‘We get this protest in, we move it out of town and do it as peaceful as possible’

city_scope_logo-cmykMayor Joe Preston and Police Chief Chris Herridge have both cut to the chase when talking about today’s (Saturday) Freedom Rally in St. Thomas: “We do not want this protest.”
It’s the third such rally in less than a month in the region at a time when the province is tightening up restrictions due to a rapid increase in COVID-19 infections.
In speaking with Herridge this week, he stressed “should they come here they could face charges.
“But if you say ‘no’ to the arena (Memorial Arena, where the protesters are meeting up) they’re going to show up. And, we do not want what happened in Aylmer (where the march through town forced detours at numerous locations).”

It is still uncertain as to whether the hundreds – and possibly several thousand – protesters intend to flow onto Talbot Street to demonstrate, impacting downtown merchants.
Many retail outlets are closed today but will re-open at 5 p.m. for a Midnight Masquerade promotion courtesy of the DDB.
Aylmer Rally 3“We know our business owners in St. Thomas have been hit hard because of COVID and the last thing they need is another reason to have to shut their doors.”
Herridge reiterated, “We don’t want it here, but it’s coming and maybe this location (with a march up the Whistle Stop Trail, parallel to the London & Port Stanley Railway corridor) is the better of two evils.”
The marchers originally planned to gather at the CASO station until they were informed it is private property.

“Cooler heads have to prevail and we have to see the bigger picture. The fallout dealing with charges we will deal with after.”

When their march is completed, they plan to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph, near Talbot Street.
“They are a group that strongly believes in Canadian freedoms, Canadian traditions and liberties and way of life and what they are doing is recognizing those Canadians who sacrificed so much to give us our way of life.”
Herridge continued, “We’ve had numerous protests across this country, whether it has been COVID, freedom, Black Lives Matter and it has been going on for months.
“There have not been a lot of charges laid and since you allow these protests to occur, and now you want these people charged. You can’t pick and choose.
“Unless you’re going to have the military on standby, no police department has the resources to deal with that.”
Herridge noted, area police forces are taking the same approach.
“You have to take that public safety approach. Public safety will always trump a charge.
“At the end of the day, we’ll do our investigation, gather information and we know who the organizers are. We’ll see what happens the day of and put that all together in a file and present it to our local Crown attorney and we’ll make a determination if there is a reasonable expectation of a conviction.
“If there is, we will probably go ahead and lay a charge. But to do it on the day of, you’re opening up a can of worms. You’re going to stir the pot and the pot is going to get hot.
Aylmer Rally 2“Cooler heads have to prevail and we have to see the bigger picture. The fallout dealing with charges we will deal with after.”
And, you can’t charge the organizers until after the event happens, reminds Herridge.
“We all have concerns about COVID and we’ve been doing so well when it comes to compliance. And, we’ve kept our numbers down.
“But no doubt, there is a heightened sense of anxiety out there. And, there is a bit of fearmongering going on. But, I’m confident at the end of the day . . . we’re going to be just fine as a community.”
Herridge pointed out there will be foot patrol officers out there along with bylaw officers and “if there is any concern from our merchants, call us and we will respond as soon as possible and deal with any issues and take the pressure off merchants. That’s our job.”


In the week before the second Aylmer Freedom Rally, Mayor Mary French invoked a State of Emergency in accordance with the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
She noted there was the potential for civil unrest and service disruptions as a result of the rally and the declaration was in consultation with Southwestern Public Health and recommendations from the province.
Mayor Joe Preston has opted not to go that route.
Aylmer Rally 1“We already have an emergency declaration in our city,” stressed Preston, referring to the direction given by both the province and Southwestern Public Health.
“I certainly use my medical officer of health (Dr. Joyce Lock) on all things COVID and we’re now talking about community safety and security and our police chief is helping with his plan and I’ll certainly listen to anything they have to say.
“I’m not sure it (the State of Emergency in Aylmer) didn’t give the people planning an illegal activity a little bit more incentive.
“I’m not giving credibility to people who are proud of doing something illegal in our community. The mayor is saying pretty clearly, we don’t want you here.
“We have a great community which has done nothing but be safe, follow great community standards and work well together and it shows in our numbers that we’re willing to have a community that cares about itself.

“Other people who want to do illegal things in our community should think about what they’re doing to businesses in our community.”

“I’m suggesting anyone who doesn’t have that thought shouldn’t come to St. Thomas.
“I would think people who are protesting illegally in our community should think about what they’re doing to our small businesses and the safety of their staff.
“I’m not certain what freedoms they believe the City of St. has taken from them, but mostly I ask them what rights the local businesses have taken from them?
“Why would you want to punish their livelihood and put the safety of their staff in jeopardy?
“So the question needs to go back to the protesters, not to the business owners. They’re the ones who are working hard to make 2020 work for them.
“Other people who want to do illegal things in our community should think about what they’re doing to businesses in our community.”


At Monday’s (Nov. 16) meeting, council will receive a report from Ross Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management, on the status of the Joe Thornton Community Centre.
Of course, with tighter restrictions for the Southwestern Public Health coverage area announced Friday by Premier Doug Ford and to come into effect Monday, we’ll have to wait and see what impact this might have on the use of the facility.

Of interest for many people is the ability to partake again in the gym, walk around the track or enjoy a leisure skate.
According to Tucker’s report, an online booking system is in place to ensure proper social distancing protocols are followed as per the health unit.
And, additional part-time staff have been hired and trained to monitor and assist with access to pre-booked areas of activities, which includes frequent pre- and post-activity sanitizing.
The plan is to make these activities available as of Tuesday with the track and leisure skates open for bookings Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The gym will be open seven days a week.
As of Oct. 16, there is limited access for parents to attend activities in which children under seven are participating.
There is an allowance for one parent/guardian per participant/household (with a maximum of 20 parents/guardians).
As for winter programming, staff is recommending all additional city-operated youth in-house programming be postponed until next spring.
Keep in mind all of this may be subject to change on short notice.
Was it president-elect Joe Biden who remarked this could be a cold, dark winter?


We get a conceptual idea of what a proposed new animal shelter might look like at Monday’s council meeting.
To be situated adjacent to the Doug Tarry Sports Complex, the facility would include a dog park.
animal shelter prosed designAs per the report from Justin Lawrence, director of environmental service, construction of the shelter and dog park will be included in next year’s budget for council consideration.
Here is the financial breakdown: the total project cost is $1,500,000, comprised of $300,000 previously approved; new tax-based contribution of
$350,000; $200,000 development charges for sewer/water extensions and park amenities; $150,000 of partner municipality contributions; and a proposed private donation of $500,000.
Good to see the city has a concept plan now which will make pitching a new animal services centre to potential donors and benefactors more viable for fundraising groups.

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A quick update from Mike Haines, constituency assistant to Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who last December introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor here in St. Thomas.
The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
It passed second reading in the Ontario Legislature on Nov.2 and Haines is looking into a possible date for the bill moving forward.
“Hopefully we can get it in before the next election,” chuckled Haines.
A similar private member’s bill brought forward in May of 2017 by then Welland NDP MPP Cindy Forster passed second reading and was before committee when the provincial vote was called in 2018.
“But I don’t think they’re going to call any quick elections,” continued Haines.
We’ll have more information when it is made available. In the meantime, another horror story from Walnut Manor is coming up next week, featuring the usual elements: lousy food, unsanitary conditions and, of course, the bed bugs.

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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