Grieving families hold roadside memorial rally at Halifax City Hall
'I don’t believe anybody should regulate how long our grief should last,' says woman who lost son in car crash
January 29, 2020, 4:11 pm ASTLast Updated: January 29, 2020, 4:11 pm
Several roadside memorial supporters rallied at Halifax City Hall Tuesday to voice their concerns about HRM’s current roadside memorial survey.
The supporters fanned out in the square, chanting “save our crosses,” “roadside memorials remind you to drive safe,” and “you don’t know what you’ll do unless it happens to you.”
Marlene Cooper was one of the event’s main organizers. In August 2018, the roadside memorial for her daughter Kylie was removed by HRM staff after the city received a complaint. Kylie, 15, was killed in a car crash on Highway 2 in 2018.
Kylie’s roadside memorial was reinstalled, but the controversy surrounding its removal spurred council’s move to develop future policies.
Marlene said she is open to the idea of roadside memorials becoming registered in HRM so the city can contact residents as needed. But she doesn’t think the memorials should face restrictions about their size or how long they are allowed to remain.
“If they would like legislation, make it loosely based,” Cooper said. “No time limits, that’s for sure.”
Christine McGowan also helped organize Tuesday’s rally. The roadside memorial for her son, who died in 2008, has been in place on Highway 207 for 11 years.
“It’s well taken care of, well maintained, and I don’t believe anybody should regulate how long our grief should last or where we can grieve,” McGowan said.
The memorial for McGowan’s son is a wooden cross, standing about seven and a half feet high.
On HRM’s survey, residents are asked if they agree a size restriction of three feet by three feet should be “the suggested maximum size” for roadside memorials. McGowan’s memorial would exceed such a regulation.
“He died in the spot where the cross is. He died in my arms. So nobody has the right to take that from us, as far as I’m concerned,” McGowan said.
“That’s why we’re here. We’re fighting for our rights as grieving parents, and others who are here grieving their loved ones.”
Many protesters criticized aspects of HRM’s current survey, saying it should have presented a time limit longer than 10 years. Some thought the survey should have asked how complaints about roadside memorials should be dealt with. But most seemed cautiously open to the idea of some future legislation.
A few city councillors spoke with protesters during the rally.
In an interview, Coun. Matt Whitman said he’s “leaning towards not being in the business of legislating grief.”
“I don’t think that city hall, who’s in the business of plowing and police and fire and parks and recreation, should be in the business of telling people how to grieve their loved ones,” Whitman said.
Whitman said he likes hearing public input, and the current survey on roadside memorials is valuable for that reason.
“But I don’t know what to do with the information when the survey comes back,” he added.
Coun. Steve Streatch and Coun. David Hendsbee also spoke to protesters at the demonstration. Streatch recovered the roadside cross for Kylie Cooper in 2018 and initiated discussions at council about roadside memorial policies after that case proved divisive.
“In lieu of having no rules right now, we have to do something,” Streatch told protesters, saying that policies could prevent roadside memorials from being removed in the future.
“To do nothing is not giving any credence to what you’ve been put through,” Streatch said, addressing Marlene Cooper and the surrounding protesters. “And I believe we have to do something.”
HRM’s roadside memorial survey closes on Sunday, Feb. 2.
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