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Brandon pauses public engagement on 30-year vision over 'inappropriate and unsafe behaviour'

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The City of Brandon has paused public engagement on its 30-year plan for the city due to what it calls 'inappropriate and unsafe behaviour' from some residents.

The issues came after two public engagement events the city held to discuss the Brandon City Plan which outlines a 30-year vision for the city.

"A small group of citizens used these events to discuss theories not related to the Brandon City Plan project and city staff were treated disrespectfully," a statement from the city reads.

"Democracy and freedom of speech is important to the City of Brandon. However, due to such inappropriate and unsafe behaviour, all Brandon City Plan public engagement has been paused."

Ron Bowles, Brandon's city manager, told CTV News the group of residents that came to the meeting was 'loud and boisterous' and made the staff members feel emotionally unsafe.

"It was an unfair situation for our staff, there was only two staff members in attendance at the meeting and the group was a little bit aggressive," he said.

Resident Rick Macl said he went to the meeting on Friday to bring forward his concerns about the city plan.

"I really don't understand where they're getting that from, like, I honestly don't," he said. "Obviously, it was disorganized, and when you have a whole bunch of people talking at the same time, it gets frustrating."

He posted a video of the meeting on his Facebook page, which shows at times a group of residents all asking questions over each other—many surrounding the idea of '15-minute cities'.

The city planning term suggests everything a resident needs should be within a 15-minute walk or cycle from their home, but the idea has been caught up in conspiracies theories.

Grant Hamilton, founder of a cycling advocacy group Bike Brandon, said they also had to postpone their public engagement sessions about the city plan, which looks to support more cycling and safer access to bike lanes.

He said it is an issue that has been caught up in conspiracy theories in Brandon.

"The people who are passionate about these conspiracy theories tend to also be disruptive, and they had started coming to some of the larger city open houses to talk about the city plan and were disrupting those," he said.

"In discussions, we didn't feel like we could provide a safe inclusive event for people at Bike Brandon. So we unfortunately had to make the call that we were going to cancel our event."

Macl said he feels the city is blowing the situation out of proportion. He said he, along with some other residents at the meeting, felt the city staff were unprepared to answer questions about the plan.

Hamilton, however, said he believes the majority of people in Brandon support the plan.

"I think you'll always have to be prepared for maybe a little bit of controversy, or maybe some people who don't 100 per cent agree with you," he said. "As long as you're respectful about that, there's no problem."

Bowles said the city paused its public engagement to evaluate how best to have conversations with the community.

"We wanted to make sure that going forward, that we have good conversations for our community and have conversations in a safe space for our staff as well," he said, adding there were legitimate questions brought up in the meeting.

Macl said he feels there may be some good that comes out of this.

"I think this is going to open up the conversation, I think this is going to get the city, you know, prepared to basically talk further and in detail of what this is actually is and what it's involving," he said.

The city said it will provide updates on the next steps in the city plan in the future.  

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