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Photo by Keila MacPherson

My Peterborough is different from your Peterborough, from his and her Peterborough, from their Peterborough.

Each and every individual has a different relationship to this community that we all share, but no matter who you are, everyone deserves and has the right to a safe and inclusive Peterborough.

To ask someone if they think Peterborough is safe is really challenging, because what does “safe” mean? Am I going to slip and fall on the sidewalks or am I going to be sexually harassed? Both of these issues concern our safety but are entirely different from each other, and to get a clear cut yes or no to the question would be the same as trying to pull a needle from a haystack.

While one person might not think twice about their safety downtown, another may be walking home with phone in hand and 911 at the ready.

While talking with local Trent Student and downtown resident Dylan Billings, he explains that there has never been an instance where he has felt threatened or unsafe downtown, while also recognizing that there is a difference between day Peterborough and night Peterborough.

“Prior to last call at the bars is fine. After last call, when the people clear out and the police are gone, that’s a different story.”

Billings, as a male recognizes that this aids in him feeling safe “I know I’m not the one being catcalled,” noting that while with his female friends it’s not uncommon for one of them to be hollered at.

Catcalling appears to be an issue among women (see page 13 for comment on this), and though there is no law against ignorance, there is a law against hate crime.

Chief of Police Murray Rodd, describes a system that local police have in place to help track hate crimes.

“We do an annual report on hate crimes and hate incidents, and we are the first police department and the only one in Canada to report hate incidents,” he says.

“If anybody were to confront someone and make them uncomfortable by calling them an ethnic or derogatory term, if this person is identified and reported, we would follow up with this person [offender] and let them know that the incident had been documented. So if their name were to come up again in relation to a hate crime, they would already have that previous incident recorded under their name. No one else does this,” explains Chief Rodd.

“It is not okay to make anyone feel uncomfortable or unsafe,” he adds.

And while this system is progressive and effective for people who offend while driving cars, where a licence number can be written down so that tracking down the offender is possible, what happens when this occurs to someone as the offender passes them on foot?

That’s where community members have offered to help. Local organization Courage Peterborough, founded in June of 2014, was created to help end street harassment and sexual harassment.

“We really want to educate people about the harmful nature of street harassment and how it can be prevented,” says Kristen Mommertz, a member of the organization.

This initiative has created a safe environment for people—who for whatever reason my not feel comfortable going to the police—to talk about their experiences with harassment.

“Street harassment is absolutely an issue that we should be paying attention to. The people who are targeted most are often marginalized and perceived as vulnerable by our society. For many women, people of colour, queer and trans folks, and people with disabilities, it can be difficult to navigate public spaces when street harassment is so prevalent,” explains Mommertz.

So what kind of system can be put in place so that members of our Peterborough community no longer feel marginalized? Local security guard Pete Moir and owner of Universal Protection Agency (UPA) makes some suggestions.

“Having security on the streets would help the downtown core and help police manage the volume they have to deal with,” he tells Arthur.

This will also help to deal with smaller incidents to “allow police to be free for higher demand and risk calls” he explains.

Moir’s agency works at many downtown bars and clubs, and he feels those spaces are “the safest licensed establishments in the city.”

He adds, “any member of UPA will be happy to assist any person or persons in a position where they feel uncomfortable. Just look for our guards.”

One thing Billings mentioned when talking about this issue is that the daytime Peterborough and nighttime Peterborough are completely different universes. There are roughly 52,000 locations licensed to sell and serve alcohol, compare that to the 82,000 people living in Peterborough.

“How many of the 82,000 are over the age of 65 and likely not out there, and how many are under the age of 19 … put the remaining number of people into a compressed period of time,” says Chief Rodd, putting some perspective on the situation.

While everyone of legal age has a personal right to drink and experience Peterborough nightlife, with that many people out on the streets at the same time with the added element of intoxication, there are bound to be problems.

“There is a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol and this community,” states Quinn, member of the Trent Queer Collective (TQC).

So what if Peterborough put up security cameras in public areas? “Anytime you can document a crime, it’s effective. I feel any closely monitored recording device can be beneficial to deter crime,” says Moir.

This raises the question; will security cameras actually deter crimes and violence? Chief Rodd explains, “Whether or not cameras would deter violence, they may not, but they [incidents] would be concluded successfully.”

That means that while the violence may continue to happen, if the incident is recorded, there is evidence to identify the person responsible so they can then be arrested and held accountable.

This addresses the issue of safety in terms of physical violence (to a limited extent) but there still remains the question, of how we can make Peterborough inclusive?
When asked whether or not the downtown core is inclusive Quinn described it as “hit and miss”.

“I do find that certain bars, and everyone knows which ones, tend to be really into shouting at queer looking folks as they are walking down the street,” says Quinn.

“Peterborough can be quite homogenous at times so I think anyone that sticks out, it’s easier for people to target you, and those people suck.”

Courage Peterborough is working on launching a Hollaback website as a means of directly addressing this issue.

“It’s a grassroots initiative to combat street harassment by providing educational resources and solidarity support networks. The Hollaback website is really unique; people can write in with their stories of harassment and record on a city map where exactly it has occurred. It also categorizes the type of harassment (racism, transphobia, stalking, cat calling, etc.) for statistical purposes.”

Quinn explains that one of the biggest problems with the downtown core is that it is not friendly at all to gender non-conforming people: “folks who offend people because they are not following the rules of heteronormativity.”

Organizations such as Courage Peterborough and websites such as Hollaback are initiatives and resources attempting to address these most serious issues.

In a perfect world everybody would get along, and there would be no hate and only peace. Unfortunately that is not the society or the world that we live in, but that is not to say everything is awful.

Recent Trent graduate Allie Vandersanden confesses that when she was first approached with the question of whether Peterborough is safe, her mind did not go to harassment but something quite different.

“That didn’t cross my mind at all, I was thinking about the side walks and how accessible is Peterborough,” she says.

“I have never had that fear of walking home from work. I was never raised with that, perhaps rational, fear.”

Vandersanden’s statement says a lot about the safety of Peterborough just in the fact that it has never been something she has thought of.

As is clear there are many different perceptions on the safety of Peterborough, his, hers, and theirs. There will always be people who feel safe and those who don’t. What we have to do is work towards an inclusive community before we can work on an inclusive world.

Dr. Seuss once wrote “A person’s a person” and these are certainly words to live by.