A couple of weeks ago, we covered Nanaimo City Council’s unfortunate decision to restrict human rights for certain groups in their city. The good news is that council has seen the error of its ways and rescinded its original motion. The bad news is that mainstream media took little role in exposing or even discussing the initial decision.
First, a brief overview of the situation. On May 5, Fred Pattje led his fellow city councillors in an 8 – 1 decision to cancel a contract related to a Leadercast presentation which was to have taken place May 9 in the city-owned Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
Pointing out that one sponsor and one speaker connected with the event had said things which could be construed as anti-gay, Pattje convinced the others to pass a directive to staff not to allow on city-controlled property “any events that are associated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia or other expressions of hate.”
Accompanying the motion was a fair bit of intemperate language from several councillors, accusing Leadercast speakers of various things, including acting “criminally” and harbouring “deep Christian” anti-gay values. (Among the key speakers in the simulcast event, ironically, were widely respected figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former First Lady Laura Bush and Malcolm Gladwell.)
(Picture from video recording of council hearings.)
A couple of months on, council has changed its mind, voting unanimously during a specially called July 3 meeting to rescind their earlier decision. Mayor John Ruttan offered a formal apology, saying the May 5 motion “was aimed at preventing divisiveness and hate, but instead caused the opposite.”
A July 5 release from Nanaimo Daily News said:
The Nanaimo Daily News and the City of Nanaimo have reached a settlement in regards to the circumstances regarding city council’s decision to cancel the Daily News-sponsored Leadercast event May 9 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
The settlement is representative of a portion of the costs of canceling the Leadercast event in terms of lost sponsorship revenue, ticket sales and promotion of the event.
In an effort to diffuse the situation concerning the event with an eye towards restoring Nanaimo’s international and national reputation, the Daily News has offered to allow the city to broadcast the Leadercast event, in its entirety, in taped format, at the VICC on an as yet to be determined date, which the City of Nanaimo has accepted.
The issue of why members of city council changed their mind is beyond the scope of this article. Did they simply come to their senses as they were confronted with the reality of the situation? Were they afraid of law suits? Were they afraid of losing their seats in the upcoming November election? Hard to say.
But one thing seems pretty clear. The major media did not do much of a job of reporting or editorializing on the situation.
First, let’s give credit where credit is due. Here are the parties that helped turned the tide:
1. Local pastors
Three members of the Nanaimo Evangelical Fellowship spoke before city council June 16, urging the city politicians to apologize for cancelling the contract and withdraw the motion on which the cancellation was based. Their tone was firm, yet very moderate and respectful.
After acknowledging that he had had some constructive conversations with members of city council since their decision, pastor Darcy Siggelkow said: “Yet this issue is a matter of public record, and the action of council on May 5th requires a public response. I want to be clear that we are not associated with Leadercast or its local sponsors, yet we find the content and the implications of the motion passed by council immensely concerning. . . . It’s a serious matter in Canada to deprive citizens of freedom of religion, association and speech by refusing to grant them access to public facilities. Section 8 of the BC Human Rights Code defines this as discrimination.”
He hit the nail on the head; he and his fellow pastors deserve credit for the way they responded
2. BC Civil Liberties Association
“Vancouver Pride [August 3} is one of our very favorite events of the year. It’s an awesome time, and a great way for us to spend some time with supporters like you! Come out and show your support for human right and civil liberties.”
As one can see from this invitation on their website, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is very supportive of gay rights – and that’s why I am so impressed that they came out firmly against Nanaimo City Council’s May 5 policy. They have also supported Trinity Western University, by the way, both during its drive for a teaching program 14 years ago and more recently as it has sought to develop a law school.
Here is their post:
The BCCLA takes the position that Nanaimo’s decision to cancel a booking of civic-owned public event space for the conference amounted to discrimination on the basis of religion, and a violation of the freedom of assembly and expression of the individuals who organized and who would have attended the conference. The BCCLA suggests in the [attached letter] that city council should adopt a policy clarifying the widest possible scope for the rental of the city’s public spaces, and argues that the city cannot set itself up as a censor to stop people with whom council disagrees from using public spaces.
The letter by BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson could not be more clear, or more pointed.
Given the BCCLA’s commitment to both equality and civil liberties, we are well-versed in the challenges that may arise when it appears that rights and freedoms collide. We are convinced that equality and non-discrimination for certain groups cannot be achieved through intolerance for the exercise of fundamental freedoms by others. . . .
We are troubled by remarks made on the council floor that described the views of some Christians on equal marriage as being akin to a “criminal point of view,” and invoked an analogy of renting community space to a criminal organization. Certainly, all elected officials have the right to have and express their views, however offensive and uninformed they may be – a proposition to which we are deeply committed – but for the record, we strongly disagree with these kinds of harmful characterizations that discriminate against people of faith. . . .
As civil libertarians we have had a long experience with the danger of governments attempting to stop groups considered ‘divisive’ by the majority from associating or expressing themselves. We cannot pick and choose only those whose beliefs we agree with when it comes to protecting freedom of belief and association. If we want freedom of belief and association for ourselves, we must uphold it for all.
These are just excerpts; it is well worth reading and sharing the whole letter.
One small caveat. The BCCLA’s admirable comment was issued July 4, the day after city council reversed its decision (though it is possible they’d already advised council what was coming). They also did not announce it on their website’s front page, where they have sections for both news and features. It would have been nice to see them act a little more promptly, and with a little more vigour. However, I’m still impressed.
3. Ezra Levant and Sun News
Ezra Levant deserves some credit for bringing attention to the wrongheadedness of Nanaimo City Council – though not, perhaps, as much as he would ascribe to himself. Levant, whose personal website describes itself as “home of Canada’s foremost freedom fighter,” is loud and confrontational; he doesn’t deal in nuance.
Nanaimo blogger/pastor Travis Barbour rightly pointed out, for example, that Nanaimo City Council was in no way trying to ban Christians or drive them out of town, as Levant suggested during one rabble-rousing broadcast.
Do Christians really want to foster an us-and-them mentality? No. Nonetheless, Levant (who is Jewish) was basically right on this one. And he got people’s attention (not the mainstream media’s, maybe, but Nanaimo citizens, yes).
So, I thank Levant for flagging a serious problem, and ask him to moderate his ways (which seems most unlikely; check out Maclean’s Ezra Levant: The right-wing gadfly who loves to offend).
Church and culture have, historically, dealt unjustly with gay people, so humility is essential, even when asking for equal treatment. Bully tactics will not lead to justice, or peace.
4. Nanaimo Daily News
The Nanaimo Daily News was the main sponsor of Leaderscast. Its publisher, Hugh Nicholson, told us in our earlier story that he was going “to propose a way for the city to save face with the city’s Christians and allow free speech to prevail.”
He appears to have succeeded. We have noted the paper’s agreement with the City of Nanaimo above. And they kept the larger picture in view as well; their July 11 editorial – Free speech: A freedom to contend for – stated, in part:
Freedom of speech is something that is so great, so vital, so much a part of our life in Canada that, sadly, it looks like we’ve been taking it for granted. We’ve seen this basic human liberty endangered so vividly in Nanaimo in the past two months . . .
Thankfully, city council officially apologized and rescinded their debilitating bylaw which would have prohibited certain groups from having access to Nanaimo’s public buildings.
So, where were the mainstream media?
I should acknowledge, first of all, that it is hard to prove that something does not exist. But as far as I can tell, mainstream coverage has been scant to non-existent. Though I have not made an exhaustive study, I have checked on CBC, CTV and The Sun, as well as googling for the story in general.
I haven’t found any sign of interest on the part of CBC. Because I listen to CBC radio every day – and have done so since my teens – I wanted to go further than a few google searches. I called and emailed five times, over a week and a half, to the CBC BC News Room. I spoke to two young women and was very polite in my emails. The first young woman said she didn’t think CBC had done anything to cover the story, but said she’d check. That’s all I’ve heard on the matter; there have been no responses to my emails.
Back to google. The closest I found was this story from November 2012: University of Nanaimo sued after refusing to accommodate student with ‘visual allergies.’
It is encouraging to see that there were some people, both in Nanaimo (thank you local pastors, Nanaimo Daily News) and further afield (thank you BC Civil Liberties Association, Ezra Levant) who were on the ball, and not hesitant to speak out. Things could have turned out differently – and they still could in the future.
Pastor Darcy Siggelkow – lead pastor of Generations Church – said in a July 8 letter to the Nanaimo Daily News:
I am pleased that city council has rescinded the May 5 motion that cancelled the Leadercast event at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. But their justification for doing so has missed the mark. Council has stated that the intent of the original motion has been misunderstood. This is inaccurate and misleading.
Citizens of Nanaimo and Canada clearly understood that council cancelled Leadercast because one sponsor and one speaker hold opinions that some find offensive. What council and some in our city still do not seem to understand is that holding such opinions is not illegal, morally abhorrent, nor does it make you hateful toward others.
Rick Warren has said it best: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Nanaimo, it is time for us to put this sorry mess behind us and work together to build a community that truly honours diversity and protects the dignity of all who live here.Watch your words. Be kind. Love one another.
(Picture from video recording of council hearings.)
His concern is legitimate, but his final words offer hope. Councillor Diana Johnstone, at least, seemed to point in a positive direction, July 3, as council rescinded the offending motion. She said, with some emotion:
We voted to allow all of our citizens the right to be loved and respected within our community. In hindsight, we did not abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for all groups to be able to rent city facilities, and we should not have disallowed this Leadercast event. . . .
Thank you to all of our citizens and Christian leaders within our community who have understood that we as councillors only wish to do the right thing for all of our citizens.
Those two comment should provide a firm foundation for a just and peaceful resolution of such issues in the future.
For some useful insights on the issues raised in this article, I suggest following up with these articles:
* Tim Perry: For Canada, relativism is not the problem
The Canadian governing classes, much like their American counterparts, are shaped by (and increasingly shaping) a public morality that deliberately resists any appeal to God or to the transcendent. But we must be clear. This is no easy live-and-let-live relativism. It is a radically different vision of what constitutes the Good Life. A vision that sometimes comports with biblical and Christian ideals, and sometimes does not.
* John D. Inazu: Religious freedom vs. LGBT rights? It’s more complicated
A private Christian school holds what it considers a biblical view of marriage. It welcomes all students, but insists that they adhere to certain beliefs and abstain from conduct that violates those beliefs. Few doubt the sincerity of those beliefs. The school’s leaders are seen as strange and offensive to the world, but then again, they know that they will find themselves as aliens and strangers in the world.
* John G. Stackhouse, Jr.: The Butterfly and the Matrix