Tense exchange in Puslinch council chamber over Boreham Park

Mayor threatens to call police on gallery member trying to address council

PUSLINCH – What began as a peaceful delegation ended with a member of the gallery being asked to leave – upon threat of calling the OPP – at a Puslinch council meeting on March 20.

Arkell resident Bruce Taylor delegated to council on several issues he has with the terrain at Boreham Park.

The township recently installed accessible playground equipment at the park, but Taylor believes the drainage ditches that run through the park – part of the stormwater management system for the surrounding subdivision – pose a danger to children, dogs and people with disabilities.

The ditches are six to eight feet deep in places and during snow melt or heavy rain, water can be 20cm deep.

Taylor had reached out to several safety organizations – The Canadian Pediatric Society, Lifesaving Society Ontario, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Canadian Child Care Federation – all of which noted children can drown in just 2.5cm of water, he said.

He suggested two culverts could be installed at a cost of just $18,000, the ditches filled in and the problem solved.

Interim CAO Courtenay Hoytfox reminded council that the township’s engineer, Triton Engineering, looked into the cost of installing culverts in the park at council’s direction in October and estimated it would cost between $1 million and $3 million.

“With a stormwater management facility, engineering is important to ensure the system is still functioning,” Hoytfox said.

Council decided to plant a vegetation barrier instead to make the swales obvious.

But in February a row of just-planted yews was removed at the urging of Taylor, who alerted staff to the fact that yews are toxic if ingested.  

The yews will be replanted, likely at the township office, and staff will explore an alternative planting for Boreham Park.

Taylor also lobbied for signage at the park outlining a long list of potential risks including:

  • the park is situated on a stormwater management facility;
  • children and pets should not play in the water; and
  • children should be supervised because of the dangers.

“As a council … to live with the risk of injuries and drowning in Boreham Park, and to ask Puslinch residents to settle for the same, is not an option,” Taylor said.

He added inaction sends a message that children’s health and safety are not priorities for council.

“In fact it would be unconscionable,” he said.

Mayor James Seeley said he supports council’s previous decisions on Boreham Park, “1,000 per cent … and I’m comfortable with my position.

“I don’t believe there’s more risk there than a roadside ditch.”

As Taylor was leaving the podium, resident Helmuth Slisarenko stood up and started speaking to council.

Seeley had invited Slisarenko to sit with Taylor prior to the start of the delegation but Slisarenko declined.

“After the delegation was complete, Helmuth stood up abruptly and began to shout at myself,” Seeley stated in an email to the Advertiser.

“I immediately interjected. I stated he was not permitted to engage council from the gallery.

“Helmuth continued to raise his voice. I also instructed Helmuth that if he wanted to address council, he needs to submit a delegation request form.”

The mayor continued. “As Helmuth was not complying to my request to keep decorum, I instructed him to stop interrupting or I would call the OPP to have him removed.

“I also instructed Mrs. Hoytfox to cease the meeting until decorum was restored.”

Indeed, the sound and visuals were cut for about five minutes for remote observers before the meeting resumed.

Slisarenko said a day later he was still “shaken” from the exchange.

All he wanted to do, he said, was let council know he couldn’t hear what they were saying.

“I tried to reiterate that I was not speaking to the delegation, but to not being able to hear what the councillors were saying regarding the delegation,” Slisarenko stated in an email.

“He (the mayor) threatened to shut down the meeting if I did not leave the meeting on my own. He threatened to call the OPP to have me removed.

“At that point I decided that he was not going to listen to my procedural issue of a hearing disability issue and to leave rather than be arrested by the OPP.”

Slisarenko added, “I am still reeling from the heavy-handed exchange with him yesterday and seriously doubt that I will attend in person again.”

When the meeting resumed, Seeley said he didn’t want to do anything with the information Taylor had presented, calling it a “personal vendetta against council and this park.”

But councillor John Sepulis saw it differently.

“I don’t like being accused of not doing our due diligence,” Sepulis said. “I agree it’s sensationalism but we should dispel the accusation or do something about it.”

Sepulis put forward a motion that was adopted by council: for staff to look at the cost of conducting a safety study of the grounds of the park (and not the playground equipment); and for staff to investigate the cost, safety and feasibility of installing a grate system over the ditches to make the playground level.

Taylor said he left the meeting with Slisarenko and didn’t realize council was discussing his delegation until he started receiving emails from neighbours watching the meeting remotely.

Taylor had not viewed the recording of the meeting himself but was keen to do so. And he said he was still shaken by the experience himself.

“All the mayor had to do was give Mr. Slisarenko one minute to explain his concern,” he said.

“Instead, the mayor’s response was heavy handed, disgraceful and with risk when inflicted on a senior citizen …

“A written apology should be sent to Mr. Slisarenko by the mayor immediately.”