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'Shame on you': Minto councillor blasts those seeking 'neutral public spaces'

Some citizens of Minto are asking for a 'neutral' bylaw that would result in the banning of Pride flags and the Pride crosswalk in Harriston

MINTO – As a group of residents continue to petition for what they are calling a 'neutral public space bylaw,' some councillors are unsure their goal is something the town can or wants to achieve. 

Delegates were supported by applause from others in the gallery at a Minto council meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the feasibility of a bylaw asking for only 'neutral' flags, crosswalks, decorations and banners on public property. 

The group previously came to council with a petition claiming more than 900 people in Minto support town crosswalks only being painted to standard and the only flags to be flown on public property or at public facilities are the Canadian flag, Ontario provincial flag and the Town of Minto flag. 

Decorations and banners on town crosswalks shouldn't support political, social, religious or commercial entities except for the Royal Canadian Legion banners which are "considered grandfathered in," said the group. 

But deputy mayor Jean Anderson, who wasn't at the previous meeting, said she felt "conflicted" by the group's motives for the petition and argued in favour of a community with colour and recognizing "the things we all bring to our community." 

"This is about inclusivity and acceptance. We accept can't say 'well we recognize this group and we respect them they can put up banners and they can have fundraisers but this group that we don't like they cannot'," said Anderson, during the meeting. "Shame on you." 

Since the issue has come to council, Minto Pride and the neutral spaces group have both clarified they received several messages asking for signatures to be removed from the petition.

Wellington County's first rainbow crosswalk was installed in Harriston in July 2022. 

"You're telling us that flag, that banner includes us. It does not include all of us," said Jim Dopfer, who delegated alongside Debra Dennison at Tuesday's meeting. "That's a personal choice again, it's beliefs and values. You have different beliefs and values than me maybe as everyone else and we need to respect each other's beliefs and values." 

Both delegations were supported by several members of the audience, some of whom also participated during the later question period. 

Tom McDonald asked council whether they were elected to display "sexual messages to the general public." He questioned the petition's connection to service clubs and said he thinks "all of our sexual preferences should be stated in the privacy of our own home not displayed on our main street and on our lamposts."

Dan Sinclair, who delegated at the previous meeting, called for an immediate community vote and questioned Minto councillors rights to make decisions for residents of the township on controversial matters that affect the whole town. 

"When you talk about this acronym of people who choose to live an alternative lifestyle, an alternative lifestyle whether we agree with it or not is not worthy of recognition," said Bonnie Hollinger, during question period. "They're just like other human beings who live their life of choice like I do." 

Coun. Ron Elliott asked how a neutral space bylaw would impact the Palmerston Lion's Club and denominational celebrations like Christmas. 

"When you do neutral all of a sudden, you don't have the option to do (things like Christmas), said Elliott, during the meeting. "I'm very concerned about that kind've thing...I wonder about completely taking away from everyone the opportunity to present their group and the opportunity to present what they believe in in many different ways." 

Coun. Judy Dirksen had questions about how the signatures were obtained and how many people said no to signing the petition. She also made a statement that 900 Minto residents is about 14 per cent of the town's approximately 6,400 voters.

Mayor Dave Turton questioned whether neutral public spaces are achievable and said the council will take the issue seriously going forward. 

Clerk Annilene McRobb said the town will still hang a progressive Pride flag on the community flag pole in June. 

The neutral spaces issue is set to return to council during the second council meeting in June. 

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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