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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Protest permit system 'not enforceable'
Niagara Regional Police Const. Mike Malachowsky, Insp. James McCaffery and police board chair Kenneth Gansel addressed horse protests when they visited town council Monday. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

A bylaw to implement permits for protests doesn’t truly exist in other municipalities, and is not enforceable, according to Niagara Regional Police Const. Michael Malachowsky, who addressed Niagara-on-the-Lake town council Monday night.

Malachowsky and NRP Insp. James McCaffery both attended the meeting to address the issue of ongoing horse carriage protests in Old Town.

The dispute between the protesters from At War For Animals Niagara, and a residents’ support group, Locals for Carriages, has been going on for more than a year now, with carriage supporters having enacted a petition to get council to implement a permit system for protesting in town.

Malachowsky shared some research he’s done in regard to permits and bylaws in other municipalities.

The city of Mississauga doesn’t issue permits for rallies or vigils, he said. The labour relations officer at Toronto Police Service told him there are no permits or bylaws that limit or control protesting.

The Lake Report got in touch with David Hopkinson, a media relations officer with Toronto Police Service, who said there is a requirement from the city to have a permit to protest but “that is when you will be gathered in a public place or if you will be occupying the streets.”

“Many times there are protests that do not have permits but officers don’t usually disrupt them, they try to give everyone the opportunity to protest,” Hopkinson said in an email. “Officers will monitor protests, with permits or not, for public safety issues and to keep the peace.”

According to the city of Mississauga website, it doesn’t issue permits for demonstrations, rallies and vigils but if there is no permit, some of the activities, involving use of the stage, generators, candles or distribution of food and beverage, are then prohibited.

After contacting the city of Ottawa, he received confirmation that there are no bylaws specific to demonstrations. There is a demonstration march application online which is rather a “courtesy document” so that the city and police can use it for safety and planning.

The Lake Report also confirmed with the City of Ottawa that the permit process is not mandatory but to “inform city stakeholders and police services.” But demonstrations are still subject to regular city bylaws and city laws governed by Ottawa police, said Michelle McElligott, a special events co-ordinator with the City of Ottawa.

The application system is “not enforceable,” Malachowsky said. When protesters don’t apply online, police have to rely heavily on social media to monitor and plan accordingly, he added.

McCaffery said all “incidents” should be reported and each individual situation will be treated on its own merit. If anyone witnesses an infraction, feels unsafe or sees online hate speech or has their private property used for protest, they should call the police, he said.

Three carriage supporters, including Jennifer Jones-Butski, Eric Van Noort and Karen Jones as well as two protesters, Jason King and Run Smith, were present at the meeting.

Jones-Butski, a founder of the carriage support group, said she wasn’t thrilled with the presentation. She claims there have been instances when horse carriage drivers wanted to file a report, but were turned down by police.

Brock Donald, one of the carriage drivers, recalled an instance when his report wasn’t accepted. 

He said he was once Christmas shopping and the protesters were following him around and taking photos of him.

Donald said the protesters posted photos of him on Facebook saying he looks like a “wifebeater.” When Donald went to the police station, “they said they couldn’t file anything on that because (protesters) said I ‘look like’ a wifebeater and not ‘I am,’’’ he said.

Another carriage driver, Angie Bishop, said after protesters were taking photos and yelling at the carriage drivers during Father’s Day last year, she went to file a report but she was turned down and told she needed a video proof despite having the video online, said Bishop.

Coun. Clare Cameron asked McCaffery if there was anything preventing drivers from filing a report.

McCaffery said “Most definitely not,” and that he encourages carriage drivers to contact police if they have an issue or feel threatened.

“By all means (it) should be reported,” he said.

McCaffery said the situation is “dynamic” and that police duty is to provide neutral assistance. There are currently two officers who have been assigned to attend protests and maintain peace.

After the protesters projected a video on the cenotaph on June 29, which caused outrage from local residents on social media, the incident was reviewed by police and it was determined the element of “intent” for a mischief charge was not met, said McCaffery.

A protocol between the two parties involved was set out in August 2018, McCaffery said. Part of that protocol states both groups have to be six feet from each other and shouldn’t block traffic. Both sides also agreed not to engage with each other, and protesters agreed to stay 10 feet away from the horses.

McCaffery said the protocol is not enforceable but is a “good-faith” agreement. He would not release the full details of the protocol and said he believes the details should not be public, as the protocol was not made to be public. The protests are being organized by members of the public, happening on a public street, and have now gone before a public meeting of council.

Jones-Butski disputes the good faith, and claims parts of the protocol have been broken by the protesters, who she said are “constantly obstructing” the public from approaching horses and the carriages.

“Insp. McCaffery stood there last night and stated that nothing has been obstructed,” Butski said. In his closing remarks, McCaffery said instances of obstructing pedestrians or inciting violence have not been met to date.

“I don’t agree with lying to the public. For him to stand there and say that none of this has happened when we’ve been sending pictures and videos, I just don’t understand it,”

Police continue to receive complaints about the protests, McCaffery said, and he said he hopes to bring everyone back to the table to revisit the agreement.

Niagara Regional Police Service board chair Kenneth Gansel also attended the meeting. He talked about the potential of an intersection camera program. There is a real-time operation centre at the police headquarters which allows regional police to link to municipal video cameras, he said, noting Niagara Falls and Port Colborne, as well as a number of private enterprises, have already joined the program. He said the centre is fully staffed but cameras are often used as an “after-a-fact tool” for police investigation.

“As much as this material is recorded, somebody is not specifically sitting there watching a specific camera,” Gansel told council noting it is a crime prevention program, not something based off of George Orwell’s 1984, “with somebody sitting there (watching).”

Earlier in July, Lord Mayor Betty Disero told The Lake Report she would like to have security cameras installed on the corner of Queen and King streets to help police monitor the busy intersection.

A permit application is required in NOTL if a demonstration or a rally involves a street, a road or a park closure, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero, but McCaffery said that’s different from a protest permit. A permit system has to be voluntary, not mandatory, he said.

Filming and taking photos is also not illegal, McCaffery told council.

Coun. Wendy Cheropita asked if there is a point where a public protest turns into a public nuisance. McCaffery said if there is violence or something stopping the traffic, then the police would look at the situation differently. 

“At this point, that’s all that’s happening. It’s a demonstration,” McCaffery said.

Police would come back to council with an update at some point in the future, he said.

Although the protest group is pleased with council’s engagement, they’re “dismayed that the overwhelming concern by the mayor and councillors is focused on suppressing our charter rights rather than taking real action toward ending the speciesist behaviours taking place in our community,” King told The Lake Report.