01 June 2010

Much Ado About Nothing?

There is a great deal of to-do in some of the local press about the Park Board policy of not allowing political demonstrations in the public areas of our community centres. The anti-HST proponents want free access to the lobbies of our community centres to collect signatures for their petition. The Park Board turned down the request based on a policy that states in part:

Examples of events which are not necessarily compatible with the Park Board’s mandate include non-recreational events such as press conferences, rallies, protests and events of a political or commercial nature and other gatherings to conduct activities which are not active and/or passive recreational activities. These non-recreational events are not compatible with Park Board’s mandate and thus are not generally approved to be held on parkland. In addition, to safe guard public enjoyment of parks, the Park Board does not allow the distribution of written material or solicitation on parkland without permission.

The Board has offered the anti-HST petitioners the use of a room for a fee—the same as any other group wanting to use a community centre. They have turned this down, demanding free space in the lobbies.

Now the former Chair of the Board is bringing a motion to the next meeting of the Park Board that would allow a one-time exemption for this group - the rationale being that the HST will affect every user of the community centres. I believe this is both risky and unfair. It is risky to pick and choose who should or should not be included in our rules and regulations and it is unfair to exempt one group over others. Other groups will want the exemption as well and we will be hard-pressed to justify why one can and another cannot. What should be debated is not an exemption, but the policy itself. If the Board does not believe this is a fair policy, then the policy should be done away with for everybody, not just a select few who it agrees with.

I firmly believe that community centres are public spaces for everyone and the current policy ensures that they are free from partisan politics. Our users should not have to be confronted with partisans with an axe to grind. I also happen to support the anti-HST movement and have signed the petition. It is easy to find the petition without having to go to a community centre. Many shops and malls and even street corners have people offering the petition for your signature.

The Civil Liberties Association has weighed in on this, declaring that the Park Board policy unfairly restricts freedom of speech and assembly. They even suggest that discussing the hockey game could be construed as against the policy. This is utter nonsense and they should know better than to spread such hogwash. There are limits imposed in many situations. The Park Board is not stopping people from assembling in community centres or restricting conversations. The policy simply says there is a place for political demonstrations, but it is not in parks or community centres.

1 comment:

  1. As a citizen, who uses the parks and recreation centers regularly I'm really relieved that someone is and will stand up for the the good of the park board as a whole. Having attended board meetings in the past, I found it incredibly frustrating to watch the board waffle over decisions, not willing to take a stand, not wanting to be the bad guy. Time and time again the public is given false hope with "public processes" that are called after the decision has been made. The Mount Pleasant outdoor pool is one such example.It is ineffective, unconstructive and inefficent. How much money is it costing tax payers to revisit these issues without sufficient grounds for revaluation? I agree public consultation is important but you really need to carefully consider the all options and alternatives before recalling decisions, otherwise its just a waste of time a money and it just shows incompetance.