Making headlines this week was news that the controversial condo development proposed for Chinatown, 105 Keefer Street by Beedie Development Group, was voted down by City Council.
It’s not an especially shocking result, given how polarizing the project was. There was even a public rally and dragon boat festival held in opposition to the plans on Victoria Day. And this week, the Mayor himself stated that he voted against it in council chambers because of the weight of public opposition to the development.
What really is shocking, though, are the allegations – confirmed by many – that there were many incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation at the public hearings. Opposing groups, it has been widely reported, were seen and heard name-calling each other and attempting to stop or interrupt speakers whose positions on the project they did not agree with.
For example, NPA councillor Melissa DeGenova, who voted in favour of the project, said, “To hear that certain groups… were bullying, targeting, coercing, or trying to encourage speakers who were waiting to speak to not speak… is very disturbing. I was asked to go on permanent maternity leave by someone. I didn’t think that would be part of the conversation here.”
I mean, whatever your opinion on the project, that is just not cool.
It is not OK to call a person names because they don’t agree with you, whether privately, in a public forum, or online. It is not OK to shout your own opinion from the rooftops but refuse to even allow somebody else to express theirs.
I get it: people are angry about the cost of housing, and at the same time they are angry about their beloved neighbourhoods changing. And they are allowed to be angry, if that’s the path they choose. What’s more, they are even allowed to express that anger – among each other, on social media and in public debates.
But the ugliness that reared its head at these development consultation meetings goes far beyond a healthy, heated debate. And unfortunately, it’s indicative of a wider problem that we can see every day on social media and in comments sections of online stories.
As editor of a real estate website, and a private citizen who happens to be a YIMBY and is fortunate enough to have a platform on which to express my personal opinions, I get a certain amount of hate from vocal minorities on Twitter, and sometimes in the comments below these articles. (Go on, call me a real estate industry shill in the comments below. I dare you!) In fact, just this morning, a reader called me an “idiot,” apparently for reporting about something that somebody else said. Go figure.
But what I get is minor compared with some of the terrible words thrown at development industry people. Death threats, threats to family members and personal attacks are not uncommon. It’s a disgrace.
Those people who engage in such behaviour, or try to obstruct others at public hearings, should know that they only discredit their own arguments by acting this way.
By all means, show up and speak out at public meetings, and express yourself online. Be vocal. Be passionate. For or against development – or whatever subject it is – that’s up to you. But have the respect and courtesy to allow others to do the same, even if their opinions differ, without fear of bullying or intimidation. Otherwise, you’re only exposing yourself as the one who is an “idiot.” At best.
And perhaps it’s time to impose stricter codes of conduct on development public hearings. Any behaviour like that seen at the Keefer Street meetings, and you’re out, and barred for life. There’s no excuse for that kind of behaviour, and no place for it in our open and democratic society.