By Trevor Busch
Efforts to muzzle discussion of the pro-life cemetery bench issue have been thwarted following Coun. Carly Firth issuing a notice of motion at town council’s Oct. 22 meeting.
On Oct. 9, council had voted 4-3 to defeat an initial motion from Firth calling for council to address the public’s concerns regarding Taber Pro-Life benches located in the town cemetery. The benches were a renewed source of controversy in late September after more visitors to the cemetery complained about their location and messaging as inappropriate, which attracted national and provincial media attention.
Earlier complaints requesting the removal of benches promoting Taber Pro-Life in the local cemetery were dismissed by previous town council in August 2015 following a 5-2 split vote. Prior to the adoption of the agenda on Oct. 22, Firth put forward her notice of motion calling for a policy discussion and request for decision at council’s Nov. 13 regular meeting.
“According to Section 6.6 of the procedural bylaw, I would like to provide this notice of motion for placement on the November 13 council meeting agenda, that the Town of Taber adopts a policy and accompanying procedure governing the making of, or display, of political statements on Town of Taber property, in consideration of both existing statements and proposed statements, such that consistency and readability can be achieved going forward.”
In late August, changes made through Council Procedural Bylaw 20-2018 included the ability for any councillor to put forward a notice of motion for either section of the agenda for consideration at the current, next or other meeting date.
“According to Section 6.6 of council’s procedural bylaw, any councillor may request that a subject be brought forward to a subsequent council meeting by issuing a notice of motion,” said CAO Cory Armfelt.
Firth’s Oct. 22 notice of motion was passed unanimously by town council, and will be included as part of the upcoming Nov. 13 council agenda. On Oct. 9, Coun. Joe Strojwas had pressed for discussion of the bench issue to be dropped, while arguing that council attention would “fester” the situation rather than let it “die.”
The benches in question have been in place now for over a decade on concrete pads on the north side of the cemetery, and have the words “Taber Pro-Life” inscribed in large lettering on their edges which can be easily observed by individuals visiting that area of the cemetery. Both were the subject of at least two complaints from individuals who objected to political messaging being located on town property. One of the complaints was received in late 2014, while the other was dated from July 2015.
“Taking positions on moral issues that are ultimately not decided at the municipal level puts the town at risk,” reads a statement from administration’s background to the decision from 2015. “Allowing the benches to stay will open the door to a court challenge that the town would likely lose.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop, a councillor at the time, drew no comparison between advertising identifying Taber Pro-Life and that of local service clubs.
“I believe there is town property and town parks that have benches or other items that were donated by somebody like the Lions Club, for example. So I don’t see a whole lot of difference, to be honest. It’s a reasonable expectation that if somebody does donate something like that, there’s nothing wrong with putting their logo on it. That’s not saying what they’re all about, or their beliefs, or any of the rest of it – it’s just they’re the donators, plain and simple.”