Motion to rename Paul Haggis Park sparks emotional debate

Paul Haggis poses in front of the Paul Haggis Park sign Jan. 20, 2017.
Paul Haggis poses in front of the Paul Haggis Park sign Jan. 20, 2017.

A push to rename Paul Haggis Park in south London failed at city hall Tuesday night.

London city council voted 10-2 to defeat a motion from Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih to change the name of the park in light of the recent sexual assault allegations made against the London-born Oscar winner.

The vote by council comes a week after a city committee voted to receive Salih’s motion but to take no action.

Those who voted in favour of keeping the name felt it wasn’t city hall’s place to act without a resolution to the allegations made against Haggis.

“I don’t believe that we know enough information and the facts about this situation to make a decision,” said Ward 12 Coun. Harold Usher. “I have had several letters about this but none in support of this. We are council, not God.”

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Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer was the only councillor to side with Salih and argued there is city policy in favour of renaming the park.

“We are not a court of law. We’re not trying him for something. We’re naming a municipal property,” he said. “We have policy for it and under the policy we certainly can review it. We certainly can change it and the standard for naming property after people is extremely high.”

Salih’s motion has received support from Anova, a women’s shelter and support centre.

The south London park, located on Bateman Trail near White Oak Road and Bradley Avenue, has one baseball diamond and one soccer field. It was named after Haggis in 2011 and he visited the park last year, posting a picture of himself at the park on social media.

Salih argued it could be years before Haggis’ case is settled in court, if it’s settled at all.

“Right now this park is not accessible for every single Londoner. Period. Women and girls have said to me they don’t want to go to this park because that name triggers emotions and pain for them,” he said.

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Four women have accused Haggis of sexual harassment and assault between 1996 and 2015.

None of the accusations has been proven in court and no criminal charges have been laid.

The debate got extremely emotional for Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy after Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire took issue with the anonymous accusers in the case.

“I have to be clear that in any interpretation I have of fair play. Law or anything, if you’re going to make an accusation against somebody it can’t be anonymous. None of us want to see that. None of us want to be accused by an anonymous person of something,” he said.

Squire’s comments struck a chord with Cassidy who said she was recently the target of online attacks after speaking about the story on another local radio station.

“I just want to address the comment that Coun. Squire made about anonymous complaints,” she said, her voice breaking. “I understand why women don’t come forward. I understand the desire to remain anonymous.”

Cassidy said women often face vitriol online when they speak on issues.

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