Estevan city council has decided that benches sponsored by Pro-Life Estevan and Area – and likely some other organizations in the future – will not be allowed in city parks, but Pro-Life president Bridget Bittman hopes that council will reverse its decision.
Council decided at its meeting on May 3 that pro-life would not be allowed to sponsor the three benches. The organization had announced plans earlier this year to install the benches, meeting a need in the community.
Bittman told the Mercury she will appear at council’s next meeting on May 31. She has already talked to Mayor Roy Ludwig, who invited her to attend the meeting.
“I’ll have that opportunity to address them in person, so it is not dead in the water,” said Bittman.
The benches do not say pro-life on them, but they do have a baby’s feet surrounded by a heart, and the slogan “Always Loved.”
“I was actually shocked and dismayed, because I thought that this was a done thing,” said Bittman, who noted the city had initially given the benches their blessing.
The benches had already been manufactured at KRJ Custom Fabricating and picked up by Pro-Life.
Installation was delayed by the snowstorm that struck Estevan in mid-April.
The slogan of “Always Loved” should take in anyone who has lost a child, Bittman said, through miscarriage, illness or any other reason.
“I lost a 19-year-old,” Bittman said. “That touches me. I think the benches are such a beautiful idea, and so many people were so thrilled over the idea.”
Council spent about 20 minutes discussing the issue, with each councillor chiming in, before ultimately deciding that the benches wouldn’t be allowed, and calling for a policy on naming rights and sponsorships for city-owned facilities and amenities on city land.
In the case of a bench, there likely would be a spot at the back of the bench or somewhere else inconspicuous, that indicates who sponsored it.
None of the council members directly expressed their stance on pro-life issues, but voiced concern with accepting donations from the organization and others.
Mayor Roy Ludwig said council is trying to distance itself from sponsorships that might make political statements.
Ludwig said he was surprised with the reaction that the benches have drawn. Members of council said they have received concerns from the public.
“I agreed with a couple of the councillors that initially, I thought this was a good opportunity for the taxpayers not to have to pay for the benches, and for members of the community, and/or business, and/or basically anyone, as long as it was legal and tasteful … to save some taxpayer money,” said Ludwig.
But the mayor also understands that there are people who will be upset.
Bittman noted that after an article on the benches appeared in the April 21 edition of the Mercury, she received a lot of positive feedback. She also had phone calls from four other individuals, saying they would like to provide benches.
“Regular people just want to donate the bench. They like the bench, they like the idea, they like the image. So that’s a significant savings for the City of Estevan that seven people want to donate a bench. I think people need to lose the fact of who’s donating it, because the other four benches are very random people that wanted to donate.
Bittman hopes the benches can still be placed in parks, as the idea was for public enjoyment. If the benches can’t be installed at parks, then Bittman said they might have to be at private businesses as was suggested at the council meeting.
“We definitely want to utilize the benches, so if they don’t want to have them installed at the city parks, which would be a real shame, I guess we would have to look at Plan B and where to install them privately.”
Pro-Life never did want to put their name of the benches, to avoid exactly this type of controversy. Bittman said they just wanted to gift the city with something nice everyone could enjoy.