Willow Pond

Marven Whidden: “It could happen to you”

(Please consider signing our petition here)

Marven Whidden, a popular blogger in our municipality, has written about what’s been happening to my mom and dad in Clarington. He’s also signed our petition, urging the municipality to drop the charges against my mom and dad, and to permit the continuation of the annual, non-profit, non-partisan, non-commercial Liberty Summer Seminar for another 10 years (or more). A few days ago, he put up a blog post entitled “It could happen to you.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Picture this scenario. You and your neighbours are having a street party. This party will feature a live band, BBQ, games and whatever else goes into making a successful street party. To achieve this, everyone pitches in a certain amount of money to cover the cost of the food and band.

At the party everything is going great, until a bylaw officer comes in and charges the organizer with running a commercial enterprise on residential property, all because you collected money for your party. Think this can’t happen? think again.

In a nutshell that is what happened to the Jaworski family in Orono.

Could it happen to you? It could. In fact, something similar happened to Whidden, and I’ve received emails about other parties, events, and musical gatherings that resulted in threats from one municipality or another (and it happens in the U.S. too. Take a look at what happened in St. Louis Minnesota — the parallels to what is happening to my family are remarkable).

It could happen to you because bylaws are confusing (I’ve been calling them “byzantine”). For example, my parents are being charged with running a “commercial conference centre.” I’ve been trying to figure out what a commercial conference centre is, legally speaking, since the charges were filed against my parents. I even asked the prosecutor to send me a legal definition of a commercial conference centre. She sent me a copy of the relevant section, and no definition.

Even the former Chief Planner at the City of Winnipeg (with 40+ years of experience) was confused about what a “commercial conference centre” was. He took a look through the bylaws, and couldn’t find a definition. He urged the municipality to double-check with their legal counsel, since these sorts of things give bylaw and planning a bad name.

People get caught up in bylaws all the time. Often, the municipality responds cooperatively, and works collaboratively with the property owners in a non-aggressive, and non-confrontational fashion. Often, municipalities try to do right by their residents who are, after all, their friends and neighbours.

For some reason that we’re not clear about, our municipality decided to crack down on my parents, who have never had a beef with anyone in the municipality before this.

When Marven Whidden held his street party, the municipality first threatened him, and then didn’t do anything after Marven went ahead and held an event that builds stronger bonds within a community.

Events like Marven’s and events like the Liberty Summer Seminar promote stronger friendships, community bonds, and build social capital. You might say that they promote the common good, that they are the sorts of things that make communities flourish and thrive. They are the kind of events that municipalities should be proud to be host to in their backyard.

Maybe you live in a municipality like that. We don’t.

The next time you host a party with friends, a barbecue, an educational seminar, a charity event, a fundraiser, a fun gathering of neighbours, know that you may be running afoul of your bylaws. But good luck trying to figure out whether you’re on the right or wrong side of the law.

Bylaws are not written for the average Canadian to understand.

Leave a Reply