Concerned community members gathered outside of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to rally against an official business motion being presented to council that called for administration to look into the feasability of installing wrought iron fencing around Galt Gardens. 

Early in its meeting, council voted against the motion which was presented, not to have council take action on fencing, but rather to have administration report back with information for a community dialogue on the matter.

The protest began with an introduction speech, a song, and speakers followed by free speakers from the audience. Lethbridge lead for Moms Stop the Harm, Lori Hatfield, shared the negative image the a fence would symbolize and her astonishment the idea was even brought up.

“This is definitely making a statement, a negative statement. In fact, I’m surprised that they’re not embarrassed like to even bring this forward, especially in today’s culture with reconciliation and everything else that we are trying to move to, to prevent further stigmatization,” said Hatfield.

Hatfield said when she saw the motion, she got together with other concerned community members and helped organize a peaceful rally. She expressed the finances for the proposed fencing should be going towards needed housing.

“It’s not enough to fix the entire housing projects that we would need, but it’s definitely enough, like it would make a dent, it would have some impact. And like I said, they need to be bringing this forward. They need to be propositioning the provincial and the federal government more for our city and speaking up and telling them that we need more, and I don’t think they do enough of that.”

One of the speakers at the rally, Esther Tailfeathers, talked about the humanitarian approach that is needed and goodwill of people within Lethbridge.  

“This is so important because we need to be taking a look at taking a humanitarian approach. And I really believe that there’s a lot of people in Lethbridge with goodwill and a good heart and who understand that if one part of society is hurting, it eventually hurts in other parts of society. 

“And so, I think that the show-up today of all these people shows the humanity of the people in Lethbridge and the concern that they have for other people in the city of Lethbridge,” said Tailfeathers. 

Tailfeathers shared the history of  Galt Gardens and talked about racist interactions in the 1940s, and how Indigenous people were only legally allowed to purchase alcohol in 1959. 

“In fact, people gathered in Galt Gardens historically when they came to Lethbridge for trading, and for other things, but also it became a gathering place because Indigenous people or Indian people were not considered human.”

During the rally, an unexpected commotion arose from the crowd as an opposing protester rushed through, voicing his feelings how he believes a fence to be a measure of safety.

Connor Shaw opposed the rally, dressed in a suit coat with sunglasses holding high a Union Jack flag. He described his stepfather being stabbed at Galt Gardens after refusing an individual a lighter and cigarettes.  

“Now, I may be wrong, but my understanding what the fence is, it’s not making it an exclusive club. It is bottlenecking the entrances to public and easily visible areas to change the psychology about entering the park, you’re entering a space of tranquility rather than somewhere in the open air of a downtown city,” said Shaw. 

“Secondly, it makes it easier for police monitoring of criminal activity through those entrances.”

Rally attendee Angela Harrison helped to de-escalate the commotion Shaw’s presence had at the rally. Harrison said she wishes the situation with Shaw was handled differently and the challenges the proposed fencing would create in the community. 

“I’m very sad that people were shoving him out and not allowing him to have a voice. He also deserves to have a voice and a say. It sounds like he suffered a trauma and a loss that he attributes to that park or to a certain demographic of people. 

“But I don’t believe that it’s a demographic of people. And I don’t believe that putting a fence up will stop stabbings or crime. In any event, there the crime will spread out into the core of the city. People need places to go.” 

Harrison noted homeless individuals are not trying to disrespect but simply are seeking shelter and other needs they find at the Galt Gardens.

“They’re not out there to be disrespectful. They are simply looking for some shelter and some kindness, and humanity has just gone so far because they’re looking at the problem. They’re focused in the problem. They’re focused in the blame. And there’s simply not enough resources.”

Rally supporters Jessie Tollestrup talked about the ongoing housing crisis and the importance of utilizing funding not on a fence, but rather on support for the homeless.

“It seems really obvious and simple. Help homeless people rather than build fences to keep them out of the public view.” 

Hatfield said the homeless are stigmatized. She has empathy for the difficulty of living on the streets. 

“It’s sad to say, but everybody stigmatizes that everybody that’s homeless is an addict. And that’s not true… I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to leave my home and have nowhere to go. And you end up on the street. How do you face that every day and not have to numb yourself?”

By Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 27, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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