The situation we are presently experiencing in relation to the management of the public beach continues to amaze, to exasperate even. Since this spring, the municipal administration seems to have decided to substitute itself, in a coercive and paternalistic way, for its adult and mature citizens and their personal sense of responsibility regarding safety at the beach. In recent months, the administration has become more and more authoritarian, to the point of removing an association of volunteers that had been managing the beach for 50 years.
From the very beginning responsible adults were entrusted with the preservation and management of the beach and the organization of water activities.
At a certain point, the beach was fenced off. By whom and why? Some volunteers from the recreational society have reminded us that the purpose of the fence was to protect children from street traffic or to prevent cars from being too close to the beach. Whatever the reason, the fence has gates, which, in the past, remained open to all adults who needed access to the lake, either for their physical and mental well-being, or for picnics.
Recently, this fence has formed a barricade, restricting access and ensuring that users have paid the required fees. There is no longer the possibility for people, including residents, to have access to the beach outside the summer months and hours determined by the municipal authorities.
It is worth remembering that the recreational society, responsible for the beach for 50 years, managed it without incident during all that time. It lost management of the beach when an understanding could not be reached with the municipality on new rules relating to security and pricing, rules the society considered unacceptable but which the municipality stated were non-negotiable. The administration of the town refers ad nauseam to restrictions imposed by the insurer. However, what follows is an excerpt from what the insurer actually stated in an email to the village on May 10, 2018, obtained by Paul St-Pierre:
“Hello Mr. Bélisle,
“As discussed over the phone, there is no requirement to fence off a site near a beach. However, the municipality should verify and analyze why it had fenced off the site at one time, for what reasons.
“If the municipality decides to remove the fence or to leave the gate open, it should put in place the means to protect the municipality in a context where people could bathe outside the hours of supervised swimming. It should prohibit swimming outside the hours during which there is supervision and properly inform the public of this. Among the means of informing the public, we would advise you to act preventively by publishing press releases in local newspapers, on your website and in tourist brochures.”
This clearly demonstrates that the insurers are proposing a way for the municipality to act that does not involve or require coercive action to insure security. Rather, it provides simple and sensible ways in which the municipality can comply with its obligation to maintain a safe environment, regardless of whether or not there is a fence. There are other examples in Quebec, of notices, instructions or recommendations that release municipal governments from any responsibility “outside the hours when children generally require additional supervision to that of their parents.”
The stubbornness on the part of the town administration relates more to an attitude that considers citizens too immature to be able to look after themselves. As if they were students in a school or functionally-dependent people in a home! Worse still, citizens can be lied to and, in the end – or so this administration seems to believe – they will calm down and keep quiet. This is insulting!
Two sessions of Council did not provide answers to the questions and objections raised by a large number of citizens who are more and more offended by the situation. Always the same objection from the mayor, the only one who responds to questions and objections: no other choice, it’s because of the insurance company and the government! We all understand that this is not true and that the municipality has known for more than a month now that this is not true. So why still blame this policy on the insurance company? What is behind taking the beach out of the hands of the volunteers? What is behind these limits placed on the use of the beach and this confrontational attitude towards citizens? The answer most likely lies in plans and intentions that are not yet known to us. Or worse still, in a poorly-functioning municipal administration in which elected officials are no longer listening to their constituents but are merely the mouthpieces of a town management obsessed with security and taking an active role in what are political decisions.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that this difficult problem our community of some 600 inhabitants is presently facing poses in a more general way the question of access to the shores of our magnificent lake, Lake Massawippi. The authorities should take this into account when they establish the tax bills each year. And it poses the more general problem of all other bodies of water whose shores have suffered the effects of privatization.
Vincent Ranallo , Citizen
Translation by Paul St-Pierre
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