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May. 24, 2022 | Tuesday
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Protesters in hot water over projections
A group of horse carriage protesters projected their messaging onto the cenotaph last week, causing an outrage on social media. (Facebook/Sourced)

Animal rights supporters who have been targeting a horse-drawn carriage company in Niagara-on-the-Lake took their protests to a new level on the weekend and found themselves in more hot water with NOTL residents and police.

On Saturday, the group, which calls itself At War For Animals Niagara, projected a video containing anti-carriage messaging on the clock tower cenotaph on Queen Street in NOTL’s heritage and tourism district. Two days later, the group broadcast their message onto Grape Escape, a private business on Niagara Stone Road.

The protesters claim Sentineal Carriages, a family-run NOTL operation, is “exploiting” horses.

The group used a projector for about 45 minutes Saturday before being told to leave by Niagara Regional Police. However, members of a local carriage support group say the police should have enforced a federal law that states defacing national historic monuments is illegal.

According to the group Locals for Carriages, police only forced the protesters to leave when a resident arrived with a copy of the federal statute in hand.

The man, only identified as Rick, drew praise on social media for his efforts.

“Yay for Rick, I’m pleased someone cared enough to put the effort in. Thank you Rick,” wrote one Facebook user in response to a post about the incident.

Locals For Carriages was formed in response to the protests, which have been ongoing for nearly two years. Even after a long struggle to deal with the protests, Jennifer Jones-Butski, co-founder of the organization, said she is “still in disbelief” that the protesters exploited an iconic war monument to broadcast their message.

She live-streamed the incident on social media after finding out about the demonstration from a carriage driver. She had been on the corner counter-protesting.

“So, we went running. I started videotaping, but then realizing it was something the townspeople should be seeing first-hand, started live-streaming,” said Jones-Butski.

What followed was a “giant mishmash of disrespectful actions” by the protesters, she said.

“(There were) threats being thrown at Eric (VanNoort), and camera angles that made it look like Fred Sentineal was assaulting them, when really he was just trying to stop the projection.”

“I may be somewhat sheltered in this regard, but I had never in my life seen anyone disrespect the veterans of this country in such a manner, until last night. I’m still in disbelief,” said Jones-Butski.

She said carriage supporters have had ongoing issues with police not enforcing laws such as the town’s sign bylaw, and took to her group’s Facebook page to remind followers the group is working on its own legal solutions.

“I feel it’s time to remind everyone that although the (police) are not enforcing things as they should be. We are working on things behind the scenes,” Butski said in a group message.

The group is working with the town and police to try to have surveillance cameras installed at the corner, and has organized a petition to council asking for a permit system to control protests.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said “it is not acceptable for protesters of any kind to be on the cenotaph, for a number of reasons. One, it’s a war memorial, remembering our fallen soldiers, and we need to be respectful of that, and second of all, it’s in the middle of the street, and it’s not safe. And I’ve received confirmation today from Niagara Region Police that (the protesters) have been warned, and agreed, not to be on the cenotaph in the future.”

With regards to police not knowing the town’s bylaws, that she thinks there are “a number of things going on.”

“I was surprised and disappointed that when the police were called originally they were reluctant to do anything, but happy that once they learned the town bylaw, they put a stop to it.”

She said she thinks there was some confusion.

“There’s the protocol that was set up, there’s the criminal code, there’s the town bylaws … I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know about all three things, and now that they know, they’re taking action, which gives me some hope that they’ll be more helpful.”

Lincoln Westman, a carriage supporter, praised the officer who first arrived on scene.

“I have to say the officer that first arrived did do a good job of de-escalating … he calmed every one down. He did not agree with them shining onto the cenotaph but he did not know the bylaws or any other law to get them to stop.”

Meanwhile, one of the owners of Grape Escape, said the business is not happy about the protest group coming onto private property to use the building.

“We’re deeply upset and frustrated that they’ve trespassed on private property to spread their message — a message which the owners of Grape Escape disagree with. We’re concerned that this could happen to other local businesses.”

Though they did not wanting to be named in this story, the business owners said they have submitted footage from their cameras to police, who said at this point they cannot prosecute because people are not clearly identifiable in the video.

The footage shows a car pulling in at about 10:25 p.m. and staying for about 10 minutes.

“This is right during the time the fireworks displays finished, so a time when traffic would have been quite busy,” they said.

“It’s scary the lengths they’re going to to convey their message,” they added.