As the deadline looms for a municipal survey collecting feedback on roadside memorials, grieving families are increasing pressure on local decision-makers to leave their tributes to loved ones alone.
At a small demonstration outside Halifax City Hall on Tuesday, roadside memorial advocates told municipal councillors that crosses and markers honouring those who have died in motor vehicle accidents should not be legislated, unless it’s to protect them from removal.
“Nobody can put a timeline on grieving,” said Cristine McGowan, whose son Jeff died in her arms after a crash off Highway 207 nearly 12 years ago.
“I’ll grieve for the rest of my life for my son, and I will fight this right to the bitter end to keep his cross there.”
About 15 people attended the rally, carrying signs reading, “Let our roadside memorials be,” “You don’t know what you’d do until it happens to you,” and “Crosses are smaller than billboards.”
Earlier this month, the Halifax Regional Municipality released an online survey asking residents whether they feel certain restrictions should be placed on roadside memorials in the municipal-right-of-way. Examples include a maximum size, a timeline on placement, removal if they become a safety hazard, and keeping contact information for their owners.
It comes in the wake of a controversial staff report last June, which recommended memorials remain in place only for one year — a restriction that has been imposed in several other municipalities across the country.
That report, and its proposal to create new bylaws governing the issue, received significant backlash both from councillors and the public. In lieu of following that report with legislation, the municipality’s survey will inform a second report on roadside memorials.
“Anytime the bureaucracy of government puts out a survey, it’s never going to capture everybody’s opinion, but quite simply, even demonstrations like this today are more than an opportunity for people to bring their views forward,” explained Coun. Steve Streatch, who has opposed the idea of a one-year time limit on the tributes.
“I always like to hear from the public and what they think on it, but I’m pretty secure in my belief that city hall shouldn’t be in this, and we should stick to potholes and paving, and plowing and police, and all those things,” added Coun. Steve Streatch.
As it stands, there no guidelines that direct the municipality on how to deal with roadside memorials.
Marlene Cooper started advocating for roadside memorial rights after city staff removed her tribute to her daughter Kylie, following a complaint from a member of the public.
Kylie was 15 when she was killed in a car accident in June 2017 on Highway 2 in Wellington, N.S. — part of the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Cooper told Global News on Tuesday she’s open to the idea of a database of memorial roadsides, but only for the purposes of keeping them safe.
“I mean, if they want to make some legislation on it, make it … strictly a database, and God forbid road maintenance or obstruction or something happens, a plow does hit it or something — other than that, there should be no reason for a call,” she explained.
McGowan, whose memorial for her son lies within provincial jurisdiction, said that if rules are created, they ought to be the same for both municipal and provincial roadways.
According to Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure renewal, grieving families seeking a roadside memorial must apply through its Memorial White Cross Program, a partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
If the application is approved, family members will be provided with a checklist of safety procedures for site visitations.
“This program specifies where crosses may be placed on the side of the highway. Crosses are not permitted on some highways due to high volumes or pedestrian/parking restrictions,” wrote department spokesperson Marla MacInnis via email on Tuesday.
The municipal survey ends on Feb. 2, and Streatch told Global News there’s no specific deadline for when the ensuing report will be completed.
“There’s no timeline as to when or even if council will move forward on a bylaw or legislation that will make any changes to this issue.”
— With files from Jesse Thomas