Don’t fence citizens out

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 Access to the harbour is only one of the issues at stake in the harbour fence debate. We need to examine the undemocratic nature of the decision to fund the fence and government officials using the Sept. 11th attacks as carte blanche for regulations and spending.

The harbour fence has far-reaching consequences to the public. It is a serious problem and there is no easy mechanism to disseminate information to the public about city council resolutions and decisions.

If the public doesn’t know about a decision, how are they supposed to have their voices heard? Isn’t democracy supposed to be “for the people, by the people”?

The fence will close 60 per cent of the harbour from public access.

St. John’s harbour is not very big. We do not have the luxury, like Halifax, of being able to cordon off large swaths of the harbour without affecting the public. People use all parts of the harbour that are currently accessible. There are always people walking down Harbour Drive. Children love looking at the boats. People like being near the water, as it’s a part of our culture and identity which is often lost while in a dense urban environment.

The CEO of the St. John’s Port Authority, Sean Hanrahan, says, “that the authority must either abide by security standards or shut down the port of St. John’s.” But why? In no statement or interview does Mr. Hanrahan quote which regulations the port authority is currently violating, nor does he justify how the fence will meet those standards.

Sept. 11, 2001 was 11 years ago. If this was an actual issue, wouldn’t the port security have been updated then?

The proposed fence is apparently a “heritage fence.” Terrorists, illegal immigrants or whatever other kind of criminal will not be deterred by a heritage fence. They are not deterred by airport security or border security and consequently any kind of fence will do little to stop them.

I think it is safe to say St. John’s is not and has not made itself a target for any terrorist organizations.

If major public threats like the events of 9/11 are the sole rationale for heightened security along the harbourfront, then this is an extremist post-rationalization of the very need of the fence to begin with.

Moreover, it comes at the detriment of the urban fabric and intimate connection with the sea that we are trying to restore.

Furthermore, national defence is the responsibility of the federal government. Since the federal government pays for security upgrades in airports, the primary target of terrorist attacks, shouldn’t they also be paying to upgrade port security?

The federal government takes responsibility for the fisheries without blinking an eye. Why is city council paying for this fence?

The 9/11 attacks were incredibly sad and distressing for people all over the world. People are afraid to oppose arguments that use 9/11 as justification because people want to do everything in their power to prevent similar attacks from happening.

The harbour fence will not prevent those attacks.

It will limit public access without consulting the public and it will be a regressive development in the design of our vibrant, downtown area. Before any decision can be made about updating or “securing” the waterfront, the people of St. John’s need more information.


Patricia Johnson-Castle is studying international development studies, African studies and philosophy at McGill University.

Organizations: Port Authority, McGill University

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Recent comments

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    December 15, 2012 - 09:00

    Unfortunately it is a sign of the times. One time people would leave their front doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition of their vehicle without giving a second thought. Increased security is just a cold hard fact of life. Anyone who thinks otherwise have their heads completely buried in the sand.

  • Jay
    December 13, 2012 - 18:54

    The view of the harbour is the least of my worries, it's the mindset at City Hall. Transport Canada didn't require these changes and is satisfied that security at the harbour front is satisfactory.. This was spin (my polite term) by Council to confuse the public (and apparently some councillors) in order to justify spending money on an unnecessary project. Again, it's an example of decisions being made with our tax dollars at the whim of certain councillors.

  • Patriot
    December 13, 2012 - 12:58

    We have to remember that 9/11 changed everything, guys. Don't tell me your nice little view of the harbour is more important than stopping the threat to our freedom (which our soldiers fought and died for, thank you very much!!!!) When I see people get mad over this, I think one thing: homegrown terorism!!!!!! We need to start loving our country again...... (lest we forget...) Also it is the job of the gov't to protect people, we need to protect boats so boatsmen and boatswomen will come to NL with their $$$$$$!

    • Eli
      December 13, 2012 - 14:06

      9-11 was eleven years ago. My heart is bleeding.

    • Patriot
      December 13, 2012 - 16:59

      World War Two was over 60 years ago, but we still need people to make sacrifices for the counmtry and its freedom!!!!!!! Move to Iran if you love their way of life...

    • Eli
      December 15, 2012 - 10:57

      You're so far out I'd suggest you get help.

    • Frank
      December 16, 2012 - 15:16

      Give me a break. I guess you are still looking for WMDs in Iraq!

  • Beaches and Wharfs
    December 12, 2012 - 18:06

    There is a lot more to the context of the fencing issue than just wrought iron railing or chain links. Normally one cannot fence without a survey – if only to avoid genuine errors and encroachments if not an outright claim. For example where does the City’s Harbour Drive easement end and the Federal Port Buffer Start. Then this wharf is only the Post Confederation wharf. Back in the day ships would enter the merchants finger piers right up to the back of Merchant’s buildings on the South side of Water St. “Public access” was probably informal and limited to several “Coves” including the original “Kings Beach”. Back further in the day, the original fishing rooms may have reached the North Side of Water St. Then again, fencing lore in the City of legends is unique. Some ecclesiastical land boundaries were granted by the Governors of the day as far as the Parish Could Fence in an afternoon. Rights are rights, liberties are liberties, but it may take a little more precise geometry to describe just what exactly is in question. Was this not part of the problem with the Grand Falls Mill fiasco?

    • Jay
      December 13, 2012 - 10:15

      There's also more to this than precise geometry. There's a disturbing mindset evolving in council. It's "Let's tax them more, let's charge them more, let's regulate them more." This mindset too often seems to be directed at the ordinary taxpayer. While I'm not a big proponent of the "good old days" mindset. I sure wish we could get our city back from this crowd of empire builders at city council.

  • Sean
    December 12, 2012 - 07:41

    Couldn't agree more, Patricia. If Transport Canada claims to be interpreting international agreements and thus setting a requirement for the Port Authority, why can't we see the actual order from Transport Canada? My suspicion is that there isn't a specific requirement for a permanent fence to cover a specific area. I understand there was a risk assessment indicating that perimeter security needed to be improved, but I am willing to bet that there are several options as to how that security could be improved. The fence is a significant one time layout of cash, but I'm thinking that the Port Authority sees it as cheaper in the long run than hiring extra security guards, extra people to monitor surveillance cameras, or whatever other options there might be. On top of that, they're getting the City to chip in. I think this is win-win for the Port, becuase they're making Transport Canada happy and they're getting a bargain on a fence from City Hall. I think a permanent fence is a choice that they have made out of an array of potential options to increase security. I also question the amount of real estate around the harbour which needs to be at this lockdown level of security. Yes, permanently fence certain areas, but the area along the harbour apron should continue to be fenced temporarily only when ships with heightened security needs dock there. This is St. John's, for God's sake, not Beirut, or even New York City.