Credits: REUTERS/Eric Thayer
On May 5, city politicians in Nanaimo, BC, voted 8 to 1 to ban a conference that was scheduled for their city's convention centre just four days later. City councillors condemned one of the event 's sponsors as "hateful," mentioned it in the same breath as the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, and said the decision to ban the event from public property was no different than if they had voted to ban an organized crime ring, too.
Sounds awful. Who was coming to town - the Hells Angels? The conference itself was based in Atlanta, Georgia, but plenty of people in Nanaimo were paying $60 to watch a pay-per-view simulcast of it in Nanaimo. Who were these undesireable people?
Actually, Nanaimo councillors didn't know very much about the conference themselves, calling it by different names throughout their meeting. They weren't quite sure who was speaking at it either, or what they were speaking about, and they had to be corrected by city staff. And they didn't invite any conference organizers to answer their allegations - or even give them any notice before ripping up the business contract signed with them by the convention centre.
But what the councillors lacked in knowledge, they made up for in vitriol. You can see for yourself. Nanaimo is a small city of just 80,000 people, but the politicians there think highly enough of themselves and their deep thoughts that they actually televise their council meetings. Their 20-minute tirade against the conference can be viewed online, at www.nanaimo.ca.
Fred Pattje, the councillor who introduced the motion, said that one of the many sponsors of the conference was an American fast-food restaurant named Chick-fil-A. Several years ago, the founder of Chick-fil-A had said he opposed changing US law to permit same-sex marriage. Until a year ago, that was Barack Obama's opinion, too. But to Pattje and fellow councillors, the fact that an executive affiliated with a fast food company was one of a dozen sponsors of a world-wide leadership event, being simulcast from the city's convention centre, was intolerable. Even if some of the councillors couldn't quite pronounce the name Chick-fil-A either.
The problem, as councillor Jim Kipp said so succinctly, was that Chick-fil-A has funded "a very strong unbelievable Christian belief" of being against same sex marriage, before referring to terrorists.
It was shocking bigotry. Councillors took turns defaming the convention, Chick-fil-A, one of its speakers, its organizers and those in it - all without the burden of facts. They falsely accused one conference speaker of being anti-gay - even though city staff reminded councillors that the conference wasn't about homosexuality at all. It was about leadership in business. One councillor - Bill McKay, the lone voice against the ban - pointed out that former First Lady Laura Bush would be speaking, and Nobel Prize laureate and former anti-Apartheid crusader Desmond Tutu also.
In the end, the motion passed over McKay's sole objection. The motion instructed the convention centre that "any events that are associated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate not be permitted and as such, advise the VICC not to permit in a City owned facility, the upcoming Leadercast event."
One councillor, Bill Bestwick, actually suggested that city hall turn off the power and blackout the simulcast when a particularly objectionable speaker was scheduled to speak. Bestwick was very excited about his role as self-appointed censor.
Banning divisive people, and expressions of hate, eh? Sounds like the council was describing itself.