The City of Maple Ridge, apparently, has a lot to hide.
At the annual “strategic plan” progress report, delivered to city council by staff on October 1st, the staffer delivering the report lamented that the report only covered a fraction of the work she and other staffers had done since the current Mayor and Council took office a year ago.
“A lot of your work must be done in closed meetings,” city Information Officer Christina Crabtree said. “That includes everything to do with the St Anne Camp [Anita Place Tent City], and the provision of social housing. A lot of those decisions happen in the background as well. So that represents a whole lot of council time, and untold weeks of staff time in preparing that information and working with different groups to bring that to fruition.”
Mayor Mike Morden’s concern with confidentiality seems to be especially focused on how they are managing populations of poor and homeless people who live in Maple Ridge.
The main mystery is the city’s “Community Social Safety Plan,” which council initiated on February 12th, approving $40,000 from the Police Services Reserve to be spent in planning. Council received an update on this plan at a closed meeting on September 17th and, while there was enough presented for councillors to – narrowly – pass it, the contents of the plan are so-far confidential.
All that is publicly known is what some councillors have said to reporters. Mayor Morden claims that the Safety Plan is meant to make “citizens feel safe” and to “reduce criminal activity,” while also making sure “people have access to the services they need when they need them.” Morden’s language is open to interpretation. By “citizens,” who deserve safety, Morden is referring to property and business owners who he has publicly claimed are being victimized by poor shoplifters, who, he says, are “raping and pillaging” Maple Ridge. And by “people who need access to services,” Morden is referring to those poor and homeless – but, presumably, the so-called “deserving poor,” not the pillagers.
Three out of seven councillors voted against the proposal because they felt it does not do enough to expel the homeless from the city. “Our community is being pillaged,” said Gordy Robson, veteran councillor, kingmaker, and local real estate magnate. Robson, and two other staunch anti-homeless city councillors Ahmed Yousef and Ryan Svendsen voted against the proposal, which passed with a narrow majority.
We know that Morden’s safety plan is about safety for businesses and “citizens” against the poor and homeless. And we know that the most militantly “Ridgeilante” members of council think it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough. But the contents of the safety plan still have to be decoded from titles alone. Fortunately, Information Officer Crabtree presented a titillating list of agenda titles from closed meetings throughout the last year.
On May 7th the City decided to double the city-funded private security patrols in the downtown core. Because the minutes of this meeting are not public, we don’t know what direction these elected city councillors gave to these security guards, or why they thought private security patrols are important enough to double their budget.
On June 11th, staff introduced an anti-panhandling bylaw at a special city workshop that will become part of the “safety plan.” The introduction and enforcement of anti-panhandling laws in Penticton made headlines earlier this year, but Maple Ridge’s closed meeting has helped divert the public eye.
On July 2nd, at a closed, special meeting, council approved an “immediate action plan” for safety, which Information Officer Crabtree only referred to as including a stepped-up RCMP presence.
Finally, on October 15th, at another closed meeting, staff will present a draft bylaw based on the Provincial Safe Streets Act. Because the meeting will be closed, we will know as much about the bylaw after the meeting as we did before.
Why is the City of Maple Ridge discussing “safety” only in closed meetings, hidden from the public eye?
At the same October 1st council meeting, Jamie Seip appealed to the Mayor for help with his “safety” project. Seip is a prominent Ridgeilante, who recently sparked a controversy when he bragged on Facebook that he and his buddies were “sweeping” homeless campsites; “taking action where police and bylaws cannot.”
Seip proposed that the City allocate $50,000 in harm reduction funding, newly available through the Provincial Ministry of Addictions and Mental Health, to his group, which he claimed is called “Clean-up Maple Ridge.” He claimed that his group has collected ten thousand pounds of “drug residue and feces” and other improbable refuse from ravines and other places “where kids and animals play.”
Mayor Morden received Seip’s proposal gladly. “We did talk about it in the spirit of our initiative under our community social safety plan,” Morden said. He asked Seip to get in touch with him directly so they can discuss directing money towards his group. The Mayor thanked Seip, saying, “We appreciate that you are doing clean-up work in areas where we would not normally go.”
But the Mayor discarded such joviality for his practice of secrecy and no-commenting when homeless advocate and supporter Chris Bossley got up after Seip. She asked Mayor Morden if he “thinks it’s appropriate” for city officials to give “high-fives” to vigilantes hunting homeless people in ravines. The Mayor would only say, “I’m not prepared to comment. There are no facts in front of me.”
Meanwhile, homeless and low-income people in Maple Ridge have complained that harassment by bylaw officers, police, security guards, and vigilantes has become a constant problem. Although only a fraction of the City of Maple Ridge’s safety initiatives have been rolled out, they seem to already be placing homeless and poor people in danger.