PoliticsWelcome to Rowdy Beach! Bay of Constance Sorrow: Frustrated Residents, Powerless Police and Drunks on the Beach

Welcome to Rowdy Beach! Bay of Constance Sorrow: Frustrated Residents, Powerless Police and Drunks on the Beach

Welcome to Rowdy Beach! Bay of Constance Sorrow: Frustrated Residents, Powerless Police and Drunks on the Beach

John Nightingale’s hands shake as he grabs his cell phone from the lawn table. Drops of sweat appear on his forehead. Nightingale dials the police and reports that he was threatened by drunks on his property when he asked them to put their dogs on a leash.

The temperature is sky-high, and so is the tension at Constance Bay’s Point Beach.

It is not even June, and yet dozens of visitors occupy the beach. Loud music erupts from one of the boats nearby. Even though there are “No Stopping, No Alcohol, No Walking after Sunset” signs posted beside every property, young people amble about with beers in their hands. A bottle of Smirnoff Vodka is the favoured beverage of another group of teenagers.

Point Beach is privately owned. Underaged youth freely consume alcohol, smoke, litter and party like it’s 1999. Dogs run free off their leashes. “Effing” is a word often heard here.

The main reason this situation is allowed to continue is the inability of beach owners, the president of the Constance and Buckham's Bay Community Association (CBBCA), the West Carleton-March city councillor Eli El-Chantiry and the Ottawa Police Service to deal with the deplorable state of affairs that has been ongoing at Point Beach for years. Instead, all sides are just pointing fingers at each other.

While waiting for the police to arrive, Nightingale explains: “It's nerves.” He is angry that he and his neighbours must deal with drunken parties for yet another summer.

Nightingale’s cottage is just a few meters away from the bank of the Ottawa River. Eight other neighbours own a beach strip to the water’s edge. In the city subdivision, their property is designated as Plan 412.

In 1862, the Crown granted these residents a land patent; a notation to the plan says the property extends to the shoreline. In 1984, West Carleton Township confirmed that it is indeed a private property. As questions were raised about the boundaries of the ownership, the police force sought a legal opinion. In 2010, the City solicitor concluded that property of Plan 412 extends to the water’s edge at low mark.

John Nightingale, 54, is the youngest among other retired residents. He became a leader and a representative of his neighbours in their plight to convince the police, the city and the community to enforce bylaws.

Joyce Nightingale joined forces with her neighbour John by agreeing to talk to Ottawa Life, though both residents confess they have lost faith in local media. Many articles have been written about this situation, but little action has been taken.

“This is a rowdy beach. This is where crap happens.”

In the past, they shared their beach with community residents. But, when people from the city realized that the beach was private and free of oversight, they began advertising through Facebook and Twitter that it was a “beach without rules.”

Elderly couples and young families have started avoiding the place, preferring to go to other public beaches on Constance Bay. On one hot day, the owners counted as many as 600 people – far beyond Point Beach’s capacity.

As we spoke, the music drowned out our conversation. Asked how they can tolerate such loud noise, both neighbours laughed bitterly.

“That music is nothing – you should hear it when it gets really loud!” Sometimes, John Nightingale says, the music is so loud that his cottage shakes.

“Boom! Boom!,” Joyce Nightingale imitates. “It’s wild! We are not exaggerating! It’s just nuts!”

Joyce Nightingale gave up approaching the partygoers, asking them to turn the music down. She says it makes her “very upset” when young people under the influence of alcohol become aggressive and rude. Once she approached a drunk, and his response was: “See this? It's sand, you bitch. Get in your house and leave us alone.” Another time, Joyce says, she asked wayward youth to take their empty beer and liquor bottles home. She faced a middle finger; bottles were left there, stuck in the sand.

It doesn’t end with verbal abuse and threats, says John Nightingale. Some people will occupy his driveway, and while passing through his yard, grab his lawn chairs.

John Nightingale says the police officers don’t always respond in a timely manner. Last June, he made a call at 4:15 p.m. when he saw a drunken trespasser’s dog chasing a neighbour’s cat. Next morning, the neighbour across the street said she saw a police car arrive after 10 p.m. It pulled into John Nightingale’s driveway, remained there for five minutes and left. Nightingale was surprised that the officer didn’t even knock on his door because he was still waiting; his lights were still on.

Police: “We are pawns here.”

This time, Constable Kevin Myers and Constable Mark Lystiuk arrived in 45 minutes.

Cst. Myers kept asking what John Nightingale wanted him to do. Nightingale said he wants drunks removed from the beach, and even though it is a private beach, the young folk are welcome to use it if they bring no alcohol.

“John, here is the thing. Now, you know, you got the letter from the chief last year, right?,” asked Cst. Myers. “We are pawns here, okay? We are stuck in the middle. We are doing what the chief wrote in that letter.”

The letter was written by Ottawa’s former police chief Vern White in June 2010.

White acknowledges that the beach is privately owned. So, the police can't enforce section 31 (2) of the Liquor Licence Act, which states: "No person shall have or consume liquor in any place other than a private place as defined in the regulations." The police can’t issue trespassing tickets either, because the property boundaries are unmarked.

The police explain, to enforce the Trespass to Property Act, residents must mark, delineate, and fence out each property lot. Otherwise, the police say, it will be hard to take any measures. The police also advise beach owners to hire a private security guard. The residents of Plan 412 don’t think they should have to abide by these requirements.

Cst. Myers said police officers can just go talk to people, but if a criminal act should occur, they will return to the site.

It took almost an hour before Cst. Myers addressed the crowd. By that time, young people, seeing the arrival of the police, hid their alcohol supply and jumped into their boats. Those who didn’t have a boat left the beach. The crowd dwindled to six people on the beach, playing volleyball – six sober individuals who were just having a good time.

Cst. Marc Soucy, media person for newly appointed Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, confirmed that Vern White's letter is still valid, unless the residents are willing to challenge it in Ontario Superior Court.

Doomed Agreement

Last year, Plan 412 residents decided to license a portion of their beach property to the City for the symbolic fee of $10 a month. In return, the City would enforce bylaws. The residents spent $2,500 to write the agreement. But the CBBCA turned down the proposal. The owners indicated they want to limit the overflow of people by making Point Beach a community-only beach. This was the demand that derailed the reaching of an agreement, according to Ian Glen, president of the CBBCA.

City councillor Eli El-Chantiry, who also chairs the Ottawa Police Services Board, was involved in the agreement talks. The beach owners are still frustrated that El-Chantiry – quoted in a 2008 article in the Ottawa Sun – promoted Constance Bay as a “secret jewel”, attracting even more attention and more people.

According to Nightingale, El-Chantiry approved construction of a parking lot close to the beach and the installation of public toilets. A green sign with the CBBCA's logo was erected near the beach entrance; the sign reads: "Not a City of Ottawa Beach. Use at Own Risk and Liability. Respect Our Community. No Glass. No Alcohol. Remove Garbage. Keep Animals Under Control. Poop and Scoop. No Unauthorized Fires. No Unauthorized Vehicles" – all these rules were disregarded on the afternoon I visited the beach.

Ottawa Life tried to reach El-Chantiry several times by telephone and email, but calls were not returned and email messages weren’t acknowledged. At one point, El-Chantiry set up a time to discuss the matter and then did not show up for the call.

Joyce Nightingale never imagined that in her retirement years, she would have to wear rubber gloves and pick up broken bottles. She has been coming to her cottage every summer for 77 years – but she doesn’t want to anymore.

“I wanted to be here until I die, but I just don’t think I will be able to hang in there. I mean it upsets me so badly. You can’t even come out and read a book. If you go to the city beach, none of this would happen.”

After spending one afternoon with the residents – seeing first-hand what these people go through on a daily basis – you can't help but wonder why the city, community and residents are so reluctant to compromise and, at last, come to a resolution.

Why can’t they all get along?

That's a good question and one that deserves to be answered. However, it would appear the residents can't count on any leadership from their (West Carleton-March city) councillor Eli El-Chantiry, who has ignored the matter and the interests of the residents he is supposed to be representing at City Hall. What makes El-Chantiry’s stance doubly vexing is that he also chairs the Ottawa Police Services Board, making him ideally suited to hammer out a deal between the police, the beach infiltrators and beachfront property owners. So far El-Chantiry has done nothing, adding to his list of underwhelming achievements as both a city councillor and as chair of the impotent and irrelevant Ottawa Police Services Board, a toothless paper tiger with no real authority, power or influence in the city. So residents will continue to suffer.

The Ottawa police constables are doing the best they can to deal with the sticky situation at Point Beach, but as they must cope with limited budgets, resources and manpower, they cannot be expected to patrol the beach on a regular schedule to prevent young people from gathering to drink beer or smoke the ganja weed or spout cuss words and behave poorly.

However, the residents themselves must take a measure of the blame for this sad state of affairs. As private property owners, they have the right to build fences down to the waterline, forbidding the beach to outsiders, but when city lawyers floated this suggestion to residents, they refused to even consider the idea. So for want of a nail and a few fences that would make good neighbours and restore harmony to Constance Bay, the conflict is likely to persist at Point Beach during the good weather months for many years to come.

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