Browns Court Gate Connecting Students to Education

This local issue has had great impact on our youth here in Prince Edward Island and must continue to be dealt with to enable our students the accessible education they need.

Browns Court is a well known area located across from the University of Prince Edward Island that caters to housing hundreds of students as well small families. The property itself was fenced a few years ago, and located near the back of the property there is a pathway that connects residence of Queen Street to quicker access to the University and public transit. The Browns Court Gate controversy has been an ongoing issue since early 2015. Paul Gallant, the landlord of several brown’s court apartment buildings through the company West Emerald Enterprises, locked the gate in 2015, and ever since this issue occurred, it has been an ongoing issue with the City of Charlottetown, who actually owns the gate. The City wishes to keep the gate open, and throughout the past year they have locked the gate open, so Gallant will not be able to lock it again.

To clarify, the City of Charlottetown owns the gate, while Paul Gallant owns the actual fence. A spokesperson from the City of Charlottetown stated: “It is my understanding that the City installed the gate once the property owner fenced the property. The City has been opening the gate in the morning and closing it at night as a compromise with the property owner. The City plans to protect the public’s interest to use the easement and the property owner has been notified of the City’s intention to maintain the public’s legal rights” - Spokesperson from the City of Charlottetown.

Who Does This Issue Affect?

The Browns Court Gate being locked in 2015 has negatively affected both Holland College and University of Prince Edward Island students.

Holland College students depend on this pathway to have quick access to the public transit stop located at the crosswalk on University Avenue as their campus is located downtown Charlottetown.

University of Prince Edward Island students say that it “will add 30 minutes on to their walk to class, make it unsafe because they’ll have to use roads and further clutter an already busy parking situation at UPEI” (Stewart). If the gate were open these students would have to simply walk the five minutes through the pathway into Browns Court properties and cross the street on University Avenue. Even those students who have access to a car utilized this resource because of the ongoing school parking situation at UPEI. When Gallant locked the gate they were forced to walk down Queen Street, take the corner by Superstore and then walk up University Avenue. These extra thirty plus minutes have been said to be extremely inconvenient for all students but especially for those who take part in extracurricular activities and have to carry their supplies to school.

Many students, especially student athletes, have chosen to live on Queen Street because it is such a close walk to the campus. An interview with fourth year UPEI student and member of the women’s hockey team, Emma Martin clearly outlines the general frustration with this issue. Emma stated:

“ If the gate was to ever lock again, it would be a huge inconvenience to not only me, but all of the other students living on Queen Street. I know that myself as well as many of my teammates have decided to live on Queen Street because it is so convenient. We have many early morning practices, and there are times that we need to carry our gear to the rink from home, and this would be extremely inconvenient if we had to walk around. I also know of many people, myself included, who have jumped the fence to avoid the long walk, and having it result in injury. If the gate was to lock again for a long period of time, many of my teammates would highly consider moving.” - Emma martin

Island mother Debra MacLeod spoke with CBC and explained that her son used to catch the bus in Brown’s Court, but at the beginning of the school year in 2015, her son had to walk down to North River Road to catch the bus (CBC 2015). MacLeod mentioned in the article, "[n]ow they have quite a distance that they have to walk to catch a school bus down to North River Road and all the streets that they do have to walk down to get to this, there are no sidewalks” (qtd. In CBC 2015”).

Causes

When the gate was first locked in 2015 many community members were confused as to why. Paul Gallant has since declared several reasons for locking the gate:

Littering and vandalism: Over the past few years, Paul has reported that the amount of littering by students accessing the pathway has been unacceptable as it had begun to downgrade the look of his properties (CBC News 2015). Gallant told CBC that the gate has “reduced damage to vehicles, as well as littering and vandalism that has plagued him and his tenants for years” (CBC News 2015).

Trespassing: Gallant has threatened to take up the issue of trespassing with the city of Charlottetown due to the amount of students spotted jumping the fence injuring themselves and the property while the gate was locked. This has concerned the city itself because the trespassing laws on Prince Edward Island state that “entering a fenced or enclosed area” can have a fine ranging from two hundred to two thousand dollars (CLIA PEI).

Action Taken

Several groups have taken interest in this issue over the last year and a half and have become directly involved.

The City of Charlottetown has taken a direct stance against the actions taken by Paul Gallant. Just a few months after he locked the gate in 2015, the city forced him to open it and declared they would cut any lock he chose to put up, if he were to go against their wishes (Stewart 2015). The City has since placed a sign on the gate declaring it open between the hours of six-thirty am and ten-thirty pm, with a city worker in charge of controlling the hours. Although many would believe since the city has taken control, that the controversy would finally end, but a few weeks after the sign was put up the city was forced to take Paul and his company to court seeking an injunction restraining them from blocking the pathway as it’s an “ unlawful interference with the right of access and use of walkway” (CBC News 2015). This directly breaches the Charlottetown Area Municipalities Act as reported by CBC news. On October 8th 2016, Paul sent out a letter to all students living in Brown’s Court stating that the gate would be locked again as of the following Monday (Stewart 2016). In a section of his letter he stated

“I’ve had a plan proposal drawn up that I am paying for through MacKinnon Road and had met with UPEI student council and had their approval. This was taken to the city and they did not favour this area as it was too costly. Obviously, safety is not their main concern.One year ago, the city signed an agreement with me that they would negotiate quickly and fairly if I opened the gate until we could come up with a resolution. To this day the city has done nothing to help me in this matter and basically I got conned into opening the gate” (qtd. In Stewart 2016).

This letter went public within the next few days, and the City took action again by locking the gate open during the hours stated before so there was no way Paul could go through with his threats (Stewart 2016).

Solutions

As of now the issue is at a standstill. The gate is currently open between the hours put in place by the City of Charlottetown and Paul Gallant has yet to make any advances on his threats placed this past October. Although this issue is currently taken care of by the City there is no guarantee that this accessible resource will always be there, as Paul could move forward with his threats at any time. With Prince Edward Island about to undergo another harsh winter, it is imperative that we keep this gateway accessible to students and the community. It is strongly encouraged that everyone who cares about this issue to use this resource frequently and respectively as much as possible in hopes they see no reason to shut it down.

Short Term Options

In addition to making sure that everyone takes advantage of this resource, there are a few solutions that will impact this issue by making the facts of the situation well known to not only the students who are directly affected, but the community as a whole.

Email: Sending out weekly emails to all students at both Holland College and the University of Prince Edward Island will be highly effective. It is an efficient way to clearly explain the issue and keep everyone updated and involved. Even though many don’t read all emails sent to them, those who receive emails from the student union always skim through the email as it’s considered to be important and a reliable source, therefore, many people will read about the issue on their smartphone, and will be aware of what they need to do.

Word of mouth: Since our community is very small and close knit, word of this issue will spread fast as it’s affecting our youth and our education.

Social media: Lastly, since social media has become a widespread outlet for the entire community both young and old, creating a facebook group and adding members of the UPEI community would effectively spread awareness of this issue. Creating a hashtag and tweeting about the issue could also raise awareness from large groups of people. When it comes to social media, there are many options.

Advice to People Involved

When a situation like this occurs in such a small community like Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, it makes a large change in the community, although the actual issue may not directly affect everyone, the effect of the issue does. Due to the Browns Court Gate being locked, many people were forced to walk down by Superstore and down University Avenue to get to class, which as previously mentioned, can add 30 plus minutes to one's daily journey to school. This could mean that the new walking path, which is one of the busiest streets in Charlottetown, could become overpopulated with walkers, and this could affect people driving as well. The public bussing system would also see a decrease of people getting on and off at the UPEI stops, because people are forced to walk.

Advice for individuals who are directly or indirectly involved in the issue, would be to stick together. It seems as though the frustration of this controversy has brought the community together, and although it is good that the gate is open now, the community needs to be ready for any sudden changes to be made.

We advise you to not jump the fence. It has occurred on many separate occasions, and can be extremely dangerous, especially in the winter time when there is black ice surrounding the gate that is not visible by people trying to jump the fence, or at night time, when visibility is extremely low.

Lastly, it is important that as a community, everyone sticks together to support one and other. The best advice to give would be to use the gate as much as possible, and respect the properties in the area. If people are using the gate respectively with no complaints, then Gallant may decide to keep it open. In the end, the gate should always be readily available to the public.

Looking Ahead

This issue will not be resolved if students, community members and the City of Charlottetown do not stick together in creating a solution that works for both the students and community members who need access to the gate and Paul Gallant. It is simply unsafe to have the gate locked, because it does not stop people from using the pathway, which leads to jumping the gate. This can also be extremely dangerous during the winter months because people may jump the fence regardless of the weather, and this could lead to extreme injury, and as previously mentioned, could come with a hefty fine. Adding 30 plus minutes to one's route to school is very frustrating for students and community members living on Queen Street because there is an easily accessible pathway that is created for them entering through Browns Court, that they should be readily available for community usage. Ultimately, having the gateway available to students really is the gateway to accessible education.

Use the gate, before it's too late!

References

The City of Charlottetown. E-mail Interview. 2 Nov. 2016.

Martin, Emma. Personal interview. 4 November. 2016.

News, CBC. "Gate to Popular Path Once Again Open: Charlottetown Will Be Gatekeeper - Prince Edward Island - CBC News." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Stewart, Dave. "Controversial Fence Gate Still Open at Charlottetown's Browns Court." The Guardian. N.p., 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Stewart, Dave. "The 'war of the Gate' Erupts Once Again." The Guardian. N.p., 8 Oct. 2016. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Know Trespassing. 1st ed. Charlottetown: Community Legal Information Association of PEI Inc, 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

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