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Rainbow crosswalk goes back to committee

Councillors can’t agree on location with concerns over vandalism, costs

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The campaign to bring a rainbow crosswalk to Oshawa has stalled again.

At its latest meeting, city council heard recommendations for the crosswalk but directed the matter back to committee after a long debate.

Staff suggests placing the crosswalk adjacent to the main entrance of city hall and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and in the future, another between the McLaughlin branch of the Oshawa Public Library and the north side of Bagot Street.

The crosswalk at Lakeview Park Avenue and Simcoe Street South was also considered, but not recommended.

Staff suggests the rainbow crosswalk would have a multi-coloured “longitudinal” pattern design.

The estimated costs run between $8,500 and $10,000 per crosswalk for materials and labour costs.

When council weighed the resolution, Ward 4 regional councillor Rick Kerr suggested Lakeview Park would indeed be an appropriate location.

Kerr spoke of concerns that placing the crosswalk near city hall wouldn’t provide enough exposure to the public.

“Locating it at Lakeview Park, it creates a different level of exposure than what is in the main motion,” he said.

Kerr’s ward colleague Derek Giberson agreed, calling the amendment a “good step.”

“There was a desire for something that was out in the community and more visible,” he said.

However, other councillors were not on board.

Ward 3 city councillor Bradley Marks said the city wouldn’t have much security over a crosswalk at Lakeview Park.

Calling Kerr’s suggestion “flawed,” Ward 5 city councillor John Gray agreed the location was problematic.

“I can just imagine in the wee hours of the morning, someone does a burnout and defaces it,” Gray said, adding there are still those in the community who do not support a rainbow crosswalk.

A rainbow crosswalk in Clarington was recently vandalized in the same manner as Gray mentioned.

He said if the crosswalk is near city hall, there is a better chance to avoid vandalism.

“It won’t be too hard for security to see something going on and hustle their butts to get out there,” the former mayor stated. “It just takes a few irresponsible people to turn this into a bad, bad news story.”

Also speaking against Kerr’s amendment, Ward 3 regional councillor Bob Chapman worried about potential vandalism at Lakeview Park, and what it would take to address it.

“I’m not worried about the cost of the two crosswalks. I’m worried about the cost related to vandalism and defacing,” Chapman said.

He also noted if the city takes too much time to repair a crosswalk, some in the community could perceive that as a lack of consideration.

Kerr’s motion lost by a six to five vote.

Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson said the debate on the crosswalk’s location is a “positive progression” for the city.

“The city has come a long way in two years,” he said.

However, he doesn’t want the crosswalk to be something that is away from public view.

“If we truly are going to send a message of reconciliation – the first step in reconciliation is not to be afraid to reconcile,” he said.

He’d like to see the rainbow design placed at a crosswalk at the intersection of Centre Street South and Athol Street.

Nicholson argued council shouldn’t decide the location based on the menace of vandalism.

“We as a council should not give in to the vandals,” he said.

When someone defaces a playground, Nicholson said the city wouldn’t close it off to the public, and if they did, it would be waving a white flag.

“The vandals win, the vandals are the ones who control the situation,” he said.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey declared she couldn’t support spending up to $10,000 on the crosswalk.

“I question how it is going to have the desired impact… I’m on council to be fiscally responsible,” she said.

Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst questioned how far it must all go.

“…How many crosswalks are people looking for in order to recognize and hopefully have some reconciliation with the past injustices. Look at all the other tributes in our community, we don’t have a duplication of memorials, services, and events,” she said.

Hurst also worried if funding the crosswalks, which weren’t included in the 2019 budget, would lead to cuts elsewhere.

However, commissioner of community services Ron Diskey noted there are “no foreseen issues” resulting from the plan.

Ward 2 regional councillor Tito Dante-Marimpietri said the cost “is what it is,” and it comes down to whether councillors want to go ahead or not.

To Nicholson, the question of funding shouldn’t be a problem.

“It seems the only time we start questioning expenditures is when we start talking about a rainbow crosswalk…,” Nicholson said, pointing out the city has a yearly budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Does anybody really buy that excuse?”

Resident Matthew Kosopolous feels the city was “just doing the status quo” and copying what other municipalities are doing.

While he said he “loves the idea of the crosswalk,” he argued the “money can be invested in doing something bigger and better.”

He said funding for a rainbow crosswalk in Barrie was raised privately in 24 hours, asking why the same can’t happen in Oshawa.

PFLAG Durham, an organization advocating for the LGBTQ community, is in support of the crosswalk.

However, president Jake Farr noted it is not a “PFLAG request, this is a community request.”

McConkey asked if PFLAG could fundraise to help pay for the crosswalk, but Farr said as a non-profit, PFLAG’s focus is on providing programs and services.

“Clarington, Ajax, Whitby, and Pickering… have all done it through municipal funding,” he added.

As for acts of vandalism, Farr said it’s sad to see but highlights the reason they are asking for the crosswalk.

“Because we are still experiencing violence and homophobia,” Farr said, adding communities who have a rainbow crosswalk, “stood up and said this is not going to happen here.”