"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Opening the door to more commemorative crosswalks

The most famous of all crosswalks.
After I delivered the following speech at Council in Committee yesterday, most councillors indicated that, while they did not want to start a process to create a new policy for allowing commemorative crosswalks and other forms of public messaging, they would be open to considering one-off applications, just as they did for the rainbow crosswalk last fall. I take this as progress, because last fall most councillors seemed to suggest that they considered the rainbow crosswalk to be the one and only such installation that they would support, and, anyway, some predicted that the approval of the rainbow crosswalk would not generate any new requests for other crosswalks. A presentation just a few weeks later, by Brad Chase, Indicated otherwise. It will now be interesting to see what sort of proposals for commemorative or celebratory crosswalks emerge. Here is the text of my speech:

Last fall  -- after the majority of council directed staff to install a rainbow crosswalk in the city, and, later, further directed staff to use the unique, six-colour motif, first developed as a sign of support for the  gay-pride movement, for that crosswalk -- a gentleman named Brad Chase made a presentation to Council in Committee
He asked that we consider installing more crosswalks to show our support for other causes – specifically to signal our opposition to hate crimes against victims of discrimination – everyone from Jews and Catholics to First Nations and the homeless.
He also presented some design options for various groups (including one depicting poppies, to celebrate the service of our Veterans. I think it’s important to say now that, while I understand Mr. Chase’s intention, I am quite certain that veterans would not want to see images of poppies being trodden upon and driven across.).
At the time, I made some generally supportive comments in reply to Mr. Chase’s presentation, but Council in committee did not formally reply and no direction was given to staff. Since then, Mr. Chase has communicated with council, asking about what action would be taken in response to his presentation.
I believe, that to be fair, council should now give Mr. Chase an answer. And I believe that this answer should be that council will instruct staff to begin a process to install other memorial or celebratory crosswalks – a process that, unlike that which led to the decision on the first cross walk, will include full and meaningful consultation with the people of Coquitlam.
Now, some on council may argue this is not necessary, because they have already adopted a one-size-fits-all crosswalk. To support this argument, they may point to the original contention, made by the crosswalk proponents, that the rainbow crosswalk has become a universal symbol of acceptance.
However, the logic buttressing this argument crumbled when one of the proponents herself told committee that a second crosswalk was needed to support transgender individuals, and then later told the press that a specific gay-pride motif was needed for the rainbow crosswalk – and not just one depicting a general rainbow.
I believe council was aware of the resulting messaging problem, which is why it unanimously supported the installation – adjacent to the crosswalk -- of signage reading, “Diversity Lives Here.”   
But clearly, as Mr. Chase has demonstrated, that didn’t do the trick. Some of us warned that the adoption of one, issue-specific crosswalk would open the very door that we saw Mr. Chase walk through, but the majority rejected this argument.
It’s worth noting here that last summer, Chilliwack city hall received a request to install a rainbow crosswalk somewhere in that city’s downtown. Within a week, the city received a request from a Chilliwack Pro-Life group to install a “pro-life crosswalk” depicting “painted crosses or infant feet.” No doubt seeing where all this was heading, Chilliwack council responded by creating a new policy directive to deny all requests to decorate any crosswalks.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Coquitlam council’s longstanding no-proclamations policy used to be seen by council as a de facto no-decorated-crosswalk policy, as well. But that understanding was turned on its head last fall, and now council is at – not a crosswalk – but a crossroads, facing a choice:
Does it refuse Mr. Chase’s request and all similar future requests, and by so doing attempt to cling to the fragile rationale in support of its initial decision?
Or does council recognize that, to be reasonable, fair, equitable and democratic, it should entertain new requests. And, to support this, that it should employ an open, reasonable, fair, equitable and democratic consultation process – just as it did two years ago when it developed a new Cultural Displays Policy.
I believe it should adopt the latter course and embark on a meaningful public-consultation process to develop a more inclusive crosswalk and issue-messaging policy. This consultation should involve community groups, the general public, and council’s own advisory committees, including but not limited to the Multiculturalism Advisory Committee and the Universal Access-ability Advisory Committee.
Who knows what great ideas they will come up with, not only for crosswalk themes but also messaging themes? After all, the celebratory message “Diversity Lives Here” captures only a small part of what makes Coquitlam great. In fact, in and of itself, diversity is actually a rather hollow thing. To fill it out –to bring it to life – one surely needs  charity and kindness, love and respect, and courage, wisdom, and justice – all of which are certainly worthy of celebration!
So, I ask my fellow council members: what road do we take?

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