from the by-law the activities of public protest and demonstrations, and the erection of temporary structures on City (public) property.


Patti Maurice

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