Gregor Robertson Upholds Hate Speaker
An Open Letter to Vancouver’s Mayor and Council
On 23 June 2016, while acting as chair of the public hearing on REZONING: 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue, Gregor Robertson upheld and validated a speaker who (1) uttered repeated descriptions of “elderly” persons with contempt (2) advocated discrimination against those persons as a class.
To: Mayor and Council; Councillors Individually; Sadhu Johnston, City Manager From: Joseph Jones Re: Gregor Robertson Upholds Hate Speaker Date: 30 June 2016 [Email Time Stamp: Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 10:17 AM] Find attached in pdf a detailed, focused, concise, depersonalized account of the ageist hate speech that occurred at public hearing before Council on 23 June 2016. The hate speech was validated by the chair of the public hearing, and has had wider effect. The letter concludes with specific request for remedy. I look forward to receiving a written response from Mayor and Council. After the upcoming long weekend, the first seven pages of the pdf material will be made public as an open letter. Sincerely, Joseph Jones
The open version of this letter does not directly name any persons other than Gregor Robertson (in the capacity of his office as chair of a public hearing), Joseph Jones as the writer of this letter, and Councillor Adriane Carr as the only councillor who has specifically addressed the issue of this letter’s concern. A variant version formally submitted to mayor and council on 30 June 2016 differs in no substantial way other than providing an appended key to Twitter substitution codes that is aligned with a listing of the relevant subset of speakers at public hearing held on 23 June 2016. The concern of this letter is not to engage with personalities, nor with the matters of the public hearing, but specifically to address the issue of one particular constellation of ageist public expressions.
The first public hearing on REZONING: 3365 Commercial Drive and 1695-1775 East 18th Avenue, held on 24 May 2016, was “voided” due to unprecedented irregularities. At the 23 June 2016 second public hearing Mayor Gregor Robertson, while acting as chair, upheld a speaker who was demeaning the “elderly” as a group. Subsequent investigation and analysis of both the mainstream and the social media context reveal that what that speaker expressed was not incidental, nor was it an isolated attitude. About an hour after being validated by Robertson, the offending speaker declared on Twitter that older people “need to die off.” Subsequent Twitter comment included instances of applause for the offender, and aggressive personal challenges to and dismissals of my two at-the-time Twitter comments on the use of hate speech. Those two Twitter observations were not addressed to any individual other than Gregor Robertson. Two CBC interviews with the offending individual (of which there are written, video, and audio records), both before and after the public hearing incident, served to propagate the speaker’s use of ageist invective.
What Is Hate Speech?
The balance between free speech and hate speech often presents thorny issues to courts that have to deal with particular cases. The relevant legislation outlined in Exhibit A clearly says that age is a covered “identifiable group” and that such a group is not to be subjected to discrimination, hatred, or contempt. In general, public discourse seems to show far greater sensitivity toward parallel covered groups, such as those identifiable by disability, origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
The Incidents at the Public Hearing
Discussion of the following incidents relates to transcriptions in Exhibit B.
Speaker 17 complained about how “these debates are dominated by older residents.” Suppose Speaker 17 had used, instead of “older,” an adjective like one of the following: Chinese, Muslim, gay. If an effective chair had reprimanded this off-topic inappropriate language at the outset, perhaps that message would have inhibited the more outrageous speaker who followed.
Speaker 22 on two occasions — at a separation of about one minute, with distinct escalations in content and tone — disparaged “elderly” speakers and called on Council to “ignore” them. Beyond inappropriately going off-topic to single out a particular age group, the speaker selected an exaggerated and pejorative term. Again, suppose the term had been not just Chinese, Muslim, gay, etc., but a more contemptuous expression. Would the chair have tolerated that?
Only after the second occurrence did I audibly interrupt the speaker with the phrase “hate speech.” Robertson responded: “Please respect the speaker — everyone else is.” After a pause, the audience erupted in brief general outcry. The speaker then continued. This was my only utterance toward any public speaker that evening. In the circumstance, I believe that what I did was restrained and justified. Prior to taking action, I observed distress in facial expressions among older persons in the audience.
The Twitter Context
Exhibit C provides in chronological order the content of 26 numbered tweets emanating from 10 tweeters between 8:20 pm on 23 June 2016 and 11:05 pm on 24 June 2016. The selection assembles a core of evidence on what took place during the public hearing and immediately following. The freewheeling ethos of Twitter is not at issue here. This particular social media context elucidates what was happening at the public hearing, and shows some of the consequences of the chair’s lax attitude toward hate speech.
Exhibit C supports the following points:
1. Six of the tweets demonstrate emergence of a particular lobby group that intercommunicated before, during, and after the public hearing. That group has expressed intentions to continue with the same type of intervention into future public hearings, focusing not on the specifics of particular rezoning applications, but simply on the provision of secured rental housing in whatever form at whatever public cost.
02 06 21 22 24 25 (3 by ddd : 2 by aaa : 1 by iii)
2. Nine of the tweets express ageist sentiments.
01 03 05 07 08 10 15 20 23 (3 by eee : 2 by aaa : 1 each by bbb, ccc, ddd, hhh)
3. Three of the tweets manifest a strong degree of vituperation.
05 08 26 (2 by eee : 1 by ccc)
4. Four of the tweets applaud Speaker 22. The later three of these tweets offer affirmation subsequent to considerations of what might have amounted to hate speech.
04 22 24 25 (1 each by aaa, bbb, ddd, iii)
5. Two of the tweets aggressively deride the complaint about hate speech.
20 26 (1 each by ddd, eee)
6. Speaker 22 further indulges in sexist jeer at the notion of hate speech amounting to anything more than free speech.
26 (1 by eee)
At the 28 June 2016 discussion and vote, three Vision Vancouver councillors deplored “divisiveness.” This sort of vague reference to turmoil at the event serves oppression by suggesting that conflict should not exist. Worse, this fuzziness masks and excuses the component of the conflict that qualifies as hate speech. In contrast, Councillor Adriane Carr itemized specifics, including age, but then failed to distinguish ageist hate speech from other forms of verbal conflict. Such a lack of distinction also serves oppression, albeit to a lesser degree.
Actions Requested as Remedy
1. That public hearing chair Gregor Robertson issue a formal statement recognizing the serious nature and implications of this instance of failure to reprimand immediately the use of ageist language in Council proceedings.
2. That Council as part of the same formal statement offer specific assurance that its meeting chairs will exercise full vigilance in monitoring for ageist language in the future.
3. That Council initiate a standard brief protocol to announce, at the outset of every public hearing and at the outset of every potentially contentious public-speaker item at ordinary meetings, that speech disparaging persons under ANY of the hate speech categories — age, color, disability mental or physical, ethnic origin or ancestry, family status, marital status, national origin or place of origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation — will not be tolerated in any degree whatsoever.
Explanatory: The above alphabetic listing for “hate speech categories” combines the lists of terms found in Exhibit A, setting the local British Columbia language first where there are parallels.
Joseph Jones 30 June 2016
Exhibit A — Hate Speech Legislation
The basics are set forth in the Criminal Code of Canada under Sections 318 and 319 titled Hate Propaganda
318 (4) defines identifiable group as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.”
Comment: A key term in 318 (4) is “age.”
Under the subtitle Wilful Promotion of Hatred is stated the following:
319 (2) Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.
Under the subtitle Defences is listed the following defence that would be most likely in the circumstance addressed:
(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2) (c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true;
Comment: A key phrase in 319 (3) (c) is “on reasonable grounds.”
The British Columbia provincial Human Rights Code [RSBC 1996] Chapter 210 offers similar description under the title Discriminatory Publication:
7 (1) A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that (a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or (b) is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or that group or class of persons. (2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a private communication, a communication intended to be private or a communication related to an activity otherwise permitted by this Code.
Exhibit B — Ageist Comments at 24 June 2016 Public Hearing
2:08:51 to 2:08:54
Speaker 17: How much of these debates are dominated by older residents
2:53:20 to 2:53:25
Speaker 22: This is so clearly a sense of elderly ownership or cheap rental entitlement and young people just trying to make a living
2:54:22 to 2:54:40
Speaker 22: I strongly urge you to absolutely — and I mean this — absolutely ignore the concerns of entitled elderly people ruining the future of our city —
Jones: Hate speech [interjection]
Robertson: Please respect the speaker — everyone else is
Speaker 22: Absolutely —
Exhibit C — Numbered Selection of Tweets in Chronological Order
The two following notes are added to the public version of this open letter:
Except for @jonesj and @MayorGregor, three-letter substitution codes have been consistently assigned to all tweeters involved. The issue is a chair’s validation of use of hate speech, not the existence
of identifiable personalities.
Structure of tweets = Assigned sequence number | Tweeter | Date and Time of Tweet | Tweet Content
01 @aaa 23 June 8:20 pm Most of us YIMBYs are in the antechamber now, marveling at the age split. If you’re under 50 you’re For. #vanpoli [photo]
02 @aaa 23 June 8:55 pm Inaugural meeting of Vancouver YIMBY group. @ddd @jjj @ggg @kkk @lll and @eee
03 @bbb 23 June 8:57 pm Really gripping #VanRE #bcpoli Clearly gen Y affordability vs boomers want density status quo.
04 @bbb 23 June 9:06 pm Wow was that @eee at the hearing? FANTASTIC!
05 @ccc 23 June 10:30 pm 18 is the minimum age for voting. Starting to think there should be a maximum age. How about life expectancy minus 18 years?
06 @ddd 23 June 10:36 pm @aaa @bbb @mmm @nnn @jjj Yeah, this was the best I’ve seen. Thanks everyone for coming out!
07 @eee 23 June 11:11 pm @ddd @ooo It’s 55yr/old+ NIMBYS vs. <40yr/old YIMBYs. YIMBYs wear plaid and have a vision.
08 @eee 23 June 11:13 pm @ddd @ooo YIMBYs are the future. NIMBYs need to die off #YVRYIMBY #VanRE
09 @jonesj 23 June 11:32 pm Several speakers at 3365 Commercial public hearing veered into ageist hate speech while 50+ @mayorgregor … just sat there #eastvan #vanpoli
10 @eee 23 June 11:32 pm NIMBYS in Vancouver are all 55yrs/old+. YIMBYs are all <40yrs/old. We are the future. Become a #YVRYIMBY y’all! #VanRE
11 @fff 23 June 11:46 pm @jonesj R you kidding hate speech and no one said anything
12 @jonesj 23 June 11:57 pm @fff No kidding. Not quite. I shouted «hate speech» at worst offender. Chair Gregor reprimanded no one.
13 @ggg 24 June 8:30 am @jonesj @MayorGregor please be specific
14 @ddd 24 June 8:35 am @jonesj @fff Can you provide a specific example of hate speech? Noting the avg age of the "less housing!" crowd doesn't count.
15 @hhh 24 June 8:54 am @ppp A lot more supporters at this hearing than the 1st go round. Under 40s sick of NIMBYs forcing young people to leave the city.
16 @jonesj 24 June 9:06 am @ggg @MayorGregor See video when available
17 @jonesj 24 June 9:09 am @ddd @fff See video when available
18 @ddd 24 June 9:10 am @jonesj @fff I was there, I spoke, didn’t hear any hate speech.
19 @ggg 24 June 9:43 am @jonesj @MayorGregor I was there and have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe I missed it? Just asking for an example or two.
20 @ddd 24 June 10:54 am @jonesj ~2:54 on vid. You called “the concerns of entitled elderly people (are) ruining the future of our city” hate speech? Hahahaha
21 @ddd 24 June 11:02 am @aaa @jjj @ggg @kkk @lll @eee Vid’s up. [Speaker 22]’s speech 2:52
22 @ddd 24 June 11:02 am @aaa @jjj @ggg @kkk @lll @eee Spoiler: it’s fantastic
23 @aaa 24 June 12:16 pm @qqq @eee @ccc Those against the proposal last night were focused on keeping their remaining ~20 years the same.
24 @iii 24 June 1:17 pm @ddd @aaa @jjj @ggg @kkk @lll @eee Amazing [Speaker 22], thank you!
25 @aaa 24 June 1:19 pm @iii @ddd @jjj @ggg @kkk @lll @eee yeah he’s [Speaker 22] an awesome speaker!
26 @eee 24 June 11:05 pm @ddd @jonesj that was epic. Been laughing ’bout that all day. Man the fuck up Mr. Heckler [emoticon]. Freedom of speech FTW.
Supplemental Exhibit — Not Part of Open Letter Version
This material consisted mainly of an eighteen-line table correlating
Number of Tweets in Exhibit C
Masking Code = Twitter Identity
Position on Speakers List with Name (9 of 18)