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Parades and Facebook Tirades

THE SHORT VERSION

Since last July, there have been two fatalities at Canadian parades. This makes safety at our parades a top priority for me.

One important safety step taken at our Canada Day Parade: Enforcement Services was on site at the end point. Before drivers left, officers were checking to ensure loads were secure, passengers had seat belts, and other safety laws were being followed. My understanding is that several vehicles planning to depart were warned but not given tickets.

I would’ve been angry if this WASN’T happening. Last year, a man in Abbotsford died after the Canada Day Parade. He was on a float driving away, fell, and was run over. Knowing about this, I specifically looked to ensure we had people checking floats as they left.

Exactly one ticket was issued to a driver proceeding into regular traffic. There was a child without proper safety restraints in the cab.

There was a lot of anger about this on Facebook. Some [wrongly] alleged that multiple tickets were issued. And some suggested that Enforcement Services shouldn’t have been there at all.

I understand, but don’t agree with, the anger about the single ticket being issued. But, I really don’t understand those suggesting Enforcement Services shouldn’t have even been present at all. As the main organizer, the City is responsible to ensure floats leave safely.

I was also very disappointed to see the Facebook conversation. There was a lot of misinformation and destructive language being thrown around. This isn’t good for our community.

It’s fair and important to criticize government. But doing that in an abusive manner isn’t necessary or constructive.

I’d love to hear from you. Whether you have a different understanding of events, questions, or concerns: I’m happy to talk.


THE LONG VERSION

From Municipal Government Day on Thursday to the party in Muskoseepi on Sunday, I had a great weekend celebrating our country and our community. I was so proud of the great work City staff, other organisations, and community volunteers put in.

A highlight for me was walking in the Canada Day Parade. This was the first time I had an opportunity to do that. It was great seeing friends, acquaintances, and smiling strangers. It was also a lot of fun giving kids bubbles and candy.

I’ve always seen parades as great community events.

However, I never gave much thought to their safety until I joined Council. But, I sure do now. As fun as they are, parades can be very dangerous if not managed well.

Parade Safety

Over the past year, I’m aware of two parade fatalities in Canada. Last Canada Day, an Abbotsford man was riding on a truck that had just left the parade when he fell off (news story here). And last November, a 4-year-old Nova Scotia girl was struck by a float in her local Santa Claus Parade (news story here).

Last January, with these stories in mind, I talked to our City Manager about parade safety. I don’t want a City event to end in tragedy. I wanted to know what safety precautions we were using. I left my conversation with the City Manager feeling very reassured by what I heard- it was clear to me that safety was a top priority for our staff. And this was confirmed by what I saw on Monday.

At the beginning of the day, parade participants were offered free shuttles from GPRC to the marshalling area. This allowed them to end the parade at their vehicles rather than needing to ride back on floats. In the marshalling area, City staff were ensuring floats were safe before we set out. Throughout the parade, I noticed adults with safety vests standing beside potential hazards (such as the few parked cars). And, after the parade, staff were on hand to ensure floats were safe before they went onto the bypass.



Social Media on Monday

I was very proud that the parade was not just fun and well organized, but also safe. I left with great feelings about our community and our staff.

Then I hopped on Facebook. And most of what I saw was positive. But, some of it was not. And a few particular posts made me both confused and disheartened. More than that, they made me angry.

There was a picture floating around of Enforcement Services vehicles at GPRC. It was alleged by some that, after the parade, Enforcement Services went to GPRC with the intention of generating fine revenue from floats. These posts alleged that they were handing out multiple tickets for loose loads, unsecured passengers, and other violations. Some of them contained incredibly abusive language towards City staff.

Naturally, these posts disturbed me. Being unreasonably fined is NOT how I want community members to be treated after taking part in our parade. And I don’t like to see name calling directed at anyone.


So What Happened? What Was Enforcement Up To?

When I saw the Facebook posts, I did my part to learn more.

When I got early tags and messages, I asked people contacting me if they had been on a float and stopped by Enforcement. If they didn’t have concerns coming out of direct involvement, I asked them to pass on my information to whoever they knew that did. No one directly involved contacted me.

I also know a number of people that had floats in the parade, so I did some calling around. What was being said on Facebook didn’t line up with the experiences parade participants reported to me.

Then Council received an update from City staff. It certainly didn’t line up with the Facebook posts I was seeing.

Here is my understanding of what actually happened on Monday:

  •  Everyone who registered a float signed an agreement to follow a number of safety guidelines. One guideline: “Seatbelts are not required DURING the Parade however, they are required as soon as the parade is over.”

  • Enforcement Services was at the head of the parade. This meant that, at the end of the parade, they arrived at GPRC before the rest of the floats.

  • At the GPRC parking lot, Enforcement Services was checking floats before drivers proceeded into regular traffic. They were ensuring loads were secure, seatbelts were on, and other traffic laws were being followed. They weren’t handing out tickets to people in the GPRC parking lot. The original photo I saw on Facebook was of them doing this follow up.

  • Only one ticket was issued to a parade participant. This vehicle was proceeding into traffic with a child in it. That child did not have proper safety restraints.

If you have direct involvement and a different understanding of what happened on Monday: I’d love to hear from you. What I say below is based on the information I have right now. I’m always interested in hearing different perspectives.


My Take on What Happened

I’ve seen some people suggest that the ticket handed out shouldn’t have been issued: that it should’ve been a warning instead. Regarding enforcement actions on Monday: I only know what was listed above. But I also know that the bypass alongside the college is our most dangerous road in town. Based on what I know right now, I can see how a ticket could’ve been reasonably given out.

But I can also understand people who are critical about that ticket. I get why they think it should’ve been a warning.

However, there is a big part of this conversation I cannot understand at all:

Some voices seem to suggest that Enforcement Services had no business being there at all. They say that officers shouldn’t have even been in the area. That it was inappropriate for them to warn people about loose loads, unsecured passengers, and other safety issues before they went out into traffic.

This criticism makes absolutely no sense to me.

Again: just one year previous, a man died on a float while travelling away from a Canada Day Parade in Abbotsford. If not managed properly, parades are dangerous. As the organiser, the City has a fundamental responsibility to ensure the parade is safe from start to finish, including as floats leave.

After the parade was done, I didn’t stick around for long. But, before I left for Muskoseepi celebrations, I checked to ensure someone was making sure floats that were leaving were safe. Aware of the Abbotsford accident from last year, this was important to me. If I hadn’t seen checks happening, I would’ve been incredibly angry with our staff.

I am completely supportive of Enforcement Services ensuring vehicles are safe before they leave a parade.



I Love Social Media. Until I don’t.

This situation definitely highlighted one of the big challenges with social media.

Many people tell me: “with your position, you must hate social media.”

The truth is, I don’t. I actually enjoy [most of] my time on social media. I learn a lot from the community, which helps me make better votes at Council. I find purpose in sharing information about what the City is up to. And some of my real world friendships started with internet introductions.

But sometimes I absolutely hate social media. And Monday was one of those times. I was frustrated to see mis-information flying around. And I was angered by some of the abuse hurled at our staff in Enforcement Services. Messages I’ve received over the last few days say things like “you should be fired and never hired by anyone again,” “you should be ashamed to have your kids look at you,” and many worse things. Those are never fun to receive, but it is rare for nasty messages to get me too bothered when they are directed at me. What bothered me this time: I also saw nasty, undeserved vitriol about City staff.

I don’t mean to say that people shouldn’t be critical of the City online.

Politicians and staff are public servants. It is fair for the public to ask hard questions and level criticisms. In fact, it is essential for the public to do that. I’ve worked hard to try to make the City more transparent and responsive. Because, I know that we need to be held accountable by the public.

And passionate disagreement is fine. Sometimes it is the best kind.

Some people have had bad interactions with enforcement personnel or other government employees in the past. Some are struggling financially and taxes sure don’t help with that. Some think a few polcies are bylaws are bad. And some see problems with the City and don’t feel they have a voice to have those problems addressed.

Any one of these experiences can make someone angry. I know that: I’ve had them all. It is important for politicians and staff to hear about these experiences and the perspectives they shape.

But expressing anger in toxic, abusive ways doesn’t help anyone. Especially when it isn’t completely based on facts.


The Damage Social Media Can Cause

Here are some of the damages this type of social media conversation can cause to a municipality:

  • It hurts real people. For the most part, our staff are dedicated people who care about our community and are doing their jobs to the best of their ability. They don’t deserve what gets sent their way.

  • It can lead to worse, more expensive government. Across North America, staff recruitment is a HUGE problem for municipalities. Our sector is losing quality people faster than they get replaced. A big reason people from across North America cite for leaving public service: the abuse they receive from members of the public. There is a real threat that this will lead to municipalities delivering worse services, while having to pay significantly more for staffing costs. I often hear people saying “you need better people in City Hall and you need to pay them less.” Hurling abuse at staff doesn’t help that. In fact, it is a great way to ensure we end up paying more money for lower quality people.

  • It silences others. I’ve talked to people who used to have great contributions to community conversations, but have stopped chiming in because of the behaviour they saw. This isn’t good for our community. We need to hear their voices!

  • It erodes the speaker’s voice. We need to hear from the people who are angry at us. They have an important perspective backed by important experiences. But, to be honest: if someone is calling me names, I find it very difficult to give them much attention. And if they are hurling abuse at someone else, I often dismiss their message out of hand: I’m not interested in participating in that. When people speak with passion, that is AWESOME. And when people are angry, it is good for them to be heard. It sucks when their voice is lost due to being stifled trough its delivery.

  • It hurts real people. I know I already said this. But it is important to remember. And it too often gets forgotten when we are online.


We All Have a Responsibility

I suspect that, for the most part, I’m “preaching to the choir.” I doubt many (if any) of you reading this are the type to make abusive posts online.

But, I think we all have a responsibility in this. I think we all (including myself) can do a better job of confronting destructive behaviour in our community. We can do this by, when we see misinformation or abuse being hurled around:

  • Asking people “have you actually talked to a staff person, supervisor, or Councillor about this?”

  • When we have a relationship with someone, demanding they knock it off when they start name calling

  • Learning the real story and making sure others know it

  • Most importantly, committing to have constructive, fact based, civil conversation of our own. It isn’t healthy for our community if all the reasonable voices choose to disengage. We may need to do that in different forums than where the vitriol is being generated. But we need to have constructive conversation somewhere.

I think social media is a wonderful thing. It can draw people and communities closer together. It can also help rip them apart. I think we need to work hard to make it a positive force in Grande Prairie.

I’d Love to Hear From You

I’m always excited to hear from the public (no matter how coarse words directed to me are). So, I’d love to hear from you.

What are your thoughts on how the parade was handled by the City?

Is there anything we should do differently for future parades?

What are your thought on some of the conversation that surrounded the parade? Was it healthy, unhealthy, relatively neutral, something else?

And how do you think social media conversations about our City are going? Are they heading in the right direction? Are they heading in the wrong direction? What do you think can be done to ensure healthy, robust debate it continuing?

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan