A group of concerned citizens attended council in Fort St. James, only to be told they would not be allowed to speak. (photo / Tim Collins)

Here’s what Fort St. James councillors refused to hear

Citizens express frustration and anger

The Wednesday (April 11) Council meeting in Fort St. James devolved into a shouting match between mayor Rob MacDougall and a group of approximately 80 citizens that had arrived to make their opposition known to a proposed Bylaw that would effectively ban the sale of cannabis within town limits, even after the recreational use of the product is legalized at the federal level.

Although it appeared that the municipality followed the appropriate steps in advertising a prior public meeting on the issue, opponents of the Bylaw claim that the vast majority of the population of Fort St. James had no knowledge of the hearing and did not have the opportunity to make their voices heard.

Those opponents of the proposed Bylaw, (which reads: “No Person shall use any land, building, or structure for the sale, commercial production or distribution of cannabis”) gathered 326 signatures on a petition in opposition to the proposed law and appeared at Council to make their opposition known.

They never got that chance.

MacDougall first denied that he had promised the group that they would be allowed to speak, and then abruptly called for a motion to adjourn the meeting. After getting that motion and adjourning the meeting he continued in a series of exchanges with citizens, each time reverting back to claiming that the meeting was over and cutting off the conversation.

Then, inexplicably, he called for a motion for the meeting to go in-camera, a move that would give him cause to eject everyone from the building.

(editor’s note: At the time that MacDougall called for this motion, the meeting had already been adjourned at his urging. It should have been impossible to entertain a motion from a councillor to go in-camera as there was no meeting in session to move to that status. This has been confirmed by Chief Administrative Officer, Kevin Crook, who acknowledged that the move was a mistake.)

Following the meeting, The Caledonia Courier caught up with several of the citizens who had been ejected from the meeting and locked out of the building.

Here’s what they had to say.

“I am disgusted by this irresponsible Bylaw, based upon lies and myths. (What happened here ) tonight was undemocratic and they haven’t heard the last of us. They will certainly pay for these actions next election.”

They continue to refuse the basic question of ‘Why are you doing this? Why?”

–Greg Kovacs

“I have to say that this is a step backward. They’re saying ‘let’s not make the product safer and lets keep it (the sale of marijuana) in the hands of drug dealers’.”

–Meadow Keatley

“What council is doing is not progressive…we’re not progressing with the rest of the world. There are more problems with pharmaceuticals and other items and this council is moving backward.

It’s also not professional to go in-camera and throw us all out. This wasn’t the actions of someone who can handle a situation. If he could, he would have.”

You think anyone is going to vote for these people in the future.”

–Paul Jolin

“I’m here in support of the petition because we have so much illegal stuff in town right now. It would be nice to have a legal, safe product available. This (the proposed Bylaw) will just give the dealers the upper hand and when someone dies because the (marijuana) they have is laced with fentanyl, I hope they remember what they’ve done.”

–Louise Rahko

“They should have another public meeting where people who have signed this petition can speak. No one knew about their first meeting. If it wasn’tfor Sandi (Taylor) we still wouldn’t know about it.

I’m not a cannabis user, but I know people who are using it to make their lives better…to help them sleep, eat, get over depression, get over their aches and pains.”

I’m not a cannabis user but it’s important to have it in our community and not have to drive down someone’s driveway and get it somewhere else. If people could go to a place in town they could get proper cannabis, proper information.”

What they are doing is terrible.”

–Chrissie Nelson

“I would rather people get it from a controlled centre where you know it won;t be laced with fentanyl.

This will definitely have an effect on their re-election. If this wasn’t this municipality, there would be a referendum called and they would be voted out immediately.”

And this goes beyond the mayor. These councillors need to stand up to him, and they don’t.”

A new public meeting has to be called.”

–Anne Wilkinson

“What they did tonight was so unprofessional and cowardly.”

It seems that this mayor and council are not interested in what their citizens have to say or how we feel. The way they behaved tonight really puts a spotlight on who they are.”

They should be ashamed of themselves.”

–Sandi Taylor

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