Jeff Sentineal is OK with actions of animal rights activists, but many, including his brother Fred see them as aggressive harassers
When it comes to the ongoing protests in Niagara-on-the-Lake, one carriage company operator has a “different view than most people.”
Jeff Sentineal, owner of Queen's Royal Carriage, says he has no problem with the carriage protesters, despite them directly targeting his business.
“I stand up for the rights of democracy for protesting,” he said in an interview. “But it has to be done in a civil manner.”
On the other side, his brother Fred Sentineal, who operates Sentineal Carriages in the same space with his wife Laura, views the protests as harassment and has been vocal about trying to protect the business and its employees from protesters, who have frequently approached workers, calling them animal abusers and slave owners.
“But you're seeing two families — myself and then obviously my brother and his wife — we have totally different views on the right approach to all of this,” Jeff said.
“I'm not happy with what I see,” he added. “I see my brother and people putting their own protest parties against another protest party, which is in competing interest with one another.”
He said the carriage protesters are peaceful, so he doesn't have a problem with them being there.
“I'm OK with it. And that's really hard to understand when I run a carriage industry business.”
However, Fred and Laura don't think the protesters have been peaceful and they have expressed concerns on many occasions about the safety of their horses and drivers.
Jeff said he supports people's democratic right to protest, adding he works with international students who, in their home countries, would get “locked up in jail” for protesting.
“So I stand for them to have the right and the freedoms to (protest).”
Jeff also disagrees with his family attending out-of-town protests at Fearman's Pork Inc. in Burlington. After that, the protesters held a large demonstration in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Aug. 23.
“Going to Burlington and being part of a protest for eating meat or whatever for animals. And again, being in their world, where a woman got killed is sad. I don't think they did the right thing. And I won't stand by it.”
He agrees with the town moving the carriages to Byron Street from outside the Prince of Wales hotel on weekends to try to subdue the protests, saying he thinks it's better for the businesses in Old Town.
“Our town, our community is suffering because of COVID-19, and I see businesses struggling. And you've got to make sacrifices and the Prince of Wales was suffering. So if we're not there and it gives them an essence of some peace and a little bit of happy in their world and that business sector, I'm all for it.”
He said he's moved some of his carriages to the Royal George Theatre on Queen Street while buses aren't using the space.
“I just relocated mine so I'm not in conflict with these people. I want them to be able to do what they feel they need to do,” he said of the protesters.
But if protesters were to follow his carriages, it would be another story.
“Let's say the left here and they were following and whatever they want to do, then that's now taken to another level.”
He said he thinks the protesters have a hard time differentiating his carriages from others.
“They don't even know. I don't get into that with them. I just relocated because at the end of the day, they really don't know — they can't tell the difference … a carriage looks like a carriage.”
He said he has two carriage licences, while Fred and Laura Sentineal have three.
The carriage licences are controlled and regulated by the town, he added, noting they could be shut down if the town wanted to.
“So when it comes to municipal permission, they can come along and say, 'You know, we're not going to have it this year.' “
He said the protests have been disruptive to his business, but only when both sides are engaging each other.
“Does it impede business? Yeah, it does. But when I'm not choosing to engage in it, really it's not impeding my business. Now if it became a problem where they were following me, then I take (the carriages) right off the street.”
He said if his business is affected, “that's the price you'll have to pay for allowing freedom of speech.”
While he doesn't agree with the message of the protesters, he said he's willing to “agree to disagree.”
“I may not agree with their cause. But I certainly agree with the right to protest,” he said.
He said he thinks the next big issue for NOTL will be Black Lives Matter.
“The next protests you'll probably see out of this town will be for Black Lives Matter” because the town has a lord mayor. “That lordship title represents racism.”
“Colonialism is on its way out. And I'm not a colonial. I'm not a loyalist, I'm a patriot. I'm loyal to you because you were born in Canada. To really sum it up for you, on this $20 bill, as much as I respect the Queen of England, I want Terry Fox on it.”
He said he's not in favour of any carriage support groups either and thinks they're just adding fuel to the fire.
Jeff said he's been involved in town talks about how to manage the situation and feels it should be left to the carriage operators.
“I think the talks involve really only Freddy, because he's a licence holder, as I am. So two people, because the more people you got, the more problems you're gonna have.”
He said he thinks balancing democracy and people's rights is a fine line.
“That line will be discussed for some time yet to come because that's happening all over Canada,” he said.
“But when two groups come together on the same place at the same time to engage competing interests, then we have trouble. 'Cause you'll have violence break out, you'll have the police involved … so I do not subscribe to that. They want to be here. They've claimed this area, they're welcome to it.”
He thinks the town should have a permit system in place for protests, so police know who is accountable if something tragic happens.
He said he's made his stance clear to the town.
As well, he'd like the town to designate a spot for protests. “Because you've got traffic. You've got all this stuff happening here. Do we want another fatality? No, I don't. Because I put value to people's lives.”
Carriage supporters have accused Jeff of being friendly with protesters, but he said that's not the case.
“I'm buddy-buddy to the right to protest, even if it's against my business. That's the way it is in my life. That's what we call neutrality.”
He said he's tried to be supportive of a protocol of behaviour between the carriage companies and protesters, but it hasn't worked out.
He not sure if there ever will be a solution to the ongoing issue, 'because they've been trying to work on solutions like this in Ottawa forever. At the end of day you're not going to stop protesting.”
He said he thinks protest founder Adam Stirr has been fair with him and police.
“Adam has been absolutely honorable in my opinion, backed up by the police that I've worked with, when it comes to how he conducts this protest and the security of people in this situation.”
As for the activists' suggestion to switch to electronic carriages, he said he's not against it.
“Not at all,” he said, adding it's something he's been considering.
Stirr and his cohort have said they would help fundraise for the electric carriages if the companies decided to switch and Jeff said he's open to the idea.
“If they want to help fund it and we'll launch the first one, and I think it'll come. And if it's well-received by the community and the town, then why not? I love horses, my mom loved horses. But we're living in a time that's changing. I will adapt to the better times.”
He likens the switch to society adapting to cleaner vehicles.
Meantime, he doesn't want to engage negatively with protesters, the town or pro-carriage groups.
“Hate breeds hate. I'm not engaging in that. I love my community and the world I live in too much. There's bigger problems out there,” he said.
“What do you think: am I crazy or is the rest of the world crazy?”