Harbour Authority Rethinks Boot

Mayor, MP, asks GVHA to review licence non-renewal decision

Artist Dean Lewis has received a lot of support for his plight to renew his licence

Mayor, MP, asks GVHA to review licence non-renewal decision

Artist Dean Lewis has won a reprieve from the  Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) following an outpouring of support from Monday readers and local politicians.

Lewis’ situation was first exposed in the March 10 issue of Monday when the artist — who had been making his living for 17 years sketching tourists in the causeway — was told he would not have his licenced renewed due to “bad behaviour.”

Since that article, Lewis has received support from fellow artists, community members, Victoria City Council, the mayor and local NDP MP Denise Savoie. In response, the GVHA has decided to negotiate a compromise and is considering a three-month conditional licence that would outline the GVHA’s expectations and would allow the artist to continue.

Sonterra Ross, acting CEO for the GVHA, says community feedback did play a part in the decision. The licence, which does not specify whether or not Lewis can continue after three months, will not guarantee Lewis the same artist location. It will also require that he sign a conditional form that outlines appropriate behaviour. As of press time, neither Monday nor Lewis had been issued a copy of the form.

“GVHA has also reviewed our process to ensure it is fair,” says Ross. “We found the process is reasonable, but communication of our rationales could certainly be strengthened. We would like to ensure our concerns are clearly articulated and well-documented in future.”

Lewis says he still believes he’s “in the right” and, while he’s thrilled to see compromise being made, he’s concerned about conditions he hasn’t been shown yet, and the idea that he would still be “reprimanded” by losing his spot — something placed by seniority. He believes the GVHA is still sidestepping the issue.

“I see no good reason why I should not be allowed to continue to work, and I see every good reason to improve the process the GVHA uses in dispute resolution,” says Lewis. “It seems like this three-month contract is a way for the GVHA to save face while avoiding involving a neutral third-party moderator.”

Ross says third-party resolution is not part of the GVHA’s processes, though the group may opt to participate in such a process in specific circumstances.

Lewis did make a visit to Savoie’s office to plead his case, and Savoie says that after the article came out she received a number of messages at her own office regarding Lewis, both from tourists and co-artists.

“I received many letters from other artists and constituents that knew of Dean, and after hearing his story I felt compelled to write to the Harbour Authority and ask them to review this decision,” Savoie says. “There were concerns Dean raised with me that I shared regarding the process, and so I asked that he be allowed to continue to do the good work he’s been doing for many years in the harbour.”

City councillor Philippe Lucas says that this isn’t the first time the City has been asked to step in on Harbour Authority business. After Lewis appeared at a council meeting and, according to Lucas, stayed until 11:30 p.m. to “make a heartfelt plea for assistance,” council voted unanimously to support Lewis with a letter to the GVHA from the mayor.

“The fact is that there have been multiple concerns around how the Harbour Authority has handled buskers, and it’s been a live issue for years now,” says Lucas. “Dean’s story certainly seems to expose some of the more apparent abuses … His appeal, at this point, goes through the same body that wants to cease his licence, which concerns many people.”

Lucas says that while the GVHA is an unelected body that “will do as it will do,” for the sake of public relations and a more transparent process, he believes it’s important to see the issue of third-party mediation addressed. Of course, the eventual outcome will be up to the GVHA, he adds.

“We all have sympathy for Dean’s case,” Lucas says. “Without intimately knowing all the details on the situation, I’d encourage the Harbour Authority to see the assets Dean has brought to the Inner Harbour, and allow him to continue making his living there.”

Numerous Monday readers also wrote in to show support for Lewis.

“We have had our caricatures done by Dean Lewis, and we stop to visit him every time we are in the harbour. We always enjoy a quick visit and his good humour,” Chelsey McDonald wrote in from Canmore, Alta.

“We have also walked into other people’s homes, and found Dean’s work hanging on their walls. It’s a small world, but it’s apparent what a great job he does. It would be very disappointing to take a walk down the Inner Harbour and not see Dean.” M

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