Emotions run high as group returns to council for answers on ‘neutrality’ bylaw

'Shame on you': deputy mayor criticizes petition organizers for their stance on Pride items in public spaces

MINTO – A delegation returned to town council on Tuesday, as proponents of a petition pushed for answers regarding a requested “neutrality” bylaw.

Jim Dopfer, one of the organizers of the controversial petition, had asked council for “neutral” public spaces, including banners, flags and crosswalks.

Dopfer told council he felt “attacked” by two people who spoke during a previous public question period on May 7.

At that meeting, Jokelee Vanderkop called the petition “a deceitful cover for hate and discrimination” against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and Caitlin Hall, a founding member of the Minto Pride committee, told council petition signatures were gained in an “unethical” way.

Dopfer said at the May 21 meeting he expected that Mayor Dave Turton and council would stop such “hate speech” but they did not.

He stressed the petition has nothing to do with the town’s proposed banner policy, but everything to do with the community becoming divided.

“I challenge anybody on council to find a hateful word in my (May 7) speech,” Dopfer said.

He later added, “Government at any level should not be involved in personal choice matters of its electorate.

“You are forcing your beliefs and your values … onto everyone.

“Council, don’t you believe that 900 people deserve an informed response from elected representatives?”

Asked by councillor Judy Dirksen what petition organizers deemed public spaces, Dopfer replied “all spaces taxpayers pay for.”

Councillor Ron Elliott said he is concerned about the repercussions of a bylaw requiring “neutral” public spaces.

He mentioned the Palmerston Lions Club wants to display banners recognizing past influential members, but that would not be possible if “political, social and religious movements” are removed from public spaces, as petition organizers are requesting.

Elliott added the Christmas decorations the town puts up every year would also not be permitted.

He said he can’t see the “neutral” spaces concept working without taking everything away.

Deputy mayor Jean Anderson spoke in support of having Pride items in public spaces.

“It includes everybody … this is about inclusivity and acceptance …” she said.

“You can’t say ‘we recognize this group and we respect them. They can put up banners and they can have fundraisers, but this group that we don’t like, they can not.’ Shame on you.”

Anderson, too, listed groups that could no longer be recognized under a “neutral” spaces bylaw, including volunteers, first responders and health care workers.

When it came time for the public question period, 10 people spoke in favour of the petition.

Tom McDonald asked why the municipality would “display sexual messages to the general public,” suggesting everyone’s “sexual preferences” should “stay in the privacy of our own home and not be displayed on our main street and on our lamp posts.”

Turton assured Dopfer and other petition organizers he is taking the issue seriously and has lost sleep as a result.

He told council a resolution on the matter will likely return to council on June 18.

In a statement issued after the May 21 meeting, Minto Pride Committee officials said those who spoke during the question period showed their “true colours” but council handled the situation with grace.

“The presenters may insist this has nothing to do with hate and is instead about inclusion and neutrality, but when questioned by council if this means groups like the Lions can’t have displays … they couldn’t answer that,” the Pride committee noted.

The statement continued, “It’s not about neutrality, it’s about their discomfort with diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically Pride.”

The Pride committee urged people to contact them for the opportunity to educate themselves about “harmful misconceptions”.