Sunday’s Occupy NOTL, a threat by the protesters against horse-drawn carriages, fizzled after an early start, when members of the group placed a wreath on the Queen Street cenotaph only to have it quickly removed by town staff.
AWFAN (At War for Animals Niagara) warned they would be ramping up their protests in Niagara-on-the-Lake in “strategic locations,” over the Canada Day long weekend, with a number of protesters out on the street. They ended their day Saturday, June 29, by projecting videos on the Cenotaph, angering carriage supporters and local residents over the disrespect to war veterans and desecration of the memorial.
The group had warned media and counter-protesters their Operation Anvil would include a day they referred to as Occupy NOTL, set for last Sunday, which would include “large-scale action against speciesism,” which they define as using “non-human persons as property.”
But Locals for Carriages increased their presence in response, asking supporters to show up in numbers.
After the protesters held a brief ceremony at the Cenotaph and laying a wreath early Sunday morning, without permission from the Royal Canadian Legion, they disappeared for the day.
Adam Stirr, the leader of AWFAN, said he hadn’t intended any disrespect to veterans, choosing the Regent Street side of the Cenotaph for the video projection.
The following night he projected the images on the side of a private building, angering the owner, who had not given permission for the protesters to be on his property and who said he does not support their cause.
Stirr said this Sunday’s ceremony and laying of the wreath, which he made available in a video on YouTube, was “in response to concerns regarding the projection upon the Clock Tower.” He said he didn’t ask the Royal Canadian Legion for permission because “our grievances were from the people of NOTL.” The wreath, he said, “was simply a public showing of respect to make things right with the citizens of NOTL.”
He wouldn’t confirm information that the Niagara Regional Police had advised his group to take the day off and stay away from Queen Street Sunday, saying only he listens to any advice the police give him regarding the safety of his protesters, but then makes his decision about what is best for them .
When Lord Mayor Betty Disero heard about the wreath early Sunday, she quickly had town staff remove it. She said it could only be laid with permission from the legion.
“If they had permission from the legion we will bring it back. But nothing goes on the Cenotaph unless it goes through the legion.”
Disero said she also hopes to have Insp. Jim McCaffery of the Niagara Regional Police revisit the protocol agreement from last summer.
She planned to update council on the protests Monday, but time ran out and the meeting will be continued Wednesday.
Stirr charges members of Locals for Carriages have chosen to stop observing the agreement reached in August 2018 during meetings with the Niagara Regional Police and the Town to maintain peace.
Laura Sentineal of Sentineal Carriages says AWFAN members have ways to make it look like Locals are breeching the protocol.
For instance, she said, one of the protesters following closely behind her, trying to get her attention, then began filming as soon as she turned around to face him, making it look like she was getting too close to him.
She says she’s not sure what use an agreement is if it’s not going to be enforced by police, who don’t lay charges.
She commends Disero for trying to help.
“I know she genuinely wants to help, for our sake and for the sake of the town. We’ve had some meetings, and she’s hoping there are some things that can be done. I know if she had a magic wand she could wave, they’d be gone.”
The problem is much bigger than what is happening in NOTL, said Sentineal — the protesters want to shut down farmers who have animals, and retail outlets and restaurants which carry animal and dairy products. The solution will have to come from higher levels of government, the police and the courts, she said.
Disero was on Queen Street Sunday, as were police, who spoke to both sides, reminding them of the agreement, which includes not impeding people from access to the sidewalk. The job of the police, she said, is to ensure protests remain peaceful. “I believe the police are doing their job. They’re doing their best.”
Disero said the NRP were planning to lay charges against the protesters for projecting videos on the Cenotaph over the Canada Day weekend, but after they talked to the crown attorney, “no charges were laid.”
Disero said she has researched other municipalities, trying to find a solution to help control the protests, including Toronto, but has found nothing helpful to NOTL.
“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms say they have every right to be on the sidewalk for a peaceful protest.”
Whatever the solution, it can’t come too soon. Sentineal relates the story of how the family’s involvement in the horse and carriage trade began.
Her late mother-in-law Jackie loved horses from the time she was a young girl, hanging out at Jack Green’s stable on King Street during the 1940s, and working there in exchange for being allowed to ride. Later, Jackie married Fred Sentineal Sr., and locals will remember seeing her riding around town in a horse-drawn cart.
Laura said her husband Fred, one of three Sentineal brothers, inherited his mother’s love of horses, and had been giving carriage rides for friends and neighbours as a teenager just for fun. One day the Sentineals were contacted by the Pillar and Post with a request to provide carriage rides for weddings.
The Sentineals bought more horses, carriages and obtained licences, and Fred and Laura became part of that business.
On Canada Day one year in the 80s, they had a horse and carriage on Queen Street for training purposes, when some visitors to town asked for a ride. That began the second phase of their business, Laura said.
“We built it up from there. Two of our children are now actively engaged in the business, and we haven’t got any grandchildren yet, but hopefully one day we will and they might be as well. This business is part of the history of the town and we want to keep it that way.”
The protesters present themselves “as somehow morally superior, but they don’t understand horses,” she said.
Research on working horses pulling carriages shows it keeps them physically and mentally healthy, she said, and her veterinarian agrees.
The protesters are using feelings and ideology to try to persuade people of their views, “based on opinion, not fact.”
Not every horse wants to pull a carriage, and when that happens, she said, they work out what would be best for the animal, “never, ever, ever” taking any horse to slaughter.
And while they are not a rescue organization, they have bought horses headed for slaughter. “We’ve given them a good life, a job and lots of love.”
“When this is all over,” said Laura, referring to the protests, “we’re going to be having a party.”