Nanaimo drops ban on ‘divisive’ events in public facilities

Mayor apologizes and affirms rights of ‘men and women of all faiths’

Nathaniel Christopher Daily Xtra! [Vancouver, B.C.]
“This is a very challenging time for Nanaimo,” Mayor John Ruttan says. “I think people who know Nanaimo realize that is a very inclusive society and we do everything we can to make people of all religious faiths and beliefs comfortable here.”
Photo: Nathaniel Christopher

Nanaimo City Council has rescinded a controversial decision to ban a webcast sponsored by Chick-fil-A from a city-owned facility.

The original motion, passed May 5, had banned any events “associated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate” from taking place at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre (VICC).

The motion specifically targeted Leadercast, which is sponsored by Chick-fil-A, hosted in Nanaimo by the Nanaimo Daily News and streamed live online. Council voted to cancel the event just four days before it was scheduled to take place at the VICC in May. It rescinded the new policy banning “divisive” events on July 3.

“This is a very challenging time for Nanaimo,” Mayor John Ruttan says. “I think people who know Nanaimo realize that is a very inclusive society, and we do everything we can to make people of all religious faiths and beliefs comfortable here.”

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy ignited controversy in 2012 when he stated that his company supported the “biblical definition” of marriage. Since 2003, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, has donated approximately $5 million to anti-gay-marriage groups and other organizations that oppose homosexuality.

Chick-fil-A was scheduled to sponsor the Leadercast last year, but the Nanaimo Daily News pulled out after a public outcry from some members of the local LGBT community.

Ruttan says the situation escalated this year “largely due to Eastern media that caused a bit of a very political issue across the country.”

He says the original decision to deny the event access to a city-owned space was not intended to “offend people of faith.”

Ezra Levant, of Sun News, brought national attention to the issue on his evening talk show when he repeatedly derided Nanaimo councillors who supported the motion as “bigots” and claimed they hate Christian values. He also denounced the motion as “the most disgraceful act of discrimination that I’ve seen in Canada in all my life.”

“Anytime there is a government vote to marginalize or ban ideas that some politicians think are divisive, gay Canadians should oppose that because that is a tactic that is not liberal,” he tells Xtra. “That is a tactic that grants political censorship to public office holders. That’s a tactic that’s been used against gays in the past and will be used against gays in the future if we set this precedent.”

The May 5 motion was introduced by Councillor Fred Pattje following a conversation he had with Vancouver Island Rainbow Association vice-president ET Turner, who expressed concern about the event’s connection to Chick-fil-A and its inclusion of American psychologist and author Henry Cloud as a speaker.

“He’s a psychiatrist who is very strong on the fact that he believes that matters gay can be fixed with reparative therapy,” Pattje alleged. “So that alone, apart from the connection with Chick-fil-A, was enough for me to make this motion.”

Xtra could find no evidence that Cloud either endorses or performs reparative therapy. Cloud did not respond to Xtra’s request for comment.

“To me, this motion was not anti-Christian; it was anti-divisiveness and -homophobia,” Turner says, “but it has been turned around to being anti-Christian by a small portion of the city population.

“If this was held in a private facility, we wouldn’t have had a problem with it,” Turner continues. “It was being put in a publicly funded and publicly owned facility. They weren’t putting it in a church or a hall — there are lots of halls in Nanaimo to have your function in. They chose, once again, to rent the VICC, which was built with taxpayer money and maintained with taxpayer money.”

Bill McKay was the only councillor to vote against the motion. “What was really distressing for me was that there was no staff report on this,” he says. “A staff report would have weighed all these issues with the facts on the case. There [was] no advice from the legislative service branch with respect to any community charter issues about bringing a motion forward without notice, no legal advice concerning constitutional issues. Nothing. That’s what really troubled me. Here we were relying on the facts as presented by one person with no proof.”

Several Nanaimo residents expressed concern that the motion unfairly stigmatized Christians.

Darcy Sigglekow, a pastor at the Pentecostal-affiliated Generations Church in Nanaimo, spoke to council June 16 on behalf of the Evangelical Fellowship of Nanaimo, which he describes as an informational relational network of pastors from approximately 25 churches in the area.

“As I stated during our delegation to council, it was extremely concerning that the motion would wrongly identify me, or someone else who holds similar views on this issues, [as] divisive, homophobic or a hater,” he says. “We hold that the scriptures speak to the issue of homosexuality, and we hold an opinion that we would not be supportive of that lifestyle. But at the same time, as a Canadian, I respect and hold that other people disagree with my opinion and that’s what makes our country great.”

At a council meeting on June 23, Ruttan read a statement affirming the rights of “men and women of all faiths” to use city facilities in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and BC’s Human Rights Code.

Sigglekow says he’s satisfied with the statement and has accepted the personal apologies he’s received from some of the councillors.

Ruttan issued a formal apology as well and plans to meet with representatives from Nanaimo’s faith communities. “I now realize that an apology was necessary and we couldn’t move ahead without it, so that’s what I did.”

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada who has blogged here for 20 years. I like to share my thoughts and feelings on my own online space. From 1998 until 2017 I worked as a journalist and I hope to use this website as an archive for all of my stories.