Monday, May 7, 2012

An Open Invitation to Jan Harder, Councillor for Barrhaven

Today, the Ottawa Citizen is reporting on a rescue by local fire rescue workers. They saved a young man who nearly died, apparently, from jumping in the Ottawa river after being pursued by OC Transpo constables.

The news paper suggests that man in his 20s may have been involved in writing graffiti on a well known (and used) train bridge that connects downtown Ottawa to Lemieux Island.

What was Councillor Jan Harder's response? According to the papers:
Barrhaven Councillor Jan Harder tweeted Sunday night that she was happy with the dramatic special constable collars.

“Yay,” she said in the tweet. “Someone caught doing graffiti instead of hapless owner of property stuck with the bill!”

I have many problems with Councillor Harder's response. I am going to limit my response down to three key points:

First, councillor, your rush to PUBLIC celebration over the near drowning of a citizen of our city is absolutely appalling. It is inhumane. Beyond that, it is unethical, and unprofessional for a public official to use social media for this spiteful commentary. You owe some people an apology.

Second, this 'tweet' demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the relationship between public policy and human beings. Instead of jumping to conclusions or for joy over the near death of one of our citizens, you might want to think about why it is that someone would choose to jump in a cold spring river rather than deal with OC Transpo officers. Critical thinking is an admirable quality of a public official.

Finally,you do not appear to be very well versed in the difference between public and private property. Indeed, the 'hapless property owner' of a train bridge? The bridge in question is used by MANY CITIZENS downtown, generally without incident. OC Transpo would rather folks did not, I concede, but clearly this is a space that the city will eventually need to consider developing into a lovely pedway/bike path across the river. The point I am making here is that this is not an issue of someone tagging a house in the suburbs!! It is some young people on a publicly owned bridge that the city does not 'buff' (so there is no actual expense involved in the alleged 'graffiti' on this location). Call off the hounds!

I invite you, Councillor Jan Harder to chat with me- at a time and place of your choosing- about the problems with the current 'anti-graffiti' municipal legislation. You and I are in agreement on one point: is it unfair to burden property owners with the cost of 'clean up'. I'd be happy to show you how the City of Ottawa could better invest that million dollars a year it currently spends in the War on Graffiti it started in 2001 (at that time, the 'War' only cost the City of Ottawa less than 1000$, but that was before legislation had time to turn the War into a local industry).

You are right to be angry at this policy: it encourages bad blood between its citizens, not cooperation and community. Your tweet is evidence of that much.

I personally invite you to join me to attend the annual House of PainTs Urban Arts Festival. You will get to meet many of the young talented people of your city who get together every year to celebrate urban arts, which includes graffiti. We will be under the Dunbar Bridge (one of the 2 legal walls in Ottawa)in early September. I would be happy to personally introduce you to some of the amazing people who make up this creative collective. Many of the hard working men and women who put on this event do it for this community, this city. I remain humbled by the amount of work these young people invest into this city, without pay and typically without 'props'.

I will buy the coffee!