New Brunswick

Dead tired: Harassment in N.B. town makes woman want to sell hearse

Hannah Fleet says she has received warnings from police and the Town of Rothesay about her 1994 Cadillac hearse, but no one can tell her which laws she’s allegedly breaking.

'To be visibly different in some way — even one little thing, like your choice of car — is a problem here'

Hannah Fleet, a server at Shadow Lawn, holds a letter she received from the Town of Rothesay telling her she was violating bylaws. (Julia Wright /CBC)

Death is, sadly, a fact of life.

Yet some Rothesay, N.B., residents, apparently, are so squeamish about reminders of their own mortality that they want a hearse belonging to visual artist Hannah Fleet, 25, taken off the road.

Fleet's daily ride is a 1994 Cadillac hearse she purchased on Kijiji last year.

In a single month, Fleet has been accused by the town of breaking the law, been visited by police, and faced such ire from fellow suburbanites that she'd consider selling the vehicle.

'These are their methods from deterring me from being visible'

6 years ago
Duration 0:40
Hannah Fleet has received warnings from the town and police about her 1994 Cadillac hearse - but no one can tell her which laws she’s allegedly breaking.

Even more mystifying to Fleet than the backlash from the town along the Kennebecasis River is that neither law enforcement nor town officials can tell her which bylaws she's allegedly violated.

Official warning 

The trouble started when Fleet started parking in the lay-by of Rothesay Road — a paved area on the side of the road that is used for parking by local residents.

On May 2, 2017, Fleet received a letter from the Town of Rothesay saying she had parked in the lay-by all winter "in spite of town bylaws to the contrary," and her continuing use of the space was "not acceptable."

The text of the letter Hannah Fleet received from the Town of Rothesay before she says she received a visit from police. (Julia Wright /CBC )

But the information in the letter was wrong, according to Sgt. Evan Scott, who heads the traffic division of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force.

Nothing in town bylaws stipulates how the parking space may be used.

"Are the lay-bys a portion of the highway? I'd say they are," he said. "Does that mean no one can park there unless it's in the wintertime? I don't think so."

Fleet uses the public parking because "her driveway is steep, it is gravel, it is on a corner, and people come really fast," Fleet said. "I park there because it is safer."

"I don't park in the lay-by because I want people to see my car."

“My concern is that this isn’t about the bylaws at all - rather, that people don’t want to see it on Rothesay Road when they’re driving to work,” Fleet said. (Julia Wright /CBC)

Suspected vandalism, police visit

Some of the neighbours aren't buying that.

One week after the letter, Fleet noticed a flat in the rear tire that faces the road where she parks. The same week, Fleet was confronted on Rothesay Road by a driver pulling out of the town hall.

"They started honking the horn vigorously and it looked like they were sticking their middle finger up," she said.

Last Friday, police phoned Shadow Lawn Inn, where Fleet works as a server. Later that day, an officer knocked on the door of her home. He said the town sent him.

"They warned me that I had to move my vehicle immediately to avoid being ticketed that night. If I didn't move it, they said they would ticket me again the next night, then tow me the next time," she said.

Sgt. Scott pointed out there is no signage, and no bylaw, to that effect.

"You need signs in order to identify no parking zones," he said. "If there are no signs, no one is going to know that it's a no-parking zone, and I would not issue a ticket."

Fleet said the officer suggested she park at Renforth Wharf — an area with posted no-parking signs — instead.

"It seemed strange to me," she said, "If they can make an exception for me to park at the wharf, why can't they make an exception for me to park in the lay-by?

Fleet, pictured in March, in the lay-by off Rothesay Road. Her use of the highly visible spot has become controversial. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Scott said he didn't know why Fleet was visited by police, or what specifically prompted the warning.

"There have been numerous complaints to the town about the vehicle," Scott said. "This looks like it's an issue between [Fleet] and the Town of Rothesay."

Town officials declined to comment.

Hearse for sale: not going cheap

Given the problems with the town and the police, Fleet said she's now considering selling the vehicle — at the right price, given the amount she's spent fixing up the vehicle.

She's already been approached by several interested buyers — including one person who wanted to paint the life of Christ on the sides.

"So if the town has a problem with me, watch out for that guy!" Fleet said.

Fleet has left the 1994 Cadillac's original features, including the rollers used to slide in a casket, intact. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Humour aside, she's concerned about treatment that, to her, seems discriminatory.

"My concern is that this isn't about the bylaws at all — rather, that people don't want to see it on Rothesay Road when they're driving to work," she said.

But Rothesay residents won't be disturbed by the motorized memento mori for much longer. Fleet said she intends to move to Halifax in August to continue her education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

"When I got my car," she said. "I thought it would be great as part of my artistic practice, something I could use for my photography. I never thought it would bother people. I just thought of it as repurposing an old thing and giving it new life."

The fact that this has become a police and municipal government matter, she said, is proof that Rothesay "is an old-fashioned place in many ways." 

"To be visibly different in some way — even one little thing, like your choice of car — is a problem here."

"I should be able to make a choice of what vehicle I drive and not be harassed by the town I live in, whether it is acceptable to them or not."