Silence does not suggest consent

Silence does not suggest consent Two years ago, three of us went door-to-door over a period of three months and gathered 2,654 signatures from Whitehorse citizens on a petition calling for a referendum to create a park around McLean Lake within a 500-met

Two years ago, three of us went door-to-door over a period of three months and gathered 2,654 signatures from Whitehorse citizens on a petition calling for a referendum to create a park around McLean Lake within a 500-metre boundary.

The proposed park boundary didn’t take in the whole of the proposed concrete plant site, but part of it.

For the sake of a clear question, the boundary was a uniform radius around the lake. This was not an ideal situation, but it protected the immediate area of the lake. It couldn’t take in the whole of Upper McLean Lake, because of that constraint, unfortunately. (Skookum Asphalt has sinced leased 26 hectares of the area close to that lake for gravel extraction.)

The park boundary did include Sleeping Giant, which the draft Official Community Plan has designated for gravel extraction.

City councillors have certain rationales they use to justify its subsequent decision to not only ignore, but to attack the signatures on the petition. (The most offensive action was the attempt to name all the 2,654 people who signed as respondents in the first court action they initiated).

Councillor Dave Stockdale, for instance, said at a meeting in December that he didn’t take petitions seriously because people will sign anything and not bother to understand it.

Stockdale should get out more.

We had some self-imposed rules for circulating the petition. The most important one was that we took “No” to signing the petition as the answer; that is, we didn’t attempt to talk anyone into signing it.

I didn’t know if a no-persuasion policy would make the task harder, or even impossible. As it turned out, it didn’t.

Within half an hour of my first venture going door-to-door with the petition, I knew we would get the signatures required to trigger a referendum, which in Whitehorse is 2,000 eligible voters. This was not because people were signing so fast, but rather the quality of their knowledge and engagement with the issue, the degree of thought they had already put into it, and their awareness of the significance of the petition as a legal document, that is, it compelled action on the part of city council.

If people knew nothing about the issue, they would say so and decline to sign because of that.

Between the three of us at least 4,800 people were contacted in this way. The response to the petition was surprisingly consistent.

In a few neighbourhoods and many streets throughout Whitehorse the support for the petition was virtually unanimous Ð in Lobird, for example, and in McIntyre subdivision. (There is First Nation settlement land near McLean Lake.)

Many people living in apartments and condos signed eagerly, giving weight to the planning adage that public open space gains in importance when density is increased.

People often asked if the proposed park would stop the concrete plant, with such hope that I felt very sorry to have to say that the boundary didn’t take in that whole parcel.

Another typical remark was, “I’m not anti-development, but that’s just the wrong place for that one (the concrete plant),” they said. “I’m sure they can find somewhere else to put that concrete plant.”

They said, “This is what should have been done years ago,” (the park) and, “I don’t want (McLean Lake) to be like Ear Lake.”

And often people said, “Thank you for doing this.”

Of course there were people who didn’t want to sign, for their own well-considered reasons.

A few expressed their displeasure with the whole notion of circulating such a petition with enough force that it felt uncomfortable to be on the receiving end. But they were few and far between Ð memorable, but few.

Sadly, a number of people Ð too many Ð didn’t sign because they worked for territorial or municipal government and feared repercussions.

Some didn’t want their names on something people at the city could see, or the owner of Territorial Contracting.

Sometimes people ran down the street after us, so they could sign. But what I remember most is the sound of people running from other parts of the house when they were told someone was there with the McLean Lake Park petition, their feet pounding on stairs, or down the hall, or from the backyard, calling out “Yes, yes, yes!”

It’s odd and unsettling to feel, given the subsequent court actions that the city brought against the McLean Lake Park petition, and the minister of Community Services’ shameful posture of indifference to the impact on the Yukon Municipal Act and citizens, that the three of us were unwitting participants in a watershed event, where citizens’ rights were severed from the municipal act in backrooms and courtrooms Ð out of our sight and without our consent. And with that, any oversight over council decisions was also removed.

Monday night has to be the least fun time ever if you’re a Whitehorse city councillor, facing all those empty chairs. Strangely, their protracted campaign against dissenting views has made these elected representatives the least qualified to speak for their constituents.

I know for a fact that, though other people Ð people I didn’t even know Ð may not be public about their feelings, nobody should interpret that to mean that they’re not mentally engaged, or for that matter, in agreement with the decisions being made, not just about McLean Lake but a host of other issues. They just don’t know what to do about it Ð yet.

Marianne Darragh


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