Concern around ongoing use of a public park for political rallies has prompted the city to reply.
On Tuesday, July 12, the City of Salmon Arm issued a statement saying the mayor, council and staff “share in the community frustration over the disruptive and disrespectful use of Blackburn Park on a number of recent occasions.”
The city describes the park as a cherished community asset welcoming residents and visitors alike, with amenities widely used by “children, teens, families and seniors,” adding much of the infrastructure at the park exists thanks to the hard work and fundraising efforts of community groups.
“It is a shared space worthy of all our care and concern,” the statement reads.
When planning to use the park for a public event, the city explained it is customary to write the mayor and council for permission.
“Permission is granted subject to appropriate insurance and the expectation that the event be held in a civil and appropriate fashion. This is done to ensure that the park can be safely used for the enjoyment of all. “Failure to do so demonstrates a disregard of the common courtesy so vital to a healthy and vibrant community. This is a fundamental responsibility we all share.”
The statement was issued subsequent to an email being sent by a resident to the city and local media regarding Blackburn Park still being used for political rallies. The letter’s writer, Shelley Desautels, raised concern around the park being used without city approval, and for families she’s heard from who feel unsafe at the park.
“It is summer, the weather is beautiful, and members of the community should not have to leave a public space because they are not comfortable with others that are occupying the space, ESPECIALLY when those occupying the space are doing so against very specific bylaws that the city has full responsibility to enforce,” wrote Desautels.
The city said this situation is not unique to Salmon Arm, and that municipal bylaws, and the enforcement provisions they provide, “were not intended nor designed for these troubling circumstances, nor should we, in a democracy, want or need to afford such powers to local authorities.”
The city’s Parks Regulation Bylaw states it is unlawful and an offence for any person to “engage in any kind of political or other demonstration in any park or public lands in the District without first obtaining a facility use permit.”
Asked about the city’s statement, Mayor Alan Harrison explained by email that it was issued “to let the general public know that we share their frustration.” He said the city has received “mostly verbal concern from residents who are frustrated with the ongoing gatherings over the course of the pandemic that have continued on a sporadic basis over the past few months.”
“We are especially concerned, as the park is a place for seniors, teens and young families to enjoy,” said Harrison. “This enjoyment is being negatively affected by these gatherings.”
Harrison noted there are many gatherings that take place in city parks that do not require permission.
“They also do not affect the enjoyment of the park for other users: picnics, birthday parties, small group gatherings – this is what parks are for,” said Harrison. “More formal gatherings, recreational programs, sports uses are required to ask for permission and must have insurance. When aware of this requirement, almost without exception, groups follow the required process.”
Asked about the parks bylaw, Harrison said city’s can ticket for using a public space without a permit. However, he explained this can be challenging for two reasons. One, the organizers are the ones who would receive the ticket, but “participants in the rallies do not identify organizers.” And two, Harrison said collection of ticket penalties across the country are not paid voluntarily.
“As the statement says, this is a challenge faced by local governments everywhere,” said Harrison. “Municipal bylaws and the ticketing provisions allowed for under the act, do not provide cities with the powers to choose which gatherings should be permitted.”
The city said it is grateful to the “vast majority of users for their continued respectful use, our dedicated parks staff for their daily maintenance and our bylaw and RCMP members for their public safety work.”
The city said anyone facing an immediate personal safety risk should contact 911.
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