Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trees Saved, Critical Valeriote, and Washrooms Closed

A lot of time, effort and energy over the last month have been absorbed in that little snafu on the south end involving the Hanlon Creek Business Park, but that doesn’t mean time stopped through the rest of the Guelph Beat. Here’s what’s been going down in other areas of interest.

Trees Saved (without protest)

Paradoxically, as the City was fighting to mow down some trees in the Hanlon Creek Business Park site, it was fighting to keep them up in the area around Goldie Mill. Last week, the City announced that a revised plan for the parking lot at the Guelph Youth Music Centre and the Goldie Mill Park will allow for the majority of the mature trees to remain. Moreover, the changes came in consultation with area citizens through comments and input at a meeting on August 5th. The City will implement measures to minimize construction impacts on the trees adjacent to the parking lot, said a City of Guelph press release. The City is also committed to replacing any transplanted trees that do not survive, and planting new trees adjacent to the parking lot.

Valeriote Gets Critical

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced last week that our local MP Frank Valeriote had accepted the role of Liberal Critic for the Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The agency, which will be based in Kitchener, had been announced in January’s Federal budget and will spend $1 billion over five years to promote new jobs and economic growth in Ontario. It was only on August 13th that Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially launched the agency along with Minister for Science and Technology, and Cambridge MP, Gary Goodyear. Valeriote’s first act as the new critic was to criticize what he called the government’s “inaction plan at work,” saying, “Southern Ontario has been waiting six long months since it was first announced in the budget to get this agency underway – the government has wasted precious time determining a site for it while thousands more jobs have been lost.”

Valeriote also talked about the sale of Nortel’s assets to Swedish film Ericsson, saying that if Goodyear and Harper really wanted to the Canadian economy a solid, they’d try and make sure those assets stayed in Canadian hands. “If Minister Goodyear is serious about Southern Ontario, he should turn his attention immediately to assisting Minister Clement with a review of the sale of Nortel’s wireless assets,” said Valeriote in a press release. “This review should exhaust all efforts to find a made-in-Canada solution involving one of Southern Ontario’s success stories, Kitchener-Waterloo’s Research-in-Motion.”

City Updates on Public Washroom Repairs

In the ongoing appraisal of public washroom facilities on city land following the death of a teenage girl earlier this summer, the City has released an update for the community. Based on the recommendations from the structural reports from Gamsby and Mannerow Engineers, the City of Guelph has contracted Action Construction Company of Kitchener for the demolition and rebuilding of the partition walls of the public change/washrooms at Guelph Lake Sports Field, Hanlon Creek Park, and St. George’s Park. The repairs began this week at Guelph Lake Sports Field and will be followed by repairs to Hanlon Creek Park and St. George’s Park with all repairs scheduled to be completed by the end of September. The City is also requesting a quote from Action for repairs to the public change/washrooms at the Norm Jary Splash Pad, and another company Group Eight Engineering Limited is performing the structural investigation work at the Larry Pearson Baseball Complex washroom facilities.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

City Versus Protesters, Part III

The week started back in provincial court on Monday as Justice Bonnie Wein’s one week reprieve for the protestors came due for final arguments. This time it was Justice Douglas Gray that would be hearing the case, sitting before another packed courtroom of friends and supporters of the occupiers of the land upon which the city wants the future HCBP to sit.

So walking into court Monday morning, as they had only six days early, many were wondering if this moment would indeed mean the protest’s end. But the system surprised once again as Gray reserved his decision to grant the City's injunction until his written decision was delivered to attorneys on both sides at the end of the week. Justice Gray also upheld the conditions put down by Justice Wein in her decision the week before, but the protesters had to allow the city to do additional repair work such as removing log barriers and filling in trenches dug by the protesters that obstructed vehicles from entering the site.

Basically it came down to our old friend the Jefferson Salamander. Amongst the evidence presented was a correspondence from the Ministry of Natural Resources in May and July that recommending the City not proceed with construction until further examination was done for the presence of the salamander’s habitat following the discovery of a hybrid salamander on the site in April. Ian Hagman, Guelph district manager for the Ministry of Natural Resources, as a witness for the city, testified that no legal action was taken to stop the city from doing construction on the site. Basically, without knowing the exact spot of the salamander's habitat, the Ministry's hands were tied. The Friday before this latest court appearance, the HCBP protesters through their attorney filed their own motion of injunction against the city claiming that their environmental assessments weren't extensive enough.

It was Thursday morning when Justice Grey delivered his decision, and while the city’s injunction to have the protesters removed from the HCBP site was upheld, so was the protestors injunction to stop construction and giving the Ministry of Natural Resources 30-Days to decide if its going to issue a stop work order on the site. True, it was one of those rare cases in life where everybody wins, but the victory was immediately taken up by the protesters and their supporters as a sign that you can beat City Hall. “So it would seem that we beat them at their own game,” said a message from the Facebook group ‘Save Our Old Growth Forest.’ “[This means] that work at the HCBP cannot continue for 30 Days! 30 days ahead brings us to September 13, just two days before the city's deadline to have work completed. It has set this deadline in order to comply with restrictions around fisheries and habitat protection.”

The City did its own spin on the day’s events though. “The City was successful in obtaining an injunction to keep people from trespassing and interfering with construction activities in relation to the Phase 1 lands,” said a press release issued later on Thursday. The mayor added, "We're pleased with Justice Gray's decision," said Karen Farbridge. "It sets the stage for more constructive dialogue with MNR in the coming month and beyond." The press release continued by saying that the city takes its responsibilities seriously and that they look forward to continuing a dialogue with the MNR.

On Friday, the protesters left as peacefully as when they arrived. In summation they noted on the HCBP occupation blog the circumstances of their last morning there. “Today was a hot day, and after camp was taken down, a few of us had a special dip in the creek, saying our goodbyes and humble gratitudes to this sacred place. The blue heron circled around the meadows as we hung around the front gate, and as much as we will miss this place, it feels great to give the heron its home back.” The question is though: for how long? (Not) The End.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

HCBP Update and Bike Racks

Apparently, You Can Fight City Hall

The Tuesday following the Civic Holiday dawned with the anticipation that the occupation of over 50 protesters at the site of the future Hanlon Creek Business Park was just hours away from a forced end. The call went out the night before as organizers spread e-mails, IMs and Facebook messages to get as many people out to the provincial court house on Woolwich St. The intention was to show as much support as possible in the court room to make the inevitable harder to follow through on. But in an act of cosmic irony, Justice Bonnie J. Wein decided to give the protesters a six day reprieve, effectively allowing the occupation to continue an extra week.

There were provisos however. Judge Wein ordered that there cannot be more than 30 people on site at a time and that only included people who had set up shop on the site for at least 24 hours. The protesters also had to allow the re-staking of survey stakes and the repair of the silt fencing and they were barred from adding any new structures to the site. A rope was also ordered put up as an ad hoc fence around the site, and all that work got underway on Wednesday morning. “So in short, this is a huge victory, and nearly unprecedented in Canada for the Defendants of an injunction to be allowed to stay in place while the case is adjourned,” wrote an anonymous poster on the HCBP Occupation blog. “The plus to that is that this case law is now available to support other such land defence actions!”

The city was pushing for a complete removal from the site to a designate protest area in the spirit of so-called “free speech zones,” similar to the type used at party conventions last year in the United States. The judge was concerned about the protesters health and safety, but was reportedly impressed with the cooking and toilet amenities used on site. Further, the protestors came prepared, hiring Toronto attorney Eric K. Gillespie, who’s familiar with Guelph development issues having represented the Kortright Hills Neighbourhood Association in their fight against the HCBP at the Ontario Municipal Boar; he was also part of the decade-long epic struggle to keep Wal-Mart out of town. The protesters are now looking to raise about $6,000 for legal expenses, and are accepting donations to keep up their fight. Everyone was back in court Monday for the next chapter of the story, the full details of which can be conveniently read now on my blog at

Guelph Transit racks ‘em up

Bikes that is. Perhaps you noticed the odd metal racks on the front of Guelph Transit buses last week. Well, it turns out that this is part of Transit’s priority to make alternative, and green friendly transportation in the City of Guelph a little more viable, and are taking citizen’s advice seriously in order to make it happen. The City conducted a survey back in April asking Guelph residents to send it thoughts and suggestions about how to improving biking in the Royal City. A press release last week stated that of the 400 residents polled, 31 per cent said that bike racks on buses would motivate them to cycle more frequently in Guelph. “Providing our riders with travel options that make their daily commute more convenient and enjoyable is important to the success of our transit service,” said Rudy Stehle, Interim Manager of Guelph Transit. Now following in the footsteps of other transit systems in K-W and Toronto, for example, Guelphites can use a combination of bus and bike to get around. “Guelph is committed to providing many sustainable transportation options to residents,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge. “This logical public transit enhancement will help further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make our city more bicycle-friendly.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Week in the Life of a Protest

I got the call at 6:30 am on Monday morning; I was half asleep as I answered the phone. Typically people don’t call me in the “wee hours,” so it surely must have been important, right? Well, while I didn’t remember the details of the conversation, I did remember the context: a small group of about two dozen protestors had taken to occupying the grounds of the future home of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. But this story isn’t just about occupied land it was about occupied time, as the story garnered province-wide attention all last week.

The story started back in January, when new, grassroots opposition to the HCBP started to get louder in the town. The property located in the city’s south end between the Hanlon Expressway and Downey Rd. has been on the books to be the place for new business development for sometime. Concerns have been growing though amongst the Green-minded as the site is home to an old growth forest, which coupled with the possible presence of the endangered Jefferson Salamander makes the HCBP site highly sensitive.

The occupation began at 7 am on Monday. The protestors made camp and proceeded to disrupt workers from Drexler Construction who were hired by the city to construct a four-lane road. The workers were sent home and their equipment moved to avoid damage. Meanwhile, the protesters prepared for the long haul. Their intention, as I was told later on Monday, is to stay on the site until forcibly removed or the date of September 15th, when it would be too late in the season for construction to begin. It wouldn’t be until Wednesday afternoon when the city responded officially to the protest.

I first visited the protest site on Monday afternoon and I was greeted by two individuals who identified themselves as "Faren Carbridge" and "Keter Partwright." The talked about how they weren’t surprised that the “bureaucratic process” had failed, meaning the pursuit of stopping construction on the site through direct interaction with stakeholders and advocacy through awareness. “Faren” added that she was disgusted by the City’s promotion of its green roof and other environmental initiatives at the new city hall even as they planned to plough over such a huge tract of land for development. While the number of people on-site increased to anywhere between 40 and 60 at any given time, “Faren” and “Keter” said that many more are with them through letter writers to demonstrations put on in the city.

Wednesday afternoon saw delivery of an eviction notice by Peter Cartwright, the city’s Manager of Economic Development Services. It ordered that all protestors must vacate the land by 4 pm Thursday or be charged with criminal trespass. Come Thursday afternoon, the group had become literally entrenched on the site; blockades were put up along the farm path to the protesters camp and roads in and out of the area had ditches dug in front of them to prevent vehicle entry. Numbers at the camp had also swelled, as the protesters were prepared to stand their ground. "Everybody's decided what their own response is going to be," is all "Keter Partwright" would say in terms of the group’s plans in the event of forced eviction by police. Mostly though, he said that they were trying to focus on the positive experiences.

By 5:30 pm it seemed that the police weren’t coming, at least not that day. No further communication from the city was received until Friday when the protesters were served with notice that the city was seeking an injunction in court on Tuesday to force their removal. By that point though the occupation will have been eight days, and already a powerful point’s been made by a small group of dedicated local citizens. It should be noted for those occupying the HCBP land are not affiliated with the group Land Is More Important Than Sprawl (LIMITS) or other groups. They are individuals acting on their own in common purpose. For updates on these and other stories go to Guelph Politico at