Permit to protest? Nelsonians say 'no way' to city council

Lewis Stanton's occupation of Trafalgar St has highlighted what the council says is a "gap" in its bylaw process.

Lewis Stanton's occupation of Trafalgar St has highlighted what the council says is a "gap" in its bylaw process.

A draft bylaw that would require permits to protest, ban sleeping in the CBD, and end Lewis Stanton's occupation of Nelson's Trafalgar St, has been called draconian, undemocratic, and in breach of the Bill of Rights.

Nelson's values were tested in the council chamber on Wednesday as the council heard public submissions on the draft City Amenity bylaw.

The draft bylaw has been labelled the Stanton bylaw, the anti-protest bylaw, and "straight out of Putin's playbook".

Mayor Rachel Reese told councillors that as a "long time protester in [her] former life", she had already had some disquiet about the bylaw's restrictions to protest.

* Permit to protest bylaw 'straight out of Putin's playbook'
*Sir Geoffrey Palmer calls on Nelson City Council to drop City Amenity Bylaw
*Lewis Stanton bylaw debate causes chaos in Nelson City Council chambers
*Council drafts bylaw to deal with Stanton protest

Reese said she had thought carefully about whether she held a pre-determined view but had decided she could be "open to persuasion" if strong arguments in favour of the bylaw were made.

Councillor Matt Lawrey asked if she was so opposed to the permit-to-protest aspects of the bylaw, why she had not supported his efforts remove that section at a previous council meeting.

She had instead pressured him and Cr Kate Fulton to back down on their efforts, and said her comments were "revisionism", he said.

Reese said she had followed council staff advice that if section was removed there would be a gap in dealing with the "issues at hand", and if his motion had been lost, the whole bylaw would have been thrown out. She also denied having pressured them.

What the feedback said

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More than 500 pages of written submissions were received by the council on the proposed bylaw.

While some were in favour of the bylaw, as an effective way to remove Lewis Stanton from the CBD, nobody in favour of the bylaw in its current form came to speak on their submissions on Wednesday.

Some speakers talked about issues related to legality of the clauses and their conflict with the Bill of Rights; others spoke about issues of bureaucracy.

But at the root of the submissions were views on what people felt it meant to live in a democratic and fair Nelson. Tolerance for difference, freedom of expression, and the role protests play in social change were all aspects of democracy that Nelsonians felt were threatened by the proposed bylaw.  

The Right to Protest

Former mayoral candidate Graeme O'Brien's key points addressed the precedents used in the development of the bylaw.

He questioned the use of an Auckland Council precedent regarding the Occupy movement in Aotea Square, and said a better precedent was set by the High Court's ruling against the Whanganui District Council's attempt to ban gang insignia.

He said despite council advice to the contrary,  the Wellington City Council did not require permits to protest, only notification.

The Public Service Association's Mike Cunliffe said it was concerned the bylaw would mean permission would have to be sought from adjacent retailers for protests.

"We could have a situation where if there's some industrial activity, the members decide to meet outside the organisation, not seek a permit, and then be subject to the rather draconian measures of the bylaw," Cunliffe said.

He said they'd been heartened with recent law change in care sector for pay equity.

"People used the right to protest to further that very positive issue [and this is a] classic example of why the right to protest is such a fundamental right."

A number of submitters said police were best placed to deal with health and safety for protests. Most were comfortable with notifying authorities and the council before a protest, but said this already happened.

Sleeping on the streets

People were concerned with a clause that would ban rough sleeping in the CBD. While the council has said this bylaw is not about Lewis Stanton, rather the amenity and safety of the city, most submitters seemed to read the bylaw as being, at least in part, tasked with removing Stanton from outside Farmers.

Julie Nevin said rather than upholding Nelson pride by making it a "beautiful" city, the council should keep Nelson's pride by keeping it democratic.

She asked the council to throw out the bylaw and prevent giving "tyranny" the slightest foothold.

"Moving Hone from outside Farmers isn't worth it."

John-Paul Pochin said the council had "misread" public opinion and was only hearing from a small representation through consultation.

"You won't hear from the drug addicts, the homeless, and the people on the streets," Pochin said.

He said the council and wider public needed to question how they treated those on the street, including Stanton.

Former deputy mayor Ali Boswijk was concerned about the tone the bylaw set. 

"I think we need to be far more open with how we deal with people who are different ... because if we don't all we do is dissect our community further," Boswijk said.

A number of submitters said the council should not ban rough sleeping in the CBD without having found a solution for homelessness.

Jacquie Walters said she was grateful for Lewis Stanton, as he was a reminder that she lived in a city where people weren't thrown off city streets because they might undermine its reputation.

"[My children] know him as the man who used to have Barney ... they want to know why he dresses as Dumbledore ... they worry about how cold he is ... and they think it doesn't look like any fun."

She said Stanton's presence had prompted conversations about homelessness, mental health, and what a society is and why we need to be tolerant..

While most submitters accepted there was a problem with people sleeping rough, they said bylaw wasn't the way to deal with it. There were renewed pleas for mediation and communication in dealing with "the issues at hand".

The council will now deliberate over the submissions.

What they said

"Disruptive, messy, loud, that's what democracy looks like." - Julie Nevin

"Sometimes people are homeless, sometimes people don't have anywhere to go, and if a situation arises where they are, the CBD is one of the safest places to be." - Ali Boswijk

"For Mr Stanton, I'm reminded that when an Englishman goes to France for the first time, he feels that if he shouts louder, the French will understand… Why decide to repeat a legal strategy that's failed all the time?" - Ian Day

"If we're going to adopt any Russian policies I propose we ban GMO from our district, that's a good Russian policy if we're going to have them. Also the Russians have banned pokies which I think is also good for society." - Brendan Santorini

"If the council can find it in its heart to spend more than a million dollars remediating an area that people have wistful memories of sailing model boats on, I ask you to invest in my and others wistful memories of a Nelson that accommodates difference." Jacquie Walters



 - Stuff


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