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article imageBittersweet day for Guelph's Hanlon Creek protesters Special

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 4, 2009 in Environment
Guelph, ON - It's the 8th day of occupation of the site that will shortly become, if the City has its way, the Hanlon Creek Business Park. Today the injunction that was served on the occupiers was to be heard.
In a strange way, the convening of the protesters and their supporters at the Ontario Court of Justice in downtown Guelph this morning was reminiscent of a voting scene from Survivor. About five or six supporters had very full bags with them, having travelled through the night to get to the court today. The similarity was helped along by the dress of the protesters, as well as the lingering scent of campfire smoke clinging to some of the people.
There was visible heavy security present just for the hearing. One security guard told me that court personnel were concerned that the protesters and their supporters "might not like" a decision.
The protesters had been very busy after they received the injunction notice on July 31st. They had printed small posters that asked for support and distributed those around parts of the City. Through their blog, they asked Guelph residents opposing the development to submit letters of support, which they would submit to the court as affidavits. Apparently they have gathered at least 40 letters thus far.
A strong show of support for the protesters was evident, with an estimated 70 or more people in attendance. Some Guelph residents turned out to lend their emotional support to the protesters. One woman said she was there because, while she wanted to believe in the present City Council, and was trying really hard to believe in them, she was shocked that the City was asking for a $5 million settlement. That's what brought her there, she said. A male resident had come with a petition to "Save our Trees" in hand, for which he had gathered signatures. He told me that he has opposed the development for some time.
Protesters and supporters
Protesters and supporters mingling in front of the courthouse, Guelph.
Stephanie Dearing
Court was scheduled for 10 am, but because the lawyer for the City was late, everybody had no choice but to wait. Interestingly, there were no representatives from the City of Guelph aside from the one lawyer, Mr. Bordin. Once the City's lawyer arrived, Eric Gillespie, the lawyer for the seven protesters named on the injunction notice, asked for the case to be adjourned to August 10th. He said he had only been retained yesterday and needed the time to respond. Madame Justice Wein sent the two lawyers off to work out an arrangement for the deferral, but time after time, they returned to the courtroom saying they could not agree.
During one of the first breaks, I got a chance to catch up with media liaison, Will. He told me that the protesters were very pleased with the "... enormous show of support today ... the City is pursuing a five million dollar law suit against the people at the encampment in order to remove us from the land. Law suits like this are intended to intimidate legitimate opposition and quell dissent through material force rather than engaging in the the concerns we have tabled." Will added that the process of opposing the Hanlon Creek Business Park had been ongoing for years, and said that it wasn't the first time that financial leverage has been used to try to quiet people, referring to the case involving Guelph's Kortright Hills Community Association. The Kortright Association was embroiled in a long-running dispute with the City of Guelph over the development of the lands currently occupied by the protesters. Gillespie, the lawyer for the defendants had acted for the Kortright Association, obtaining a settlement. Gillespie also was the lawyer for Ben Bennet and others who opposed the Wal Mart development at the north end of Guelph.
I asked Will if the protesters saw the adjournment as a small victory, pointing out that should they get the adjournment, it would curtail the amount of time available to work on Tributary A, the cold water stream that the protesters are trying to protect, along with the wetland, and the woods. Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources has only allowed a small window of time for work on the waterway. "A deferral is a necessary step," Will answered, "But it is not a victory. Victory in this situation begins with regular folks continuing to visit the site, and support the encampment." Will added that financial support would be appreciated. The group's plans depended on the outcome of the hearing, Will said, but the encampment is in a strategic location and the group has no intention to vacate the site.
At 2 pm, after the third announcement from the lawyers that the two parties could not come to agreement on the adjournment terms, Madame Justice Wein set to work on the matter. The City's lawyer made it clear that he did not want to adjourn the hearing, but he conceded that point when he saw that Justice Wein supported the adjournment.
It turned out that the sticking point was that the City wanted the protesters off the land now, and the protesters refuse to leave. Madame Justice Wein clarified why the City would need to access the land, as well as details about the encampment and its facilities. She asked the protesters if they would agree to stay on the site, restricted by police tape, or masking tape, to the camp and the access road. After a lot of questions and answers, Madame Justice Wein retired to her chambers to write an order.
Finally, at around 3:30 pm, Justice Wein brought down her order. The City is allowed to access the property for the purposes of monitoring the water, to repair the silt fence and to resurvey the site. The people accessing the site will be those contracted for those purposes. The protesters are not to interfere with that access or the work. The City will not continue the construction work. The protesters are allowed to stay in their encampment, which will be roped off. They are allowed to have visitors, but they are not allowed to let anyone else take part in the occupation. 30 protesters, including daytime temporary visitors, are allowed to be on the site continually, and the judge advised the group to keep their numbers to under 30 so that they could have visitors. The group is additionally allowed to have 5 members of the media present. Additionally, the protesters are to communicate to the public that no more people can camp at the construction site, and both sides are responsible for printing up the order, which will be posted at entrances to the property tomorrow.
At the end of the hearing, Madame Justice Wein addressed the named protesters, saying "Many would say I have been overly generous ..." She was referring to having allowed the protesters to stay on the site, anticipating perhaps, the idea that the protesters might not recognize the latitude she granted to them in the matter. Justice Wein said that she was being so generous because the occupation has been peaceful. The injunction hearing was adjourned to 10 am on August 10th.
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