TRURO, N.S. — Truro town councillors put off a vote Monday on whether to restrict access to a park entrance the mayor has labelled a gay pickup area as an advocacy group warned the town could develop a reputation for intolerance.
The issue over the gate’s placement sparked controversy last month when Mayor Bill Mills said it was being moved to reduce sexual activity by gay men.
“It’s a favourite pickup spot for guys from all over the Maritime provinces,” Mills said at the time.
“They go up and have a rendezvous and then they go into the woods and do their thing. It’s been known for years and years and is becoming more and more of a problem.”
During Monday’s meeting, several councillors reiterated their opposition to the mayor’s comments and said they want to proceed debating whether moving the gate makes sense for other reasons.
Charles Cox said he felt he was caught in a personal dilemma because he felt the current layout of the gate creates safety risks to skiers and bikers from cars driving into the small parking area.
“I’ve almost personally been backed into,” he said.
“I wish we could figure out a way to solve some of the safety issues and not move the gate immediately so that we could remove those fears of prejudice.”
But Al McNutt, a spokesman for the Northern AIDS Connection Society, made a presentation to the council where he argued that the mayor’s comments had shifted the issue to one of discrimination against gay men.
He said the gay and lesbian communities have not forgotten when the mayor, citing his religion, refused to fly the gay rights rainbow flag at the town hall during Truro’s inaugural gay pride celebration in 2007.
Mills’s remarks have raised questions about the true motives behind moving the gate, said McNutt.
“Because of the flag issue and now this issue, it’s really not saying very much about Truro,” McNutt said.
“Truro has a reputation from way back of stigmatization, discrimination, all those issues. We don’t want to add another little bit to it.”
McNutt said his group isn’t condoning the sexual activity in the park but believes that is an issue best left to police.
“Leave the gate where it is and let the police do their job patrolling and charge anyone involved in inappropriate behaviour,” he said.
Mills didn’t participate in Monday’s debate.
“I’m under investigation for hate crimes, so therefore it would be inappropriate at this time to offer comment,” he said.
During the meeting, the town’s police chief said there was limited evidence of illegal activity in the park’s entrance area.
David MacNeil said there have been 45 complaints in the park in the past four years, including one complaint of an indecent act, two of public nudity and 10 of suspicious persons in vehicles.
At the end of the meeting, several councillors agreed they were unclear on what the particular plan was for improving parking in the area, and asked for the matter to be delayed until the first week of February.