The Township of Langley is launching a review of its health and safety policies after a public information session got “out of hand” on Monday night.
The session, held at the Langley Events Centre from 4 to 7 p.m., was intended to provide information on truck route changes coming to North Langley.
However, things quickly escalated when some residents started taking their frustrations out on Township staff members.
In particular, people were upset with the Township’s plan to add a truck route designation on 216 Street north of the new Highway 1 Interchange.
Coun. Angie Quaale said she personally witnessed “a barrage of people” hurling a “barrage of insults,” with some people name calling and bullying the Township engineers, telling them they were “stupid” and “corrupt.”
Others, she said, were being “aggressive” to other members of the public entering the building.
“The environment felt heightened to me, and there were a couple of people with raised voices,” Quaale told the Times.
“Nobody should have to be treated that way in their workplace.”
At one point, Quaale asked a staff member if there was security around as she “didn’t feel like it was a completely safe environment.”
“The mentality is, ‘You agree with me, or you’re not with me.’ There was no opportunity for exchange of dialogue.
“If we don’t agree, they think we’re not listening.”
Coun. Charlie Fox was also at the meeting, but left early around 5:15 p.m. In the time he was there, he said he didn’t see anything excessive. He did hear one person raise their voice, but that was quickly quelled by another resident.
POLICIES UNDER REVIEW
Because of this incident, the Township is reviewing its policies and looking into training for staff in case something like this happens again, whether it’s at a public event, the front counter of the civic facility or on the street involving a bylaw officer.
They are also looking at how to ensure that those who want to protest can do so without intimidating others who may have different opinions.
“This is probably the first one in my five years where I’ve received several complaints from members of the public expressing their dismay of how people reacted at this open house,” Mayor Jack Froese said.
Although he was not at the meeting, Froese was told that “one of the staff members looked absolutely sick at the end of it.
“The consultant who was there, too, said ‘that he’s never seen it so nasty.’”
But there is a careful balance that must be struck between providing a safe environment for the public and staff, while also maintaining people’s rights to express their views.
“One of my mandates that I wanted to do in the beginning of my term was to do a better job of public engagement, and it’s extremely important that we reach out to the public and give opportunity for people to come and express their views and have their say on things that are important to them,” Froese said.
“But yet, when some feel that it’s OK to bully our staff and to intimidate other members of the public who are coming, then I think we need to look at a procedure and a policy on how we deal with that, (while) respecting all of the rights of individuals.
“If people want to demonstrate and have signs, that’s fine, that’s what our country is all about.
“But take it out of the venue where we’re hosting, so that people feel safe inside.”
PRESSURE FELT IN NEIGHBOURING CITIES
Keeping the peace is not an issue unique to Langley Township.
In Maple Ridge, Mayor Nicole Read missed five weeks of city council meetings in April and May, after Ridge Meadows RCMP alerted her to a threat made against her.
In Chilliwack, a 37-year-old woman is in custody facing criminal charges for allegedly threatening Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
And in Pitt Meadows, Mayor John Becker recently announced that he may file a lawsuit against those who make outrageous claims against him.
Part of the issue has been the rise in social media, which some of have used as a platform to spread hate and harm.
Becker knows that politicians are supposed to have thicker skin than regular members of the public.
“However, the volume of it is much greater and the level of viciousness is much greater. To see this expanding into attacks on … my business. My children are attacked, my wife is attacked.
“It’s mind-numbing… these private Facebook groups, and there’s no such thing (as private), and they’re doing it with impunity because no one else has had the guts to call them out and make them accountable.”
— with files from Phil Melnychuk, Black Press