Anyone driving down Grimsby’s main street on a Saturday morning this summer, may find themselves greeted by an array of Canadian flags and signs.

It’s not part of a prolonged Canada Day celebration but rather, a regular gathering of protesters who have spent much of their weekend over the last year occupying a portion of the parking lot at the Village Inn Centre Plaza. 

Ranging from just a few people to dozens, the crowd gathered at the intersection of Main Street West and Mountain Street seem to be protesting issues such as vaccine mandates, lessons around gender identity in schools, and more.

Heather Curran, a Grimsby resident, told Niagara this Week that she avoids the area when she knows the protesters are out there.

“We live in one of the top-ten democracies in the world,” she said. “As 108 million people are displaced worldwide, with half of those people starving, what could be making these (people) so angry? Perhaps volunteering at Amnesty or donating to the United Nations may be more fulfilling.”

At a June 5 council meeting, with Niagara Regional Police Service representatives present, Coun. Veronica Charrois brought up the gatherings, and said the public was worried.

Charrois said she had heard that members of the LGBT community had been harassed by the protesters.

“I had a resident tell me yesterday that a couple from the LGBTQ community were walking by and protesters were throwing out slurs and just disgusting, vulgar language. It’s hate, first of all. So where is that line?,” she said. “We have seen these protesters also step onto the road, handing out pamphlets and whatever. So my question is, when is it to the point where it’s a safety matter and somebody is going to intervene?”

Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch explained that the line is crossed when there is criminality, and urged constituents who feel threatened to contact police.

“By all means, have your constituents call us and make us aware of those situations where there’s threatening behaviour, where there’s racial slurs or slurs against any one of the equity deserving groups within our community,” he said. “That’s where I would say that the line gets drawn.”

But the town’s hands are tied, as the gatherings are occurring on private property.

“It seems they have a different message every week. In my opinion some signs border on hate speech,” said Mayor Jeff Jordan. “Since these protests are on private property the municipal authorities have difficulty removing them. If this was on municipal property, they would be removed.”

The plaza hosts many businesses, including a Bank of Montreal, a Pizza Pizza, the Elm Street Café Grill, a hair salon, a nail salon, and more.

The largest tenant of the plaza is Food Basics.

When contacted by Niagara this Week, Food Basics acting manager Sam Marchese said they lease the property, and they have nothing to do with the protests.

“That would be up to the property manager,” he said.

An email to the property management company was not returned by publication.

Niagara Regional police said there is little they can do as well, but they have been monitoring the situation.

“The service, and our officers, must balance issues relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and public safety concerns,” said media relations officer Const. Barry Ravenek. “The role of the police in relation to a demonstration, gathering, or protest is to ensure continued public safety and to preserve the peace.”

While police and council is well aware of the situation, Grimsby Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) chair Mark Wood said he has not heard anything about these gatherings.

“I’ve seen nothing. I know nothing,” he said.

In fact, Wood said he found it “hysterical” that this group has been out there for more than a year.

“I’m pretty easy to find, and I’m a pretty outspoken individual,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re accomplishing, but it’s obviously nothing and I hate to say this, but they’re obviously not doing anything down there except taking up parking spots because if there was any momentum or actual cause to be had, I think at some point it would have been on my radar, good or bad.”

Ward councillor Lianne Vardy told Niagara this Week that she has also not had any complaints from residents about the ongoing demonstration.

While she herself is fully vaccinated, members of her immediate family are not, and she said she understands why some members of the public are still mad about “government overreach.”

“I see both sides and as for peaceful demonstrations, I believe in democracy,” she said. “I think the government did impose some draconian measures … (they went) way too far with some of the actions that they took against protesters, (it was) inappropriate and was an overreach, in my opinion. The mandates are no longer enforced, but, you know, maybe they’re worried about what’s the next thing.”

For Curran, she said she feels bad for merchants downtown, as personally, she doesn’t walk around down there on the weekends anymore.

“I am aware peaceful protest is a civil right,” she said. “I am concerned, however, by the increasingly hateful rhetoric on the signs.”

By Abby Green, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 28, 2023 at 09:57

This item reprinted with permission from   Grimsby Lincoln News   Grimsby, Ontario
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