Snow fort debacle resonates worldwide

Snow fort debacle resonates worldwide

Beaconsfield earns ‘killjoy’ reputation

By Robert Frank

Mayor Georges Bourelle’s exemptions for million-dollar homes might escape media notice, but his hard line last week over a small snow fort gained Beaconsfield a global reputation for its ‘killjoy’ response, as the Toronto Sun termed it. 

Newspapers and television networks across Canada and overseas picked up the story of the city’s efforts to strongarm Beaconsfield resident Yan Lefebvre into dismantling the snow fort that he had built in front of his home for neighbourhood children to play in.

“It’s really about liability,” Beaconsfield Councilor Peggy Alexopoulos said in an interview, expressing reasonable concern that part of the fort was situated on Lefebvre’s lawn within six feet of the roadway—land that belongs to the city.

Bourelle demurred, however.

“I don’t agree with Peggy that it’s about liability,” he told The Suburban following Monday’s city council meeting. “It’s not the primary focus. If it’s only about that and not the safety of our kids, I don’t think we would be doing our job.”

Bourelle ramped up the temperature of the debate by making it personal. He publicly implied that Lefebvre was an irresponsible parent, even were he to move the snow fort entirely onto his own property.

“Of course, anybody is free to do whatever they want with their own property,” Bourelle told Aaron Rand during a radio interview on CJAD, Jan. 14, “but I would certainly urge any responsible parent who loves their kids to think twice before allowing a snow structure that can collapse on their own property if they really care about the safety of their kids.”

“Perhaps my initial message might have been a little strong in terms of the safety of kids and our responsibility in terms of safety of kids,” Bourelle told reporters, then proceeded to lash out against what he considered bad news coverage of the debacle by national media.

“CBC did a lousy job on As it Happens, because they gave a version of the story and they never asked us about it,” he said. “It wasn’t balanced.”

Alexopoulos downplayed Bourelle’s remarks.

“I think Aaron Rand was just poking,” Alexopoulous told The Suburban. “We know that Mr. Lefebvre is a responsible dad, a father of four.”

“I think it was just a misunderstanding between him and the mayor and the city,” she said.

Bourelle said that the city sent a letter Jan. 15, ordering Lefebvre to remove the snow fort “immediately”, the day after Lefebvre had said publicly that he would hold a party to move it on Saturday, Jan. 17.

“Verbal exchanges are left to complete interpretation,” Bourelle explained. “If you and and I have a verbal exchange they’re not necessarily the way I expressed it.”

Bourelle also threatened to collectively punish the neighbourhood if Lefebvre failed to comply.

“Because it’s such a serious safety issue, we will be instructing our snow plows not to plow in the area where there’s a snow fort and to leave the streets uncleaned,” he vowed.

City spent $43,000 on public relations firm
Councilor Pierre Demers agreed that it was prudent to move the snow fort further from the road, but suggested that the ensuing worldwide media firestorm was the product of how city council censured the citizen who built it.

“When you start questioning parents’ roles and responsibilities and you question them as the reason for not having a fort, rather than focus on safety, where do you draw the line?” he told The Suburban.

Demers added that the outcome might have been different, had the city turned to its public relations firm, Asterisme.

“The original mandate used to be $5,000, but it was bumped up to $25,000, because $5,000 wasn’t realistic,” he said in an interview.

“Beaconsfield has spent $43,000 during 2014, if you combine all the [public relations] mandates,” Demers added. “Because we don’t know how much we’re going to spend, we can’t pass a resolution, but we’re budgeting $40,000 in 2015 for the use of a public relations firm.”

“It’s clear in this case that they didn’t,” he concluded.
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Dylan Lefebvre (wearing green hat) listens to Mayor Georges Bourelle warn Beaconsfield residents young and old that snow forts menace their safety, while Councilor Peggy Alexopoulos (extreme left) looks on.
(Photo © Rhonda Massad)
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