Motion to close part of Wood Street to vehicles tabled for one month by council
TRURO - Closing the upper section of Wood Street to vehicles would not eliminate illicit sexual activity but merely drive it elsewhere, the chairman of the Northern Aids Connection Society (NACS) said yesterday.
Doing so would also paint Truro in a dark light, Al McNutt said, during a public meeting held to determine whether a gate, which bars vehicular traffic to the town's watershed at the top of Wood Street, should be moved 300 metres down the road.
Instead of deciding on the issue, however, council opted to table its motion for one month to allow municipal staff more time to investigate parking concerns and related issues for hikers or cross-country skiers, who use that section of Victoria Park.
The issue recently arose following a request by Mayor Bill Mills to move the gate because of his stated concerns over the area's long-standing reputation as a meeting place for gay men.
"Just moving the gate will not cease the obvious activity that is happening there," said NACS executive director Karen Kittleson, who also said such a move would be detrimental to Truro's reputation.
"Vote against moving the gate at the top of Wood Street and by doing so recognize what the gate has become," she said. "It is a symbol of homophobia that has damaged true integrity, has fueled stigma and discrimination and has insulted your fellow residents and human beings who happen to have a different sexual orientation.
"By voting against moving the gate, let our community and people across Canada know without any doubt that homophobic reasoning is not behind nor has ever crept into the scheduling of today regarding the decision to move the Wood Street gate."
During the meeting, McNutt said moving the gate now "... would basically point the finger at the whole council that homophobia is really at play here."
McNutt described Halifax as the city with Canada's third largest gay community and said there are already "rumblings" occurring there of organizing a "major, major parade" in Truro to protest against the move.
And during a media scrum following the meeting, he took his comments farther with outright accusations directed at Mills.
"We don't want Mayor Mills's apology," he said, when asked by a reporter if he had expected that on Monday. "We don't need Mayor Mills's apology. Mayor Mills is who he is. He's homophobic, period, and he has certainly painted his own self with that brush for many, many years."
McNutt said NACS does not condone any illicit sexual activity and suggested the problem should be left for police to deal with if it occurs.
But he also acknowledged that sex in various forms, including heterosexual activities, has been occurring at the top of Wood Street at least since he was a child.
But moving the gate will not stop the activity he said, because people could just walk around it and continue to do as they please.
"If there are men who want to go meet with men they can park their cars and go in the woods and do whatever they want to do."
And the real, immediate danger with the recent publicity surrounding the site, is that an innocent person could be injured or killed, simply by being labeled as gay for being in the area.
"Our biggest fear is the fact that the escalation of possible violence to people who might be in that area of the park, now that the mayor has outed that particular location as being an area where gay men go and frequent or have sex. So, to me, it's just a matter of time and someone is going to get hurt."
During council discussion, Coun. Brian Kinsmen suggested deferring the decision for three months but the motion was defeated in a three-way tie. Mills neither commented nor voted on the issue because he is under investigation for hate comments relating to the issue.
Councillor Raymond Tynes, who advocated relocating the gate as proposed, also recommended charging anyone caught acting
"I don't want to give anyone the impression we're backing away," he said. "There are a lot of people who will see it for the wrong reasons but there are a lot of people who will see it for right reasons."
Police Chief David McNeil told council there have only 45 complaints made to police regarding activity at the site since 2005. Of those, two were for public nudity, one was for an indecent act and 10 involved reports of suspicious vehicles or persons.