Hanlon Creek crowd plans for long-term

Monday, October 5, 2009

  • A group opposed to development at the Hanlon Creek Business Park hold a press conference following the end of a court battle wit

    A group opposed to development at the Hanlon Creek Business Park hold a press conference following the end of a court battle wit

Written by Karen Ralph

Spin and controversy can seriously damage a cause, but silence will destroy it.

That hard truth is starting to hit home for opponents of the Hanlon Creek Business Park.

Activists received attention from local and national news media throughout their campaign to protect Hanlon Creek from construction of a road and culvert, but since the city announced that it was postponing construction until next spring, much of the buzz has died down.

Still, the anti-HCBP crowd is determined to keep up the pressure by building support and getting their message out to the public.

“There are a lot of different people involved [who have] different backgrounds, ideas, experiences and contacts, so there are a whole slew of options available,” said Chris Deluca, who has been involved with the movement since the six week-long occupation of the HCBP back in July.

Deluca was part of a group of HCBP opponents who met at a private residence at the end of September.

There, they talked about the need to develop a long-term publicity strategy, in part to counter criticisms and controversies that have damaged the movement's image.

Networking has become one of the group’s primary objectives. There were plans to speak to the Guelph Labour Council and Brantford's Grand River Environmental Group about the need to protect the Hanlon Creek ecoystem.

Activists also hoped to receive messages of support from national organizations like Council of Canadians and the Green Party.

However, those present admitted they were having difficulty gaining support from established organizations, some of whom had been spooked by recent developments.

Sara Sipos said the media and the city were to blame for painting the group as radical and dangerous.

"[Our] biggest challenge was misconceptions: lies spread by the media and city influencing public conception of what was happening and why," Sipos said.

The city has sued a group of protesters for $150,000 recover costs associated with stolen equipment and damage to the property.

Guelph Police also investigated a case where a group visited the home of Alf Drexler, the owner of Drexler Construction, asking him to stop his firm's association with the project.

Guelph Police closed the case without laying any charges. Ichim and Pflug-Back have since filed a $30,000 lawsuit against the Police Services Board alleging defamation, breach of their Charter Righs and other damages.

Some activists expressed frustration at federal and provincial Green Party officials in the riding  for remaining silent on the issue.

Local riding nominee Bill Hulet in particular was singled out for voicing his opposition to the project.

"The real story here is the Green Party... They haven't done sh-t for us," one frustrated meeting goer said.

To counter the opposing voices, the HCBP opponents have started creating their own media to get their message out unfiltered.Videos of recent press conferences were posted on a website that once served as a blog for the occupation.  Last Thursday, articles appeared in both the Mercury and The Ontarion newspapers, giving the activists a chance to appeal directly to readers.

There was talk of canvassing at major events in the city and embarking on a speaking tour from Guelph to as far as Winnipeg. There's even an anti-development music CD in the works.

Though they may not have the same budget as the city for PR, there is plenty of enthusiasm and a sense of momentum, said Matt Soltys, one of the defendents in the city's suit.

"This is such an inspiring thing to be a part of," said Matt Soltys. "[There is] a sense of empowerment and we feel energized to move forward."

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