Chilliwack council voted 5-1 to deny the request for a rainbow crosswalk in Chilliwack. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Chilliwack council votes to deny rainbow crosswalk request

Several councillors mentioned the issue was ‘divisive’ rather than unifying the community

Council is sticking to its guns in terms of no crosswalk decoration.

Council voted Tuesday in favour of denying the request to install a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Chilliwack.

Coun. Jason Lum was the lone vote against the motion to deny.

The word “divisive” came up several times during the council discussion to describe what effect the rainbow debate has had on the community.

Although Mayor Ken Popove had previously personally indicated his support for a rainbow crosswalk by signing the petition, he stated in council chambers as mayor he felt he “had to stand back” and couldn’t vote that way.

The decision to deny falls in lockstep with council’s 2017 policy directive J-11, the Crosswalk Decoration Policy: “The City of Chilliwack will not authorize crosswalk decoration on City crosswalks supporting political or religious movements or commercial entities.”

Coun. Sue Knott said she did not support the rainbow crosswalk idea because council is “elected and funded by all citizens” of the community.

Councillors were not elected to make “political statements,” she added, and she didn’t think a painted crosswalk was an appropriate use of taxpayers’ dollars.

“When it comes to painting a rainbow on a crosswalk, or baby feet, crosses, anti immigration or anything else, it becomes a political statement,” Knott said. “It also becomes a target for vandalism and a canvas for intolerance and hate. You cannot change attitudes by painting crosswalks.”

Coun. Harv Westeringh said he echoed Coun. Knott’s sentiments, adding that he thinks the crosswalk policy was about “safety” and didn’t think it made sense to “deviate” from the uniformity the policy seeks.

The rainbow crosswalk effort, “far from being a unifying factor” in terms of its effect, had the opposite effect, Westeringh said.

Coun. Bud Mercer said given all the emails he received on both sides of the issue, he wasn’t sure “where it would all stop” and agreed it was “divisive” an issue to support.

Coun. Jeff Shields that given the feedback he’d received in the last month, “this is not in the best interests” of the community, and could be “precedent” setting.

Only Coun. Jason Lum said that if it were up to him, he would revise the policy directive against decorated crosswalks.

“But it looks like today there won’t be support to change the policy directive,” Lum said, later adding that Chilliwack would have a “long way to go” to build that consensus.

He suggested another approach for rainbow supporters to take, by going through the public art advisory committee, and approaching it as public art.

Lum said some of the emails he received against the rainbow crosswalk idea “were bordering on hate and intolerance” and that left him “disheartened.”

Some members of the rainbow support group, led by downtown business owner Amber Price, have been advocating for a rainbow crosswalk in Chilliwack for most of the summer, as well as holding a Pride BBQ.

The huge takeaway from all of it for Price has been the networking, new relationships forged, and finding of the supportive community within the community.

Supporters were dressed in vibrant rainbow colours and sat in council chambers to watch their request be voted down.

“Of course I am disappointed but that does not mean that I am not still hopeful that there will be change in the future,” said Price.

She said Coun. Lum’s idea about approaching it as public art was a “creative” one, and his remarks were the “most thoughtful.”

According to the staff report, in which the staff recommend denying the request for a rainbow painted crosswalk: “Historically, all crosswalks have been maintained in a consistent manner with the primary purpose of assisting pedestrians to cross streets and roads.

“The Crosswalk Decoration Policy was implemented in 2017 to ensure those crosswalks remain consistent in appearance and continue to serve as safety devices for pedestrians,” according to the staff report.


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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Amber Price, who led the effort to get a rainbow crosswalk in Chilliwack, speaks to supporters before the vote. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)

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