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.
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.