The Human Rights Commission is being involved in a spat over remarks made at a presentation on the proposed Pilot Bay boardwalk.
Councillor Tony Christiansen, who uses a wheelchair, is taking a complaint about remarks made by resident Colleen Spiro at a meeting on the boardwalk in Tauranga City Council Chambers this week, and her anti-boardwalk Facebook page, to the Human Rights Commission.
During her presentation opposing the boardwalk council intends to build along Pilot Bay Colleen listed speeding wheelchairs as one of the dangers faced by children playing across the other side of the boardwalk on the beach.
Colleen stated children could impulsively rush back across the boardwalk to their parents sitting on the grass.
“We are talking about older children,” says Colleen. “Children act impulsively. If something happens they don’t think.
“They will just rush back to where they are, and they are not going to be looking out for wheelchairs, pushchairs, joggers or bikes so there’s the potential there for accidents.”
While explaining while the grass along the shoreline should be retained, Colleen referred to a photo of a woman in a wheelchair on the grass.
“There’s a wheelchair there and she’s able. We have been told by quite a few people it’s not impossible to get a wheelchair up there.”
Colleen added that when she had a broken ankle her husband was able to push her wheelchair along Pilot Bay, ‘no problem’.
“It’s not just young mothers but grandmothers pushing pushchairs, so it can’t be that difficult.”
Tony told Colleen at the meeting there were several things in her presentation that personally offended him. He said she was not allowing people with disabilities the same rights as an able bodied person.
“I have lived in Tauranga all my life, 54 years of it. I’m as passionate about it as you are. So you aren’t anything special other than you believe in something differently, or see life differently than I do. I have scaled the heights, the fifth highest mountain of the world, independently.
“And what you are saying is that I should not have that same right in the city that I pay the same amount of rates as you do.”
When asked where Colleen sourced her information about people with disabilities, Colleen said we believes able-bodies people have just as many rights as the disabiled.
“And Tony, with respect, if you can climb the highest mountain in the world you can go along Pilot Bay.”
Tony says he has taken these comments to the Disabilities Commissioner and is waiting for a response, expected to take about a week.
“The tough thing for me I certainly believe that what has been said and put in print is certainly offensive, but the issue for me is how far should it go in relation to this whole boardwalk issue.
“What’s going to happen if it goes to where it could go, it will distort the whole situation. I have to be responsible as a councillor.
“I think everybody should be offended at the attitudes of people to a very simple thing. We all have the same rights and to be called a minority is offensive in itself.”
On the Facebook page ‘Say no Pilot Bay boardwalk’ Colleen also made the following comments.
“Sometimes people with disabilities (being the minority) demand the rights over able bodied people to be catered for….In this instance, people have had the gumption to stand up and say NO….We as able bodied people are claiming the right for Pilot Bay to be retained as a natural “Little piece of Paradise.”
Tony’s reply included mention of Colleen’s statement that children might get run over by wheelchairs, and implied that she knew what it is like to push on the grass because her husband pushed her on grass without a problem.
“Why should you expect to be in front of council and not be challenged on such ridiculous statements. I do however applaud you for making your presentation to us, but note there were not many of your 800 supporters there,” says Tony’s email.
Colleen says her online petition has 160 signatures, with a further 50 on signed paper. She says most of the support against the boardwalk is on Facebook with two pages opposing the boardwalk having 373 and 466 likes respectively.