A community group in North Saanich critical of the Official Community Plan (OCP) review says the municipality has imposed an undue burden, but its chief administrative officer says North Saanich respects the right of individuals to express their opinion while fulfilling its duty to ensure public safety.
Paige Gibson, a member of Save North Saanich, said freedom of expression is a right protected by the Canadian Constitution, only curtailed by limits that are reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society.
“The municipality has told our volunteer group that we cannot assemble outside for one hour to express our opinions on the OCP review unless we provide proof of an insurance policy of $5 million, among other things,” she said. “This is impossible for a small group of citizens to arrange and is neither reasonable nor justifiable.”
Gibson made those comments as the group prepares to rally off the grounds of municipal hall Monday starting at 6 p.m. The group had initially planned to rally on the grounds of municipal hall with an eye to access electricity for a public announcement system, but the municipality asked it to apply for a permit, which requires an insurance policy worth $5 million.
Tim Tanton, chief administrative officer, said insurance liability of such value reflects current legal fees, and municipalities including North Saanich require proof of insurance for permitting events. “That protects the taxpayers in case there is a mishap, traffic accident, fire or anything,” he said. “We don’t want that liability deferred to taxpayers.”
Ultimately, he said the municipality is not trying to gag anybody.
“We do respect people’s peaceful right to protest and we support that,” said Tanton. “We also have a duty to ensure public safety. That is what we are trying to do.”
This discussion about the analog place of a rally draws attention to the state of the public discourse around the OCP review process, with some members of council having publicly complained about the climate on social media.
“Sometimes our free speech earns us the stern rebuke of council,” said group member Don Enright in an earlier interview. “That will probably continue. But in fairness, we say what we want.”
Enright said it is not clear how many people are expected to attend the rally, but said interest is strong.
Gibson said the rally will follow provincial COVID-19 protocols for gatherings of its kind. “Of course, we will be expecting social distancing and all the usual things that humans do right now,” she said.
The last known public rally in front of municipal hall happened on Oct. 9, 2020 when local youth hosted North Saanich’s first Fridays for Future event. Unofficial estimates peg the number of attendees at 30. “It’s fair to say that we hope for more than that,” said Enright.
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