Abbotsford city officials have ordered organizers of tomorrow’s Social Justice march to change their gathering point or else face a fine of $100,000.
“They have basically this new plan that we were — I won’t say forced into,” says rally co-organizer John Kuipers.
The city’s route change is disappointing, says Kuipers, because it is “a lot less visible.”
When Kuipers asked officials why the route had been changed, he says he was told the march was projected to attract over 200 people, more than the city permit for the event allowed.
But Kuipers says city officials knew from the start that organizers could not anticipate how many marchers would participate, and advised them to get a highway use permit for 200 people or less anyway.
According to Kuipers, city officials told organizers that if more than 200 people showed up “there’s nothing we can really do about it.” Now Kuipers says the city is “claiming that conversation never took place.”
Abbotsford’s manager of bylaw and animal control says he has no comment on that alleged conversation.
The route change is about safety, insists Gordon Ferguson.
“We’re talking safety concerns and legal concerns or legal authority to go over provincial highway,” he says.
City officials have ordered organizers to re-route to avoid crossing the highway.
“[The city] said, ‘Well, you can only have 200 people crossing the overpass of the freeway at a time,'” says Kuipers, who tried to explain to officials that crowd control measures were being put in place, but to no avail.
“I said, ‘We can do groups of 200; we can have 200 at a time cross.’ I already had a plan to organize the crowd that I didn’t even get a chance to explain to them, but they just flat-out said no,” Kuipers says.
Asked if the city could have reached some agreement with the organizers, Ferguson refuses to comment further.
Kuipers says he remains undaunted by the city’s eleventh-hour changes.
“The city is creating barriers but we have resiliency and we are still going to pull through with the event,” he insists.
“We still hope that it won’t deter anybody from coming. We hope that maybe more people will come in light of this, who knows?”
Kuipers says while he’s making “every reasonable effort” to try re-route people to the new meeting point, it’s inevitable that people are going to show up at Abbotsford Community Services.
The Centre’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear says there’s no plan to re-route the three buses leased to take Vancouverites to the rally. The buses will leave The Centre on Bute St at 9 am as originally scheduled and proceed to Abbotsford Community Services.
“I suggest people meet at The Centre and we go in a convoy, so we leave together and we arrive together and we determine our next steps together,” she says.
“We will keep with the plan of where the buses are headed to and we’ll go from there.”
Breakspear calls the city’s decision to re-route the march “unfortunate.”
“Without knowing Abbotsford well, it sounds like it’s an unfortunate decision by the city. I wish that the city had been content to allow this demonstration to proceed as planned,” she says.
“It would seem there’s an attempt to hide this rally, which speaks directly to the issues that the rally organizers in Abbotsford want to address,” she continues.
“I think it strengthens” the organizers’ position,” she notes.
“Despite these change-ups, I’m still looking forward to joining up with the folks in Abbotsford and demonstrating for diversity and equality in education,” she adds.
“This is community activism at its heart. Things change, we adapt. Often we figure out how to do it on the fly.”
Breakspear says she’ll be at the rally in Abbotsford tomorrow — “hopefully with a couple, of busfuls of people that care.”
Abbotsford parent Terry Stobbart says she and “a lot of people” plan to walk from Abbotsford Community Services in spite of the city’s last-minute change to the start point.
“I have spoken with several individuals who are extremely angry over this situation,” says Stobbart, whose daughter helped organize the September Abbotsford protest against the dropping of the provincially-approved Social Justice 12 course which includes queer content.
“By their very actions,” Stobbart says, “the city officials are proving to be just as intolerant as the school board.
“There are lots of ways to compromise on these things. It was just a hard line, and that’s just unacceptable at this late date,” Stobbart concludes.