A Milton resident whose front yard Halloween display has been characterized as “normalizing violence against women” will be allowed to keep his spectacle through Oct. 31.
Since 2013, Mitch Garber has turned the front of his home on Meighan Way into a haunted house every Halloween, claiming to use it as a fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation.
“We have 1,000 to 1,500 people come by every Halloween,” says Garber.
“They check out our yard display. They walk through our crosswalk or in the driveway bays. People thank us. They love what we’re doing. They love us kids. They look forward to it.”
Garber says over the six years, the display — which includes an indoor paid-entry portion — has raised around $40,000 and he’s hoping to top the $50,000 mark with another $10,000 for 2019.
However, whether Garber will continue the tradition beyond this year is in question, after a specific complaint to Milton’s town council from a neighbour.
“She’d call the town on us,” Garber said.
“Her only issue, she said, was the violence against women. And honestly, by doing what she’s doing and making a big stink she’s calling my family out. And she’s pretty much telling us that we support family violence against women, which is totally wrong.”
Global News reached out to Milton councillor Mike Cluett who confirmed an e-mail complaint from a female resident, specifically protesting against “mannequins” and “skeletons” that were hanging from a tree near a city sidewalk.
“There was a complaint issue to our bylaws department earlier this week,” said Cluett. “The officer attended the house to investigate the issues raised. Seeing how there is nothing in the bylaws against this, the officer had issued a notice of infraction for a road-fouling bylaw and possibly impeding the sidewalk with the skeletons hanging in the tree.”
Garber confirmed the visit from the bylaw officer and was told he had property violations.
Garber says the event and the kidney foundation are “close” to his heart, as he has been a victim of kidney failure.
“In 2013, I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and was hospitalized for about a week,” said Garber. “And then May 27, on my birthday this year, I had acute kidney failure.”
Garber says he was able to recover from both incidents and it’s the work of the foundation that motivates the affection for his fundraising display.
Global News Radio was able to reach the complainant during a talk show phone-in show on Wednesday. The complainant did not reveal her name, but believes her objection to the display is justified.
Before officially filing with the town’s authorities, the complainant told Global News that she did communicate directly with one of Garber’s family members to address her concern.
“I just said, you know, could I actually have a conversation with you about some of the, well, the dismembered female torsos that are out on the lawn?”
However, the complainant said her requests appeared to be ignored, and that’s when she decided to file a grievance.
Much to her surprise, a town administrator told her there was little that could be done about displays on private property.
“She even said to me that the bylaw officer said, you know, you could put a swastika on your lawn. That’s not a problem,” she said.
The complainant — who says she’s not against Halloween displays — said she left the issue since it was the first year of Garber’s spectacle, figuring the family would consider “intent versus impact” and reconsider displaying the torsos the following year.
“I thought, you know, they’ll probably put them in the paid portion. As we know, year two comes around and they’re up again.”
Cluett — who says he’s been to the Garber’s haunted house over the years as a supporter — understands the complainant’s concerns, but despite the complaints about some of the items on display “depicting violence against women,” says there is nothing in the bylaws about Halloween decorations.
As for whether Garber will continues with his haunted house in 2020 is yet to be seen. Despite all the visits it’s gotten over the years and support from the community, he says the complaint has made he and his family “feel like bad people.”
“We’re not sure if we’re going to continue this. It’s our sixth year of doing it. We’re getting to our $50,000 goal this year,” Garber said.
“But with threats like this, it’s just disheartening.”