Council made decision in private session, hopes to reduce tensions over protests
Niagara-on-the-Lake's carriage companies will now have to operate on Byron Street every weekend, the town says.
The companies, Sentineal Carriages and Queen's Royal Carriage, were told on Friday, Aug. 28, to move from the spot they normally use on the corner of King and Queen streets, beside the Prince of Wales hotel — an area with heavier walk-up traffic.
The decision was made by council in a private session, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said.
Laura Sentineal, of Sentineal Carriages, said the first weekend was not a good one for the carriage business.
The move away from the main street “does not work for us on a lot of levels,” she said.
She said the company already had reservations from the Prince of Wales spot and customers had trouble finding them.
“I keep getting calls from people like, 'Where are you, we can't find you' — I've had that all weekend,” Sentineal said.
Walk-up traffic was slower than usual, she said, and her husband Fred said business was down about 45 per cent. The new location is a block north of the main downtown intersection, on the far side of Simcoe Park, near St. Mark's Anglican Church.
Sentineal also said her staff, many of whom are teenagers, felt less safe as a result of being off the main street, especially at closing time when the area near Byron Street is dimly lit. As well, the new location doesn't have washroom facilities close by for drivers.
The companies have been allowed to use the Prince of Wales' washrooms when in the traditional spot.
Carriage driver Brock Donald said the weekend was the first time he's ever had to turn away someone who was using a wheelchair, because there wasn't safe access to the carriages.
Normally they are able to get people up from the small sidewalk, he said.
One positive thing is the new weekend spot has shade for most of the day, he said.
On Tuesday, following several questions from The Lake Report, Disero issued a media statement that said the decision to move the carriages was made “to uphold public safety, de-escalate the situation, support local businesses surrounding the intersection of Queen and King streets, and protect the integrity and brand of the town’s downtown core.”
She said the decision was made by town council during a private session and that emergency delegated authority powers were not used.
In an interview later Tuesday, she said delegated authority, which allows the mayor and chief administrator to make decisions independent of council, has not been used since July 1.
The mayor said the decision was made privately because “council was given legal advice.”
“It’s normal for legal advice to be given in confidence and this practical need is provided for within the Municipal Act,” she said in the statement.
John Mascarin, considered one of the country's leading experts on municipal law, said in an interview that the town is perfectly within its rights to hold a private session to discuss such confidential information and then is allowed to instruct town employees to implement any decision.
The town did not provide a record of the vote result when asked.
Disero told The Lake Report council is looking at ways to best manage the situation, but said she couldn't provide specifics yet, other than that there would be a town bylaw officer stationed in the area on the weekend.
A reporter was there Sunday when Disero stopped by Byron Street to talk with the Sentineal family. She was heard telling them that town lawyers were “scouring” town bylaws to find ways to charge protesters.
But Disero said that was just one of many discussions.
“I have conversations with Laura every day to try and strategize, and we come up with all kinds of stuff that never sees the light of day.”
Disero's statement said tensions are high about the carriage and protest issue, but urged people to be “respectful to one another.”
“We’re in a time when nerves are frayed. At the moment, a lot of people are angry with one another. We recognize there are differences of opinion in our community, that’s fine, it’s normal. What we need to do is work through them in a way that is kind,” she said.
“The messages we have been hearing lately are emotional. That’s understandable. We are talking about livelihoods and animal well-being. These are significant matters, which people are passionate about. However, we need to move forward peacefully, respectfully and with decency. That’s what the town has been working toward.”
“In order to get there, my colleagues on council and I have been looking for ways to compromise as best as we can. Council wants to help dial back the escalation in the rallies and protests we have seen over the past several weeks. By asking the horse and carriage operators to move to Byron and King street on Saturdays and Sundays only, we are doing our best to accommodate what we’ve heard and get to a place that makes sense for our community.”
The decision to move the carriages on weekends comes after tensions escalated between the carriage operators and animal rights activists who want to see the carriages banned.