Supporters of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s horse-drawn carriage business are threatening legal action against the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Regional Police if nothing is done to stop what they say is continued harassment by animal rights protesters.
For three years members of animal rights group At War for Animals Niagara have been regularly in town protesting the carriage company Sentineal Carriages. Those protests sparked a resident-driven counter-movement in 2018 called Locals For Carriages.
The co-founder of Locals For Carriages, Jennifer Jones-Butski, sent an email to The Lake Report Tuesday, which included a letter addressed to NOTL Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
“Dear Lord Mayor,
We are writing this letter to inform you of our decision to protest the treatment of Niagara-on-the-Lake residents, visitors and small businesses at the hands of At War for Animals Niagara (AWFAN). The lack of action on the part of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Regional Police has created an unjust and dangerous situation. If we are unable to inspire the necessary conversation and subsequent legislative changes, we are prepared to exhaust all legal means required to end the injustice described herein.
As it stands, all Canadians are granted equal protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the rights and freedoms set out in this Charter are not absolute. They can be and often are limited in order to preserve other rights.
We are fighting for an open discussion about where the rights of protesters end and where the rights of individuals begin. Self-identifying as a protester cannot provide immunity from the consequences associated with the behaviours observed in our community over the past three years. Such conduct is widely condemned in Canada and would not be tolerated under any other guise:
• Young children are frequently photographed and posted on websites without parents’ consent.
• Tourists are verbally harassed and physically intimidated.
• Workers as young as 16 are subjected to recurring intimidation and verbal assault, leaving them in a perpetual state of terror and wrought with long-term psychological damages.
• Expectant mothers holding babies have been berated walking down the street.
• Seasonal workers wear body cameras for protection against expected (not potential) abuse on the job.
• Men wearing body armour and handcuffs bring children to tears.
We will not stand idle as this miscarriage of justice continues before our eyes. We have been forced to watch in helpless horror as individuals are robbed of their fundamental rights. Our pleas are ignored while you allow people – often dressed in combat gear and not readily identifiable as protesters – to enter the heart of our community and instil fear.
Context matters when talking about justice. In this situation, we have multiple reports of harassment, terrified and traumatized workers, horrified and intimidated patrons, clashes with families and a peaceful street corner that is no longer safe.
AWFAN has a mandate to end all animal domestication. Their right to protest this idea peacefully is protected under the Charter. However, NOTL workers, residents and visitors have equal right to not have their privacy and security imperilled, as you have now allowed for three years. A dangerous precedent has been set. If a group were to target bar patrons in the same way in support of ending alcohol consumption, they would feel entitled and empowered to do so.
The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Niagara Regional Police are both complicit in this injustice and therefore liable for the resulting damages incurred by countless businesses and individuals in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is time for action because the community will no longer stand to have our fundamental rights cast aside without a fight.
We ask that you take immediate action to create a safer and more orderly environment for protesting in hopes of protecting all parties involved. NOTL residents, small businesses and visitors have the right to move about the area free from fear. For this cause, our community is united.
Concerned residents of NOTL.”
In the email, Jones said she’s “no longer advocating on behalf of Sentineal Carriages Inc.”
“Rather, I am but one of many concerned and horrified citizens demanding change,” she said.
“There are some urgent questions that require immediate answers. Residents and small businesses of NOTL continue to be robbed of their fundamental rights by aggressive individuals masquerading as protestors for animal rights. The time has long passed for us to come together and demand action from the Township of Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Jones said she will be sending the letter to residents to collect statements of support and plans to submit those to Disero, too.
Anyone wishing to sign the letter can do so by getting in touch with Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org