Should Nelson protester Lewis Stanton be allowed to stay overnight in city reserves to move him on from his protest site in the CBD?
What to do with Hone?
It's a question that's taken up far too much time for the authorities in Nelson as they try to work out how to end the cardboard crusade of Lewis Stanton, better known by his nickname, Hone Ma Heke.
For 17 months since his horse and cart were confiscated and he was banned from camping in city reserves, Mr Stanton has staged a sprawling one-man "protest" on the footpath of the city's main street.
The latest suggestion from an exasperated Nelson City Council is to consider giving Mr Stanton a special permit to camp overnight in reserves providing he stays no longer than three days at a time, cleans up after his horse and uses a brazier for any fire.
The move follows a police legal opinion that Mr Stanton is not breaking any laws or bylaws in Trafalgar St.
While there is a council bylaw against begging – and Mr Stanton openly acknowledges he makes about $3 an hour from donations – police say they are not able to enforce it. The reasons are not clear though an examination of the bylaw shows the only penalty is a maximum $500 fine, plus $50 a day for a continuing breach.
Apparently Mr Stanton's placards and begging hat could be removed, but he could return again the next day.
Mr Stanton is also not staying overnight, unlike the Occupy protesters in the main centres who were eventually moved on by police after the courts upheld bylaws against camping in reserves.
So you have to feel some sympathy for the council, faced with the understandable call from neighbouring retailers and others to do something about Mr Stanton's presence, but finding little help from the law.
Negotiation has also proved fruitless, with repeated offers for the return of his horse and cart rejected by Mr Stanton, supposedly on the principle that the council has breached his human rights by trespassing him from reserves.
For the council now to consider reversing that ban may create an even bigger rod for its back.
Camping in reserves is prohibited for good reasons; to keep them unspoiled and freely accessible. One person may not make a big difference, but what sort of precedent will it set?
The more philosophical issue is that Mr Stanton's claimed right to freedom of movement does not cover camping anywhere he feels like.
Mr Stanton is a singular personality. Serious injuries from a crash when he was 12 led to an aversion to cars. His horse and cart have been his transport and home for more than 20 years. He begs, says his mother, because he does not want to burden the welfare state.
But in the end his protest is self-serving, and you suspect he enjoys the attention and the income from his day "job". It's past time for him to give that up, and use the persistence he has shown to find something more beneficial – for his and the city's sake.
He probably won't, so another solution needs to be found.
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