Thunder Bay city hall bows to social media feedback

Thunder Bay's mayor is calling for changes in city policy after he says several families complained in the wake of a city hall denial to declare September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

City Clerk says it's in public interest to mark Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Thunder Bay city hall has reversed the denial of a request to declare September as Childhood Cancer Awareness month in the city. 

City Clerk John Hannam announced the decision late Thursday, after he and other city staff reviewed the wording of the city's policy. The policy reads: "It is the City's policy to issue proclamations for matters of important City business only to inform residents of events that are in the public interest." 

Hannam told CBC News "the policy speaks to announcing, doing proclamations, for events that are in the public intererst, and....the flurry of social media and email expressions demonstrated that there's a public interest here that we'll do that proclamation to help serve."

The request for the proclamation was made by the Sudbury-based Northern Ontario Families of Children With Cancer.

Earlier Thursday, Thunder Bay's mayor called for changes in city policy after he said several families complained in the wake of the rejection of the request..

Keith Hobbs said city council wasn't even aware a request had been made.

Hobbs said he's been a huge supporter of cancer initiatives and was very disheartened by "the kinds of messages I got today" over the issue.

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. (Canadian Press)

"I have always had an open-door policy and continually reach out to, and get out in, the community," he said in a news release.

"It is unfortunate that community members didn’t come to me with this before launching into angry social media and text message activity ... however I can understand how devastating this news would be for families already dealing with the challenges of childhood cancer."

The mayor said he'll encourage council to review the city's policy on proclamations and to make necessary changes, so the city can recognize national and provincial proclamations associated with health care. He told the CBC he'd like council to have input into the decisions.

"I have always been a huge supporter of the Canadian Cancer Society, Camp Quality, Prostate Cancer, and Cops for Cancer to name a few," Hobbs said. "This is something I will be looking into."

"In 2010 we declared National Honeybee Day.  Like, give me a break.  If we can do that we can certainly do child cancer," he said.

Policy followed

No one from the Northern Ontario Families of Children With Cancer could be reached Thursday for comment.

Hannam had said earlier on Thursday that his department followed city policy when it turned down the request to proclaim Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Hannam said the policy set by council years ago requires that a city department have an activity or some other connection to an event before a proclamation is made.

"And if they do, then we have a proclamation," he said.

"If there is no city involvement in the event or announcement, then we don't.  I mean, it's as simple as that."

Hannam added that Honeybee Day fell within the guidelines because the city actively promotes food security and local food producers, and has an environmental action plan.