The Grey Bruce Labour Council is criticizing the mayor of South Bruce Peninsula for words it claims she used toward a protester at the Wiarton Willie prediction ceremony on Sunday morning.
But Mayor Janice Jackson says she doesn’t recall telling Labour Council president Kevin Smith, “you might get beat up.”
Smith was among a group of protesters that showed up with signs and flags in support of Ontario teachers who are currently in a labour dispute with the province. Premier Doug Ford was in attendance for the early morning event along with Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker.
“No. I don’t recall saying that at all,” Jackson said on Tuesday when asked if she had used the words “you might get beat up.”
“I did ask them to move off of the property if they wanted to raise their signs. It simply wasn’t a place for them to protest. I asked them to please respect Wiarton and our annual celebration, but they obviously didn’t care.”
According to a news release from the labour council, Jackson made the comment to Smith, who on Tuesday confirmed that both he and a colleague heard the mayor say the same thing.
“I guess we were more in shock about the ‘you people’ comment, and then it took us aback when she said, ‘you know, you might get beat up and I don’t want to see that,’” Smith said.
The release also says the town clerk Angie Cathrae “was needlessly confrontational and insisted that the signs being presented by the protesters . . . were offensive.”
“The clerk’s comments ‘that this was her festival’ and that the protesters would have to leave the property is no doubt a message that is confusing to the thousands who have enjoyed the festival for decades,” the news release said. “Perhaps the town clerk should have her own festival and not act in a way that denies people their rights and, with the mayor, paints the people of Wiarton most inappropriately.”
Smith confirmed that protesters did in fact move to the street when asked to.
Jackson said there was “no threat of violence” by herself or town staff.
“We asked the protesters several times not to use our community celebration as a form of protest as much as a month ago, when they asked for a booth,” said Jackson. “We indicated we didn’t want to give them a political platform to protest.”
And Jackson said the protesters were “incredibly rude” to town staff.
“Many of the people in the crowd were angry when they raised their banners,” said Jackson “It was just not the place to do that. One teacher who witnessed the incident apologized for their behaviour. She was embarrassed.
“If anything, I feel their actions reflected poorly upon the teachers, most of whom would never have done this to Wiarton.”
When reached on Tuesday, Cathrae said she didn’t have anything more to say about the matter.
“The morning was about the festival, it was about families and community,” said Cathrae. “It is my festival grounds to make sure it is a safe and fun place for everyone.”
Cathrae said the municipality has a professional conduct policy, which “tells people how they should act” at municipal facilities. She said there were many violations of the bylaw, but declined to give examples.
Smith denied that protesters were rude to staff. “Seriously? We asked questions,” he said.
Jackson said there was a lot of activity going on at the festival and it was the community’s day to celebrate, not a place to protest.
“We have never had a situation like this before, and this is our biggest community celebration,” said Jackson. “In 64 years, to my knowledge, we have never had a group come and try to overshadow the event.”
She said the crowd was very receptive to the premier being in attendance.
“He got an awful lot of cheers when I introduced him and there were people that were quite angry to see those signs,” Jackson said.
Julie Stanley, president of the Bluewater Local of the ETFO said she attended the event with a couple of colleagues when they learned Ford would be there.
Stanley said their protest was silent, with a flag and a sign, neither of which were offensive.
“We didn’t want to tarnish the festival, we didn’t make any noise, we didn’t make any ruckus when anyone else spoke,” said Stanley. “Simply when Doug Ford spoke on stage we rose our one flag and our one sign and when he was done speaking we took it down.”
Stanley said they weren’t involved with the incident involving Jackson, but was there when Cathrae told them they weren’t allowed to picket on town property.
“I think we have the freedom to have a silent protest on public property,” said Stanley. “The OPP were maybe six feet away from me and they didn’t approach us. I thought if we were doing anything wrong they would have come and spoken with us.”
She said it is very important that they let Ford know that the cuts proposed by the provincial government “will harm the children we have in our classroom.”
“It is not just the current children. The cuts being made will be there in the next generation as well,” said Stanley. “We are really there trying to protect the quality publicly-funded education system we currently have.”
The labour council said in its news release that Ford “was predictable as ever” at the event.
“Ford continued to demonstrate his deep seated misunderstanding of the issues around public education, educators and the education unions,” Labour Council Vice-President for Bruce County, Dave Trumble, said in the release. “Ford made it clear recently that he is a businessman before he is an elected official, so it is his natural inclination to pander to this narrow base of uninformed that will eat up Ford’s ridiculous lines about the issues at stake being monetary.”
Ford told reporters at Sunday’s ceremony that teachers’ union leaders were holding parents and students “hostage.” The province’s four major teachers unions are currently taking part in job action, with strikes across the province all week long.
On Tuesday, it was the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association that were walking the picket lines provincewide, while on Thursday the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario are planning a provincewide one-day strike.
The province has blamed discussions around salaries for the impasse, while the unions have said issues like class sizes, e-learning and support for special needs students are the main issues, not wages.