After three years of protests against horse-drawn carriages in Niagara-on-the-Lake, police have made their first arrest involving a member of the public and an animal rights activist.
The Niagara Regional Police have charged a 37-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake man with assault and theft, following an altercation with a protester that occurred Saturday, July 25, around 1 p.m., at the corner of King and Picton Streets in NOTL, an area of the Old Town frequented by protesters against horse-drawn carriages.
The man who has been charged is not believed to be associated with the Locals for Carriages, the group supporting local carriage companies, says Const. Phil Gavin of the NRP.
Family members of the accused man had been for a carriage ride that afternoon, and were approached by a protester expressing his concern about horse-drawn carriages. About 45 minutes later, a sign was taken from the protester and bent in half, and a cell phone was also taken, says Gavin.
During the initial investigation uniform officers were able to recover the property of the protester, the cell phone and the sign.
Last week, a day before the incident in the Old Town, Niagara Falls Inspector James McCaffery took the unusual step of issuing a public statement asking all those involved in the ongoing protests, including Locals for Carriages counter-protesters, to participate in “meaningful discussions and negotiations that speak to the core issues of the dispute, and find some resolution.”
“Our officers will continue to do their duty as it relates to all parties involved in the ongoing dispute over animal rights and the carriage businesses in NOTL,” says McCaffery in the July 24 public plea. “We will maintain our neutrality and continue to manage the situation using discretion, education, and where required, enforcement. We will continue to avail ourselves to both sides for discussion, as the maintaining of the public peace and safety for all those involved, and the community remains paramount to our officers.”
Police are also concerned about the escalation of comments on social media, Gavin says. “That escalation is not what we want.”
Protesters and counter-protesters often video activity between the two groups at the intersection, one of the busiest in town during the tourist season, and those videos are often included on social media.
For three years, the police goal has been to preserve peace for all involved, including members of the community and visitors to the community, Gavin says, but the core issues have not being resolved.
“NOTL is not the first to be challenged” with this issue, he says.
“There are potential solutions out there.”
On July 29, Mark Giordani of Niagara-on-the-Lake turned himself in and was arrested and charged with the alleged criminal offences of assault and theft. The NRP had reached out to him to explain his arrest was imminent, Gavin says.
Giordani was released with a promise to appear at a future court date.
The investigation remains ongoing. Anyone who may have witnessed the incident is asked to contact detectives at 905-688-4111, extension 2200.