Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie is weighing in on a proposed bylaw aimed at the use of public spaces in the city.
A motion was passed at last Tuesday’s planning meeting to have staff draft a public space use bylaw that will address safety concerns on city-owned or managed property.
The proposed bylaw would cover encampments like the one at St. George’s Square where a fire occurred overnight on January 16th.
Guthrie raised the issue of encampments and the dangers they can pose to the public back in November.
“When it was decided to remove the motions that were coming forward, I was very public in stating that I would bring something back for discussion.”
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Tent encampments have been popping up all over Ontario and across Canada. They are occupied by people who are without a home. Besides St. George’s Square, tent encampments have been seen in Guelph at various underpasses, along the Hanlon Expressway, and even outside City Hall.
In addition to fires, there have been reports of drug use, assaults, and violence at these encampments.
“We are trying to wade through a very complex and challenging issue,” said Guthrie. “Everyone on Council is fielding calls on these issues consistently. I think we have a duty to respond, but also a duty to listen.”
The draft bylaw would also cover “related activities”. That could mean things like protests and demonstrations. The City’s Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush in an email to Global News said that is part of the work staff are doing that will be part of their report to Council.
Guthrie said while some protests have the potential to escalate into violence, he is not in favour of an outright ban.
“Even if I don’t like what they are saying, I will always defend their right to say it,” Guthrie argued adding he would not support any draft bylaw that restricts freedom of expression.
Staff will bring the draft bylaw for a special Council meeting on February 14th. The final draft bylaw will be voted on at the February 27th meeting.
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