City of Wetaskiwin responds to rumours surrounding shelter

Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam is pushing back against rumours circulating in the community about comments regarding the Hope Mission emergency shelter.

Thursday, the city responded to questions regarding concerns that the mayor had made comments about the facility going ahead no matter what.

In response to an email request regarding comment on the matter, the city said explained the mayor's position.

"The claim that Mayor Gandam said that the “shelter will continue going on regardless” is hearsay," the city said in a statement.

"Mayor Gandam has clarified that in response to those asking why construction of the Hope Mission Shelter had not stopped despite the direct control application permit being rescinded on May 13, 2024, he did not say that the project was going ahead no matter what, but that the City did not have any legal means to stop the construction and that Council was waiting on a legal opinion."

When asked if the city has initiated any legal action against those the city believes are spreading misinformation, the city responded by saying "when a concern is raised about potential instances of defamation, the City will seek legal advice, as we have done in the past.”

On June 10, council introduced a new business item, a notice of motion from councillor Bill Elliot that intends to rescind a previous motion that rescinded the development permit for the shelter, which may clear the way for Hope Mission to continue building the new facility. The motion was passed with a 5-2 vote.

Previously, Elliot had voted against the shelter’s permit development, stating that with shelters being closed in other regions like Ponoka, or Leduc, the city is becoming a hub for these unhoused people.

At the time, Elliot's remarks faced backlash from Councillor Gabrielle Blatz, who said that closing the shelter down wouldn’t just ‘magically’ solve the issue.

On June 10, council also approved another motion by Councillor Wayne Neilson surrounding public discourse. Neilson, who attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, said there was plenty of discussion about the abuse placed on city staff by disgruntled members of the public at the conference.

"So much negative vitriol seems to be the order of the day, to the point where it has almost become an acceptable practice in this community," Neilson said, adding that every city employee and member of council works hard on the citizens' behalf to create a better community.

"You may disagree with the actions we've taken, but nobody is out to do harm to your community... we're tired of the false narratives being presented as facts. To defame the actions our staff and sometimes the actions of your elected officials. We would hope for more from our community."

Neilson moved that administration should "pursue legal action against groups or individuals who harass or defame the city staff and elected officials."

Councillor Elliot spoke strongly in favour of the motion, which was carried unanimously.

"When we give answers to questions. We answer to the best of our ability. When people put things on Facebook or Rant and Rave (pages), some of them are doing it from hearsay. They're doing it from parts of things that they've heard. Or from rumours," he said.

"Get the facts straight, ask people who know the facts and listen to the answers. I support this very strongly Mr. Mayor and Council, that we do try to find these perpetrators of this harassment and fear and try to curtail it to the best of our ability."

Qiam Noori, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ponoka News