The removal of a local business’ signage from a Prince Albert ballpark has sparked outrage on both social media and inside City Council chambers.
Owners of Northern Elite Firearms (NEF), Heith Olmstead and Melanie Markling, spoke at Monday’s Executive Committee meeting to request that their signage be re-installed at the Kinsmen Ballpark Complex after the City removed it due to not following proper approval policy.
NEF and the Prince Albert Minor Baseball Association (PAMBA) entered into a three year sponsorship contract in May in support of the organization’s fundraising efforts for the “Grandslam Ballpark Rebuild” project. The $3,000 donation allowed NEF to produce and install two signs on the ball field, one on the fence and one on the dugout.
The signs, which featured the business’ name and two long barrel guns crossed over a target, were the center of controversy after they were installed on June 3 due to the use of the word “firearm”, their proximity to elementary schools and the recent school shooting in Texas.
The signs were removed by the City of Prince Albert without notice within weeks.
When Olmstead and Markling reached out to the City for an explanation as to why the signs were removed, they were advised that the signage required prior approval by City Council.
A social media post was then uploaded by Markling on June 29 claiming the City unlawfully removed and stole NEF’s signage.
“The basis of the complaint appears to have stemmed from a couple of men in City Hall who are afraid of guns,” said Markling in her post. “Obviously these men don’t acknowledge the need for firearm education for our young people who will grow up with guns, no matter what.”
This post would spark outrage over social media, eventually leading to the harassment of several members of Council and Mayor Greg Dionne receiving death threats.
“I will not be bullied, I will not be threatened,” said Dionne. “What are we coming to as a society? We’re talking about a sign.”
Dionne said the signs were set to be added to City Council’s agenda after they were removed so the approval process could be followed properly.
“If the process would have been allowed to go through without the threats, I believe I would be moving to approve it today.”
Olmstead said NEF is a law-abiding business and none of the threats came from them.
“If people are phoning and threatening you, that is not us. Those are the people of Prince Albert speaking out on what is right and what is wrong,” said Olmstead.
He added that NEF is very involved in the community and works closely with other organizations for donations and sponsorships, such as the SPCA and local law enforcement.
Dionne said the harassment is a direct result of the business’ social media post.
Coin. Blake Edwards said he spoke with Olmstead and Markling on June 21 and asked them for patience during the review process.
“The process wasn’t allowed to occur,” he said. “City Council and the Mayor, we were just thrown under the bus over this.
“The review process that needed to be done by Community Services needed to be done without the toxic social media that occurred following,” he added. “It really didn’t need to go there.”
Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said his issue with the signs is the advertisement of firearms at a under 18 facility and doesn’t believe it’s appropriate.
Olmstead said he doesn’t believe it’s fair that other businesses that sell firearms and ammunition are allowed to have signs up and that the complaints come from their name’s use of the word firearm.
Director of Community Services, Jody Boulet, said after receiving multiple concerns from the public, the signs were removed in order to conduct a review process in accordance with the Naming Rights and Sponsorship policy.
Boulet said the review revealed positive benefits from the NEF sponsorship around responsible gun ownership and firearm education, which would justify why the sponsorship would be appropriate for a recreation facility.
“We did follow through with the review, we took the time to do so in a necessary way,” he said. “Unfortunately, for some of the reasons that were noted, the recommendation is to decline the offer for this current campaign.
“It’s important that we enter into positive partnerships,” he added. “It’s a partnership for the sponsor, the business, but it also needs to be a positive partnership for the City as well.”
The recommendation was carried seven to two and will be forwarded to the next City Council meeting for consideration.
Northern Elite Firearms markets itself as an outdoor and sporting goods retailer that stocks a substantial inventory of firearms and accessories. Northern Elite also has an indoor gun range, and offers regular Canadian Firearms Safety Course classes.