Friday, October 8, 2010

Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce Makes a Difficult, but Right Choice for Democracy

Please read the following blogpost, which is the text of an email I have provided to Debbie Nicholson, President and CEO of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, in response to the Chamber's decision to invite Mayoral Candidate David Popescu to the Chamber's debate, being held on Thursday, October 14th at Council Chambers in Tom Davies Square.

Debbie M. Nicholson
President and CEO
Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce

Dear Ms. Nicholson,

I've just now finished reading an article published in today's Sudbury Star regarding Mayoral Candidate Marianne Matichuk's call for you and your Chamber to bar Mayoral Candidate David Popescu from attending the Chamber's scheduled all-candidates debate, taking place next Thursday at Tom Davies Square. I am writing to you today to let you know that I am completely supportive of the remarks which have been attributed to you in the Sudbury Star article, and that I am 100% behind the Chamber of Commerce's policy of inclusion.

I understand that candidate Popescu has been convicted of willfully promoting hatred in August, 2009, after remarks he made at an all-candidates meeting at Sudbury Secondary School during the 2008 federal election in which he was running for Member of Parliament. These comments went beyond being vile and disgusting; in fact, they proved to be criminal, as a subsequent investigation and trial confirmed. As a result of those legal proceedings, I understand that Mr. Popescu was convicted to a suspended sentence, part of which included terms which saw him being placed on probation for 18 months.

As I'm sure you are aware, there is nothing in our electoral law in Canada which bars those convicted of hate crimes from running for public office. Mr. Popescu has the right, as a citizen of Canada, to put himself forward to be considered by the electorate for public office at any level of government for which he qualifies. As a resident of the City of Greater Sudbury, under our provincial electoral law, he is eligible to run for the position of Mayor.

I do not support Mr. Popescu. In fact, I am absolutely disgusted by him and his comments, and I sincerely wish that he would leave politics once and for all. As someone who has marched in Greater Sudbury's Pride Parade for several years now, I am appalled with Mr. Popescu's intolerance, and angry with his public demonstrations of hatred. I believe that Mr. Popescu is an absolute embarrasment to our community. However, I must support his right, as a citizen of Canada, to run for an elected position of public office, and to be afforded the same level of access to have his voice heard in public forums.

Democracy, by it's very nature, can be a messy business. Whenever a group of people get together to make decisions, there will be dissenting viewpoints. What informs these different points of view can be numerous; sometimes, they are informed by one's personal feelings of loathing, disgust, or hatred towards an individual or a group of people. When these attitudes manifest themselves in an individual elected to or running for a position of public office, voters and supporters must decide what to do. I am heartily encouraged that voters in my community of Greater Sudbury have consistently exercised their democratic choice to not endorse Mr. Popescu at every opportunity, and to deny him a position of public office which he so obviously craves.

The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce has found itself in a difficult position with regards to Mr. Popescu. On the one hand, Mr. Popescu has proven that he is not afraid to use public debates as a vehicle for his hate speech. On the other hand, Mr. Popescu is a registered candidate and has the right to run in this year's municipal election. For democracy to work, there must be opportunities for candidates to present their views to voters. The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce has consistently and conscientiously undertaken to facilitate public dialogues for candidates seeking public office at all governmental levels over the years (for which the Chamber should be applauded). In a democracy, sometimes this means that we are subjected to the voices of those who make us uncomfortable and angry. No doubt, for the vast majority of Sudburians, Mr. Popescu's words are inflammatory and unacceptable.

Had the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce chosen to silence Mr. Popescu, a much greater travesty would have been perpetuated. Hate speech is vile and intolerable in all circumstances. As a result, in Canada we have laws with which we use to prosecute those who commit crimes of spreading hatred. To engage in true participatory democracy, however, we can not shut out any individual voice, no matter whether we agree with the message being espoused by its speaker. Preventing individuals from having an opportunity to present their vision and platforms during a democratic process would be a far greater crime perpetuated against all Canadians.

I realize that the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce is under no obligation to invite all candidates to attend a public forum which it is hosting. Clearly, the Chamber has the choice to exclude Mr. Popescu and other candidates from debates. Other communities and other organizations have undertaken the practice of inviting only some registered candidates to public forums, and I am continuosuly saddened to hear about those circumstances, as they are problematic for furthering the cause of democracy.

The decision of the Chamber to invite Mr. Popescu was a difficult one to make, I'm sure. I empathize with the position of Mayoral Candidate Matichuk, which may be shared by others who are running for public office. Clearly, it would be wrong in the extreme for Mr. Popescu to use the venue of your public forum to engage in hate speech. I am also encouraged that Ms. Matichuk has indicated that it is her intention to attend the debate even if Mr. Popescu is present. I note that all of the other Mayoral Candidates who have confirmed their attendance at the Chamber's upcoming debate, including Mr. Popescu, were present at Wednesday evening's Good Green Town Hall at Tom Davies Square.

I realize that the very presence of Mr. Popescu at the debate will put the Chamber in an awkward position, given Mr. Popescu's past actions. I am sure that the Chamber's moderator, as always, will be vigilant during the debate, and will endeavour to keep the flow of dialogue on course throughout the evening. I am comfortable knowing that should Mr. Popescu choose to use the occasion of this debate to espouse hate speech that he will be prosecuted, again, through our legal justice system.

We Canadians are priveleged to live in a democratic society in which we are afforded rights under our Constitution and through our laws. We can not take this privelge lightly. We must continue to uphold our democratic institutions at all times. From the point of view of democracy, there is nothing more sacred than the ability of a voter to cast a ballot for an individual of the voter's choosing. In order for voters to make informed choices, information must be made available. Censoring the flow of information and actively silencing the voices of those running for positions of public office is always problematic, and puts us all on a slipperly slope towards truly diminishing our Canadian value in democracy.

Again, I want to thank the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce for its continuing commitment towards promoting democracy. I understand the challenges that this democratic commitment brings, and I am sincerely enheartened in knowing that my local Chamber of Commerce shares my values with regards to democracy.

Steve May
Resident of Greater Sudbury

e-copies to: Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce; Councilor Ted Callaghan; Zack Gauthier; Mariane Matichuk; Ed Pokonzie; Mayor John Rodriguez; Derek Young.


Sudbury Steve said...

I've been engaged in the following exchange with Mayoral Candidate Marianne Matichuk in the Comments section of the Sudbury Star; I'll continue to repost:

I wrote:

Earlier today, I provided a letter to Debbie Nicholson, President and CEO of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce (which I have copied and published on my blog: http://sudburysteve.blogs​​eater-sudbury-cham​ber-of-commerce.html ). The Chamber of Commerce was faced with a difficult choice regarding whether they would allow Mr. Popescu to participate in their debate. I believe that they have made the right choice to include Mr. Popescu. Their decision furthers the cause of democracy in our community. I am certain that they did not arrive at this decision without considerable discourse and discussion, given Mr. Popescu's vile past behaviour during a public debate. Nevertheless, excluding one candidate in preference of others would have been the wrong choice for the Chamber to make. If we truly take democracy seriously, we must tolerate having to listen to the views of those who disgust and repel us. Should Mr. Popescu's remarks venture into the realm of hate speech at this, or any other public debate, we Canadians can be assured that our laws and justice system will serve our interests, just as it did the last time Mr. Popescu crossed the line.

Sudbury Steve said...

From "Matichuk for Mayor":

Steve, I respect you and know you do great work in the community. I do take issue with your stance, however. Freedom of speech and criminal hate speech are two different things. Mr. Popescu has shown a history of this kind of hate speech. Democracy gives you the right to freedom of speech -- but democracy does not give you the right to commit criminal hate speech. Given this man's history and conviction, it would be disingenuous to suggest it won't happen again because it will. Given that his crime is hate speech (convicted in a court of law), why would any organization give him the opportunity to perpetuate more hate speech condoning the execution of members of our community who deserve as much representation as anyone else. Too often, we brush off what he says however it is serious business -- serious enough to be charged and convicted in our court of law. Again, freedom of speech does not give you, him, or anyone else to perpetuate hatred or try to incite violence toward others. And, to sit idly bit and either condone it or allow it, in my opinion, is wrong.

Sudbury Steve said...

From me:

@Matichuk for Mayor: I appreciate that you've taken the time to respond to my earlier posts, and that you've chosen to remain engaged. I agree with you, and with many of the others who have provided comments on this site, that David Popescu has little or nothing to offer Sudburians, and that his presence is a distraction in public debates and open houses.

However, that being said, Mr. Popescu has legally put his name forward in an effort to engage Sudburians on (what he perceives to be) the issues. He attended the first public session held for Mayoralty candidates, and engaged the audience there, offering answers to the questions put to him by a concerned public. At the Good Green Town Hall, where I was present throughout the evening, I do not recall that Mr. Popescu said anything which can be construed as hate speech.

Yes, Mr. Popescu has engaged in hate speech in the past. That's a proven fact. He was charged and convicted for his crime. He received a sentence from our courts, and as punishment, he was placed on probation. I, and others in our community, sincerely hope that he has learned a lesson, and wish and hope that he may have reconsidered his position relative to the comments which he publicly made back in 2008. I don't know how he feels or what he believes today; I haven't asked him. Nor am I going to waste my time doing so, because I've already made my mind up that not only will I never vote for him, but that I don't personally wish to ever give him the time of day.

The point is, however, that he's paid for his crime. In a democracy, we are forced to listen to others. We are not forced to listen to hate speech, and in fact we are abundantly encouraged to root it out at all opportunities. Our legal system has mechanisms to deal with those who engage in this sort of illegal activity.

To presuppose that Mr. Popescu may engage in hate speech during a public forum in this election is reasonable, based on his past action. However, it can not be the rationale for his exclusion from such a forum.

In a democracy, when we begin to exclude certain individuals from opportunities to participate in elections, be they voters or candidates, we diminish our democracy. The fact is that many of our public and private institutions engage in such behaviour on a regular basis. These decisions to limit participation are often based on the notion that we don't need to waste time hearing from individuals who, in the opinion of an institution, don't need to be heard from because they stand little chance of winning a position of public office.


Sudbury Steve said...

Continued from me:

Limiting anyone's opportunity to engage the public, however, should never be taken lightly, even when their participation in the process is likely to prove more burdensome for other participants. If we don't allow Mr. Popescu his opportunity, as a candidate, to engage with voters, how far might this exclusion go?

Private enterprises, such as the Sudbury Star, Eastlink and the Northern Life, are certainly entitled to their opinions, when it comes to inviting candidates to participate in a debate or town hall session. It may be that the media is motivated by a different set of values than the Chamber of Commerce or the Good Green Town Hall in terms of what they choose the offer to the public as part of their electoral discourse. We are lucky in Greater Sudbury to have engaged local media available to follow this municipal election, even if their coverage of all candidates isn't balanced. Realistically, we can't expect our news media to report on non-news events.

The Chamber of Commerce, though, like the Good Green Town Hall, invited all candidates to attend their public forum, in order to better educate the public regarding the candidate's positions on issues important to the Chamber and the Green Town Hall. The Chamber is providing a service to the community in its entirety, and they understand that our community is comprised of Mr. Popescu. I am certain that the Chamber will take action to silence Mr. Popescu or anyone else should they begin to engage in illegal behaviour during the debate.

Democracy is a very messy business. We have to take the good with the bad.

Ms. Matichuk, I'm encouraged at least to see you have expressed that you'll attend the Chamber's debate even though Mr. Popescu will be present. I can't, however, in good conscience, support your call for his exclusion, based on past actions for which he has already been convicted and punished.

We either take our democracy seriously or we diminish it in the name of expediency. Our democracy has suffered a lot of diminishment in the past several decades. We all should be doing our part to restore our democracy so that it truly functions as a venue for shared and responsible decision-making.

Sudbury Steve said...

Here is a copy of an email that I received from Mr. Paul Demers, Campaign Manager for Mayoralty Candidate Marianne Matichuk:

Hello, this is Paul Demers, the campaign manager for Marianne Matichuk and the person who wrote the letter to the Chamber yesterday. I am sad to see that this has become a shameless political tool for some using the red herring of "freedom of speech" as a way to support. Ms. Matichuk has good friends who are gay and lesbian and truly felt in her heart this was the right thing to do if she is going to show leadership.

A couple of quick points:

- Mr. Popescu has been convicted of spreading hate speech which stated homosexuals should be executed. He has said this a number or times without apology or remorse.

- the Northern Life/Eastlink debate is not having Mr. Popescu

- The Sudbury Star/KFM debagte is not having Mr. Popescu

- A Sudbury Star editorial today called on not letting Mr. Popescu involved in debates anymore

- Le Voyageur newspaper won't even list Mr. Popescu as a candidate in their paper

So, is it being suggested that the Sudbury Star, Northern Life, KFM (Christian Radio), Eastlink, and Le Voyageur are all condoning censorship?

For the record, our campaign believes everyone has the right to run for office as long as they meet the legal requirements. Mr. Popescu does. And, we endorse his right to campaign freely. However -- this is a debate run by a private organization. It can choose, like the organizers of other debates -- to invite who they want. Others, as pointed out, have not invited Mr. Popescu.

Yes, democracy gives you the right to freedom of speech -- but democracy does not give you the right to commit criminal hate speech. In fact, our democratic laws and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms make it illegal, by law, to spread hate speech, hence the charges and conviction. So, by condoning his participation, you are actually squashing the rights of the gay and lesbian community -- you are putting them at risk.

You see, freedom of speech and criminal hate speech are two different things and should never be confused. Anyone who's ever been a victim of hate speech will tell you that.


Sudbury Steve said...

Mr. Demers email, continued:

I can tell you I have heard from a number of people in the gay and lesbian community who are very happy that someone has spoken up on this issue. They felt they couldn't raise it for the very reason we're having this discussion right now -- that people would attack them for trying to muzzle someone -- even if he is someone with a history and conviction of spreading hate speech endorsing the execution of homosexuals. How sad is it that they are too afraid to speak up on this issue? And, we wonder why our community has such a bad reputation within the gay and lesbian community in Ontario. We are infamous for allowing this kind of thing to happen.

Mr. Popescu has shown a history of this kind of hate speech. We all agree, right? He has been convicted in a court of law -- governed by our democratically-elected law-makers. Actually, he made the same comments (that homosexuals should be executed) in previous debates and even on a video he distributed to the media but was never charged previously. So, not new behaviour, right? We all agree?

With all of this as a pre-cursor, someone could make a legal argument that knowingly allowing someone convicted of spreading hate speech (without apology or remorse) to a public debate covered by the media is reckless and is actually giving him a likely platform to spread that speech again. There could be a liability issue here from a victim's perspective that this was knowingly allowed. Given this man's history and conviction, it would be disingenuous to suggest it won't happen again because it will -- sooner or later -- maybe next Thursday or maybe in the provincial election next year. But, it will happen again. History makes that clear.

Too often, we brush off what he says however it is serious business -- serious enough to be charged and convicted in our court of law.

Again, freedom of speech does not give you, him, or anyone else to perpetuate hatred or try to incite violence toward others. This is a fact. Freedom of hate speech is not in the Charter. And, to sit idly bit and either condone it or allow this kind of criminal intolerance, in my opinion, is wrong.

I had a conversation this morning with Mr. Harvey Wyers, a key campaign worker for Mayor Rodriguez and he agrees with our position -- as does the Chamber Chair, Andre Dumais, who I also spoke with yesterday on this.

Again this is a Chamber event and it is free to invite whomever it wants. My candidate will be there, ready to debate. However, we strong encourage you all to reconsider Mr. Popescu's attendance before it's too late and he does it again. If he does, you can't say you weren't advised against it.

Paul Demers
Campaign Manager
Matichuk For Mayor

Sudbury Steve said...

And here is a copy of my email to Mr. Demers, in response to his:

Mr. Demers, thank you for email, which I believe is likely partly in response to an email letter which I wrote to Debbie Nicholson, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. I appreciate that you've further provided rationale regarding your Candidate's recent call for the exclusion of Mr. Popescu from the Chamber of Commerce debate. In response, I'd like to take a few moments to share my own further thoughts with you, and with others who received your email.

I stand by the opinion which I expressed earlier regarding democratic discourse. I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the way in which our electoral systems, and legal systems operate. I have never expressed that anyone has the right to be able to engage in hate speech; in fact, I have consistently expressed the opposite, and that those who engage in such a vile activity should endure the full weight of what our legal system has to offer for engaging in that activity.

Mr. Popescu has been through that process: he made hateful remarks, was convicted of criminal hate speech, and was sentenced by a court of law.

Certainly it is the right of a private enterprise, such as a media organization or business, to be able to invite who they want to participate in a public debate. The Chamber of Commerce too has the ability to choose who participates in these sorts of events. My earlier point, however, is that our democratic discourse is not served by limiting those who are able to engage with the public. The Chamber is providing an opportunity for the public to hear the candidates - this includes Mr. Popescu. The Chamber, as all debate organizers do, hopes that based on what the public hears, the public will be better informed when it comes to making a decision to cast their ballots in an election.


Sudbury Steve said...

My email to Mr. Demers, continued:

We citizens of Canada have very few opportunities to engage in direct decision making. Elections offer us one of the only real opportunities to exercise our democratic power by giving something (a vote) directly to someone (a candidate). Our votes represent an incredibly important and profound franchise. To best exercise this power, it is incumbent on voters to inform themselves. The Chamber of Commerce, by allowing all candidates standing for public office to participate in a public dialogue, is facilitating the sharing of the information that we, as voters, need to better exercise our one direct opportunity to use the power of our vote.

I understand very well that the presence of Mr. Popescu at a public forum is very difficult for all participants; candidates, debate organizers, the media, and members of the public, based on his past actions. However, to presuppose that he is likely to engage in hate speech goes too far. Certainly he has shown a reluctance to do so once already, when offered a public forum at the Good Green Questions Town Hall, held on Wednesday night. I realize that his recent good behaviour doesn't mean that he won't engage in hate speech in the future. But in the interests of democracy, that's a chance that we, as informed citizens, need to take. And we can do so knowing that we have laws which will protect us.

I can't even begin to express to you how personally angry and incensed I was when I first heard about Mr. Popescu and his comments made at Sudbury Secondary School during the last federal election campaign. I was incredibly disturbed. At that time, I was working with one of the candidates involved in the election, and he assured me that he would co-operate with the authorities in their investigation of Mr. Popescu. As you know, that investigation led directly to charges being laid against Mr. Popescu, and to his conviction and subsequent punishment. Should he engage in hate speech again, I am certain that the outcome will be similar to what he has already experienced.

I understand too that we would likely be better off without Mr. Popescu's participation in a public debate, and I certainly have no time for the man. What I believe to be legitimate discourse is severely impaired by his participation.


Sudbury Steve said...

The concluding portion of my email to Mr. Demers:

What I might think, though, isn't the point, at least not as far as democracy is concerned. If we choose only to listen to some people in preference to others, even when those choices are made out of fear that a crime may be committed by a speaker, we diminish democratic discourse and subvert democracy. While I understand that these choices are made for rationale and practical reasons, they still contribute to diminishing the democratic process, and that can't be denied.

If other debates, held in private venues and organized by businesses or not-for-profits, decide to exclude candidates, it is their choice to do so. Certainly they will also be providing a significant service to the citizens of Greater Sudbury. Any opportunity for sharing information is better than no opportunity at all. However, to be truly inclusive, we must listen to voices which we find disagreeable, and at times hateful; we have mechanisms for dealing with the owners of those voices when the words they speak venture into a criminal realm.

Both Mr. Popescu and I are taxpaying residents of the City of Greater Sudbury, as likely are most of you. Our property tax dollars go towards the maintenance of our public service facilities, which include Tom Davies Square, the venue which will be hosting the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce mayoralty debate next weekend. Given that this event is taking place with a public institution financed by all of the taxpaying residents of this City, it is absolutely essential that the debate include all voices. If there are concerns that a crime may take place, the Greater Sudbury Police could be invited to attend as well, although I don't believe that their presence would be necessary. We as citizens of this province and nation have the obligation to act responsibly when we witness a crime. I'm certain that those attending the debate won't hesitate to take that responsibility.

-Steve May

Hobb Beckett said...

Bravo! Encore!

I've never really considered the Green Party but the fact you made this debate public has momentarily earned my franchise.

Demer's politics of fear, risk (liability!) and 'security', defeated by May's call to honour, trust and law.

Private corporate media debates versus the citizen commonwealth of Tom Davis Square.

Old Testament condemning self-righteousness ("If he does, you can't say you weren't advised against it.") defeated by New Testament-like refusal to scapegoat.

Thank you for your principled argumentation.

The Conservative Party & conservative Christianity can make for queer shadow-boxers...