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.

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