By Greg Price
Judging by discussion at town council’s last meeting, it must have been a lonely road for councillor Carly Firth in her attempt to form policy to political messaging located on town property.
After having put forward the motion to further discuss the placement issue of Taber Pro-Life benches at the Taber Cemetery as a request for decision was shot down at an Oct. 9 meeting, Firth remained unfazed and filed a notice of motion for policy discussion at council’s Nov. 13 regular meeting.
Unfortunately, the policy discussion was met with as much resistance as bringing up pro-life cemetery bench placements, besides some comment by councillor Jack Brewin, and was simply accepted as information. But not before plenty of councillors put their two cents in on their thoughts on the issue.
Well Councillor Carly Firth, I applaud your conviction in the face of adversity as once again I see holes in the logic noted by some in avoiding drafting policy in such areas.
“I am not going to become the morality police. I believe what I believe, and I’m entitled to do that as a Canadian. I think this is a terrible motion for us to even be discussing, because we are not in charge of picking or choosing,” said councillor Louie Tams.
Fear that such a policy would make the Town of Taber ‘morality police’ seems odd to me given various councils/administration currently and in the past have already set that precedence in their selectivity of ‘picking and choosing’ of what they find as acceptable.
We have to look no further than Taber’s controversial (at the time) Community Standards Bylaw which a member of the Taber Police Commission admitted ‘no lawyers were involved in the police commission’s review and they didn’t discuss whether aspects of the bylaw would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.’ The Times’ concern at the time was the ability for the police to disperse crowds of three or more with no just cause and how that would stand up to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Then in the early days of October 2016, there was the controversy of a small contingent of Falun Gong practitioners holding a small protest in Taber over illegal organ harvesting and human rights violations in China, wanting to raise awareness in towns across southern Alberta to try and get a united voice in Canada of support. Police were called on the protesters by one or more persons who were in the administration building at the time because they were feeling ‘intimidated’. I’m sure the concerns had nothing to do with a business contingent from China visiting the Taber area for possible investment right around when the protest was happening (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), as I get a call from administration, worrying about when my protest story is going to run, as there was also a member of council who talked with the protesters.
Issues that were brought up by the police officer were the banner the protesters were holding up was too graphic, and having the protest so close to the administration building, people may conclude that the protest was sanctioned by the town. Well look at that, worries that a political statement was sanctioned by the town, where now, when presented with another political statement, we are worrying about ‘picking and choosing?’
Fast forward to the town once again making provincial and national news in rescinding its Flag Protocol Policy C-9 back in January, disallowing community groups and organizations to celebrate their events in the community with their own flags on the town-owned flag pole behind the administration building. The national attention came from council rescinding the policy after the Taber Equality Alliance requested to fly a Pride Flag.
Fast forward in 2018 to the oncoming legalization of cannabis nation wide in Canada and council as a whole making it quite clear on its negative thoughts of the substance coming to Taber legally, attempting several different avenues to stop it leading up to the official legalization date.
Some on council talk about the freedom afforded us in the country and yet in recent years, the town has shown a track record of quite selectively giving people the opportunity to express that freedom freely.
What I find ironic is Firth’s motion for her policy was just that, to take council out of the morality police business by appearing neutral in any incident that may appear political on town-owned land in taking a side, given the nature of civic duty in which councillors are supposed to represent ALL of its constituents, not just the ones that may lead to the most votes.
What Taber Pro-Life did was very nice in giving residents a chance to sit down and rest while they visit past loved ones in the cemetery. It does not change the fact, it is an organization that is political. Pro-life movements are constantly canvassing Canadian government on issues involving reproductive rights etc. I’m not here to say that is right or wrong as Taber Pro-Life is entitled to go after what they are passionate about, I’m here to say that’s political. Comparing it to organizations like the Lion’s Club or the Taber Firefighters Association who have provided benches in town is comparing apples and oranges in its mission statements, where the later groups are simply trying to fill gaps in the social safety net.
Councillor Carly Firth is not picking a fight with any one organization, she is simply saying the town needs to pick a lane and stay on it when these issues arise as there seems to be no rhyme or reason.
“We’re talking about political statements, but we know darn well that there’s a lot of statements that are made that are not political at all. They’re either social, or moral, or personal feelings on a particular subject. So to create a policy of this nature at this time will be counterproductive I believe. Whenever you make a policy so tight, there’s no room for any movement, and you defeat the whole purpose of the freedom of this country,” said councillor Garth Bekkering at council’s Nov. 13 meeting.
How is the political/moral statement of a Pro-Life bench any different than a Pride Flag request, or a peaceful protest by Falun Gong members in exercising the ‘freedom of this country.’ Yet, the town has shown they are ‘picking and choosing’ when it comes to what is allowed in its statements on town property that has nothing to do with what is allowed under the Elections Act or the Municipal Government Act during election time (i.e. campaign signs), which again is comparing apples to oranges.
All Councillor Firth has been attempting to do is provide consistency when these issues arise, and can be applied the same from when different councils come and go.
Because of now, it sure does seem like in recent years, there has been a selective approach to what exact ‘freedom’ is allowed to be expressed on the whims of the council/administration of the day.