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Trespass policy gives council members concerns

Amherstburg Town Crest

A report from policy and committee co-ordinator Karly Kennedy stated that in its capacity as a property owner and service provider, the Town of Amherstburg “is dedicated to safeguarding the peaceful enjoyment and utilization of municipal property for all citizens, as well as upholding the freedom for individuals to engage in peaceful demonstrations and express dissenting views. Additionally, the town has legal obligations to maintain the reasonable safety of property users and implement adequate measures to protect its employees in the workplace.”

Kennedy wrote while most people using town properties “do so appropriately,” she stated there are instances “where people engage in behaviours that disrupt town business or activities or pose threats to staff and other users of town facilities.” She said administration recommended the Notice of Trespass policy “to align with existing policies in municipalities of similar demographics, current best practices and legislative and regulatory requirements.”

“A formal process provides a structured framework that helps ensure the Town is acting within the bounds of laws and regulations. Without such a process, there’s a higher risk of potential legal disputes arising from procedural irregularities. The policy establishes clear lines of responsibility and accountability. Without these, decision-making may lack transparency, making it difficult to track and evaluate the appropriateness of actions taken in response to trespass incidents. Inconsistently managed trespass situations can negatively impact the Town’s reputation,” she stated in her report.

Councillor Molly Allaire asked if this could help deal with issues the town had at the Libro Centre. The question was in reference to issues with vandalism and rude behaviour. Clerk Kevin Fox said the policy was crafted to “deal with a range of issues.”

“It is intended to provide some guidance from council in terms of how it is how we would approach a situation that is developing,” he said.

The new policy allows council to put boundaries in on how it would be initiated, reported, tracked, and reviewed “so administration has guidance on how to apply that with reasonable restraints so that it doesn’t become abused.”

Mayor Michael Prue said he was “a little uncomfortable with this.” He recalled a suggestion of a lobbyist registry during the previous term of council, something he said he opposed.

“I find this has some of the same feel to me,” said Prue. “People can get angry in here. People can lose their cool. I’m reluctant to say they can’t come back.”

Prue said he realizes staff needs to be protected but the issue was the public’s ability to come back.

“I don’t have any problem with telling people to leave,” he said. “I do have problems with long-term disbarment, saying you can’t use a municipal (building) or you can’t come to the next five meetings or you can’t do this or that. I just want to make sure there’s a safeguard. I believe the public has the right to be heard, even if it’s not very nice.”

The mayor recalled an incident where a man was barred from town hall for one year and it turned into a court case with his widow after he passed away.

“I want to make sure those kinds of things don’t happen in Amherstburg in the future,” he said.

Fox added the “ultimate authority” sits with the CAO and that the CAO is an employee of council. The policy is designed with progressive discipline that could ramp up if necessary.

“It is not intended to be used for minor disruptions but rather for something that reaches a level of significance and, even then, to apply in a limited and controlled way so hopefully it is a corrective step,” said Fox. “This is in keeping with the town’s harassment policy as an employer to ensure we are protecting our staff and our workplaces and being mindful of our role as a civic entity to make sure access is provided.”

Fox said it is “a progressive and slow rise” before any sort of banishment would take place and “even then, it’s an annual review process to ensure any sort of long-term bans are reviewed to make sure they are still appropriate.”

Any situation calling for a long-term ban could be referred to town council for review, said Fox, and council could make a choice.

“That would be our practice anyway and I would support that,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb stated there has to be a balance with the right for people to express their opinions “no matter how much we may not like it” but town council also has to allow the CAO to protect staff and members of the public.

Gibb wanted to know if council had the ability to overrule a decision of administration, with Fox stating the authority remains with council as it is council’s policy.

Councillor Don McArthur wanted the CAO to have the authority to keep people safe but that town council “be made aware in real time” if something like that happened.

Town council adopted the policy with the amendment put forth by McArthur.

By Ron Giofu

Trespass policy concerne council

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