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FOR THE RECORD: Why Sarnia councillors dropped their fight with River City Vineyard

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Sarnia council agreed unanimously last week not to take its legal fight with River City Vineyard to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The city had long argued a men’s homeless shelter run by the Mitton Street church contravened municipal zoning bylaws, but the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the church last month.

The battle has cost the city $168,000 in legal fees.

River City is currently deciding whether to reopen the shelter it was forced to close 14 months ago.

Below is a synopsis, in order, of what councillors said on July 27 when they voted to bow out:

Andy Bruziewicz:

“There is no point in throwing more money at this. There are no winners here, just some out-of-town lawyers benefitted from it …”

“I appreciate all the good things the church has done. It’s more than just a homeless shelter,” said Bruziewicz, who had volunteered there.

“I know how many lives were saved, how many suicides were prevented, how many people it helped get on their feet, just because the church was doing what a church should be doing.”

Mike Kelch:

“I thought we may have had a shot at the Supreme Court but we have too many irons in the fire right now, as a city. And financially it’s just not something we can pursue.”

Instead, Kelch proposed having city staff determine the definitions of an emergency shelter and boarding house for a church-based operation through the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Council will debate his motion in September.

“We cannot go back to the status quo and pretend that none of this happened, because the people in the neighbourhood don’t want to go back to the status quo.”

Cindy Scholten:

“I would never had supported this from the get-go. It’s like being on a bad carnival ride and not knowing when to get off,” said Scholten, one of three first-time councillors elected last October.

She noted Sarnia is already running an operating deficit this year and will have a difficult time balancing its books.

“We just can’t afford to spend any more, especially not for all the wrong reasons, so I absolutely do not support any kind of appeal.”

Brian White:

“Many of us are just one unfortunate circumstance away from being in the same situation as those who seek shelter. I’ve lived on the verge my entire life,” said White, a first-term councillor.

“For years, we in Sarnia have seen this heated battle between the city and those who claim righteousness. I’m not here to judge the conversations of the past. There have been provocations and negative words from various members of all sides. Quite frankly, it’s been difficult to watch.”

Matt Mitro:

“I will be supporting the motion to stand down and not move any further. We can’t afford it. We’ve gone as far as we can go without help,” said Mitro, who, like White and Scholten was not part of the original decision.

“The optics of it are horrible. No one wants to be attacking someone for doing the right thing. Having said that, I have a major concern with what the neighbours have experienced over time. I do not in any way, shape, or form want to see a return to what I understand it has been. The stories abound.”

Anne Marie Gillis:

“We are in a situation where we find ourselves in a deficit, we find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum. Can we go back to the way it was? Can we go back to the way in 2006, 2007 and 2008 the way that River City had run, and all the difficulties that were encountered by the neighbourhood? No, we cannot.”

So, looking at this, can we spend more money on legal? No, we can’t do that either. So we have to come to some solution. We have to put some parameters in place (on River City).”

Mayor Mike Bradley:

“Everyone should just take a deep breath and give us a period of time to reflect on how we can move forward together …

“It was the city that convinced this group to go into the rezoning process. (River City) believed in the very beginning they were a church and didn’t need to do that. We convinced them to do that and it’s been a long journey and a painful one …

I never believed, ever, that one only needs one homeless shelter in a community. We should be grateful we had a group that was willing to offer this service at no cost to taxpayers.”

Note: Coun. Bev MacDougall declared a conflict of interest, and Coun. David Boushy did not speak.”

– George Mathewson

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