With both protesters of horse-drawn carriages and counter-protestors who support the local carriage business determined to continue their presence in Niagara-on-the-Lake's Old Town, Niagara Regional Police are working on a protocol to keep demonstrations safe and peaceful.
Lord Mayor Pat Darte met with police, horse-and-carriage owners and representatives of from protesters and supporters Wednesday to come up with a plan for the future.
It was a productive meeting, he said, calling the discussion “a work in progress.”
“We're looking for a good outcome going forward for everybody.”
Both sides have rights to be respected, Darte said, and police are trying to put some protocols in place to do that, and those protocols could change over time if necessary, said Darte.
Insp. James McCaffery, who led the meeting, managed to constitute some agreement between the groups with regards to conduct and will work on a set of protocols for the future.
Adam Stirr of At War for Animals Niagara said he expects there will be at least five or six follow-up meetings. The protocol that is being developed for the future has to “meet everybody's requirements,” he said.
One issue that has caused some tension is the filming of children during the protests.
Stirr has a videographer and a static camera at every protest, recording each event “for self-protection and evidence,” and the carriage supporters, who have had their children filmed during their counter-protests, have asked that to stop.
He said the group isn't intentionally filming children, and he's agreed to make every “reasonable effort” not to capture any images of children or to use any images of children, but only if the counter-protesters stop their accusations and apologize for accusing his group of filming kids for “nefarious purposes.”
Other issues he was happy to agree to were a set location for protesters, keeping an agreed-upon distance from carriages and both sides keeping a set distance from each other.
He won't agree to stop using signs — he believes the Charter of Rights allows protesters to use any media to spread their message and they have chosen to use signs, he said, but they have agreed not to hand out pamphlets.
His group isn't going away “for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Their goal is to protest weekly until the town bans horse-pulled carriages, as he says 30 other cities around the world have done, including Paris, France; London, England; Montreal, Quebec; and several cities in Florida.
He suggests a “simple alternative” — electric carriages which can look historic and are cheaper to operate than maintaining horses.
But the locals who support the horse-and-carriage trade are not giving up either.
Karen Taylor-Jones said the meeting went well as far as coming to agreement on some of the items that were discussed, including asking the protesters to “pixel out” any images of children.
Other requests were for protesters not to wear shirts with foul language, for protesters to stay 10 feet away from the carriages and for both groups to keep six feet apart.
There were other issues discussed, but the final draft of the protocol hasn't been brought forward for signing, she said.
The group that has become known as Locals for Carriages was formed to allow locals the ability to vent to each other, and after its creation she, Jennifer Jones-Butski and Eric VanNoort were dubbed “leaders,” she said.
“None of us in the group considered ourselves as anti-protesters. . . We are nothing more than a group of people that support a local business and love the horses that provide a heritage and historical tour through the town. Apparently according to the NRP any gathering of a group is considered a protest.”
Laura Sentineal was at the Wednesday meeting, and agreed it went well, with some issues being worked out to keep future protests safe and more respectful.
Her concern, though, is that the protests are ongoing.
“Their ultimate goal is to have us banned. They want us shut down completely.”
So far, the protests have not hurt their business, Sentineal said — the protests may even have helped, by drawing supportive tourists' attention to the carriage rides.
She worries more about what continuing protests will do to the town image and the branding that's been developed over the years.
“A lot of us have worked very hard to get that happy-face image out there, but as soon as you say 'protest,' people's minds go all kinds of places. It can be a very negative image, and that affects all of us. They're protesters, and they do have that right, but there's no negotiating to change their hearts and their minds on this issue.”
The police, she said, “have tried to make the best of a bad situation.”
She hopes the guidelines now in place put an end to some of the protesters' “abrasive comments” to the carriage drivers. “It isn't any kind of a binding contract, it's just something everyone has agreed to. If it's upheld, great. If not we're back to where we started.”
Stirr agreed the meeting went well, and that the issues discussed — if everyone follows through — should keep the protests safe, peaceful and respectful. He has no problem controlling his group, he said — they've been at this for a long time, and members understand the importance of following the guidelines set out.
“We have very strict rules for what is allowed and not allowed, for public safety, self-protection and for the protection of our message — our message has to be as clear as possible.”
The goal of the animal rights group is to end “speciesism,” or any practice that uses animals to benefit humans.