Sunday’s two-sided protest in NOTL demonstrated a couple of things pretty clearly.
One is that there is a lot of resident support for Sentineal Carriages. Despite some other cities across the globe deciding to ban horse carriages, Niagara-on-the-Lake is not willing to let radical movements affect one of its traditional local businesses, or harass our residents and visitors.
That’s great. And kudos to residents for showing their support. Let’s be clear: The Lake Report is firmly in favour of the Sentineals and their right to operate their business without being regularly impeded by animal rights protests.
Kudos also to Sentineal Carriages, which this week said it is done with the protests, and is focusing on alternative, legislative ways to keep protests in check.
However, we must question how effective counter-protests are in this case, and how far they can go before they do harm to their own cause.
Yes, standing and showing resident support is a good way to firmly illustrate how the town backs this longtime local business.
But at what point does counter-protesting negate the positive results many are hopeful for, which is (or was) ensuring protesters are not targeting individuals who have no stake in the game, or impeding a local business?
And at what point do the counter-protesters become the very thing they so despise?
Arguably, Sunday was also a catalyst for people to start thinking that extreme views exist on both sides. (If you have any doubts, just read some of the language used – by both sides – on social media.)
Firstly, the rally (according to the animal rights activists) was a direct result of Locals for Carriages members attending an out-of-town protest on July 30 about an issue that has nothing to do with horse-drawn carriages.
When they were there, at least one carriage supporter held a sign that claimed 65-year-old activist Regan Russell (who died protesting after being struck by a truck outside a slaughterhouse) had committed suicide.
Though Locals for Carriages has since apologized for that sign, we can only assume the intent was to rouse animal rights protesters.
But what is the end game? Is it to protest and antagonize animal rights activists, or is it to advocate for NOTL’s carriage company and fight to ensure Charter rights for those on all sides are being upheld by our local law enforcement?
When carriage advocates start attending protests outside of town, it detracts from the original cause and could make carriage supporters look as extreme as the animal rights protesters.
Unfortunately, in this case, the result was more harmful than beneficial — it actually inspired the animal rights activists to bring more protesters to NOTL, disrupting the streets of Old Town for residents, tourists and businesses (more than just the carriages).
We recognize the frustration by the counter-protesters after three years of animal rights protests. But when carriage supporters stand outside with megaphones and march in the streets, they risk becoming no better than the animal rights activists they are protesting.
It’s worth noting the carriage companies aren’t the only ones to lose because of this behaviour, but also the long list of residents and visitors who aren’t so much passionate about horse carriages, but just wish to be able to enjoy Niagara-on-the-Lake without being harassed, berated, sworn at, called animal abusers, etc.
Further, having two loud, opposing sides makes the job of enforcement harder for police. They’re stuck between two opposing belief systems, of which they cannot (and we wouldn’t want them to) take a side.
If there was only one radical group shutting down the streets, it might make things easier from an enforcement perspective. Or it might not. But the question can’t even be answered if carriage supporters are acting the same way they have asked the other protesters not to act.
To Locals for Carriages, we applaud your dedication to the carriages. We appreciate your fight to hold police and the town accountable for not taking reasonable steps to limit the confrontation on the street.
But we do not want to see the group become as radical as the protesters who started this problem in the first place.
Keep the focus on our town’s issues — or you risk becoming the very people you’re trying to fight.