The executive of Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday that accuses Mayor Kennedy Stewart of “hate speech” for comments directed at the party’s board of directors.
The petition said a statement posted by Stewart on City of Vancouver letterhead Jan. 28 accusing the board of extremism and circulated via social media contained comments that were “defamatory.”
“The suggestion of ‘extremism within the board’ is a knowingly false statement for political gain as there is no ‘extremism’ in the NPA board or in the NPA itself,” the petition said.
“The suggestion of ‘open support for hate groups’ is a knowingly false statement for political gain and at no time is true in any way. No NPA board member or the NPA itself supports ‘hate groups’ or belongs to a ‘hate group.’”
Plaintiffs listed are NPA president David Mawhinney and board members Christopher Wilson, David Pasin, Phylliss Tang, Federico Fuoco and Wesley Mussio. Angelo Isodorou is also a plaintiff, although he announced his resignation Jan. 29.
The petition also names the City of Vancouver.
The mayor’s statement at issue for the NPA was released after news stories in The Tyee and Vancouver Sun featured a photograph of Isidorou wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap and flashing a hand gesture associated with “white power” extremists.
The photograph was taken in 2017 by photojournalist Jennifer Gauthier at a pro-Trump rally in Vancouver. Isidorou was 20 at the time and not a member of the NPA. He defended his actions in an interview Jan. 29 with Glacier Media.
Isidorou said he resigned from the board because he planned to sue media companies for the stories written about him. He acknowledged he was “a dumb 20-year-old” college kid for wearing the hat made popular by former U.S. president Donald Trump.
“But to insinuate and attribute that hand gesture, which was not defined as a white power hand gesture until much, much later, is a problem for me,” said Isidorou, adding that he was “mimicking the meme of Trump” when he flashed the gesture.
“It has nothing to do with a secret W and a hidden P. That wasn’t a thing until way later.”
Other news stories, including those written by Glacier Media over the last two years, have chronicled the turmoil inside the NPA. Four board members resigned in July 2020 and Coun. Rebecca Bligh left the party in December 2019 after accusing the board of shifting to the far right of the political spectrum.
Alvin Singh, the mayor’s director of communications, said Thursday that Stewart wouldn’t comment on the NPA board’s legal action, noting it was now before the courts.
Stewart, who is seeking re-election in 2022, is expected to face a strong challenge from the NPA. The party’s 2018 mayoral candidate Ken Sim finished less than 1,000 votes behind Stewart.
Among relief sought by the board in the suit against Stewart is “mandatory interim and permanent injunction requiring and compelling the defendants, by themselves, their agents, servants or otherwise, to forthwith remove the offending, libelous words from the social media and from any other sources or documents.”
Mussio, one the board members, is a lawyer and filed the petition. Mussio also filed the legal action that is attempting to remove Green Party Coun. Michael Wiebe from office related to a conflict-of-interest case over Wiebe’s vote to provide patio extension permits to businesses, including his own.
Mussio took offence to media stories about the NPA in an email to Glacier Media last week.
"I believe in individual rights of all people, regardless of race, religion, colour or gender, over government restrictions and regulations that unduly intrude into those rights," he said.
"I am not an 'anti-masker' as the media states [actually I wear a mask daily and often] but in favour of the freedoms set out in the Charter, namely freedom of speech, freedom of association [aka peaceful protests] and freedom of religion."
The NPA's four city councillors — Colleen Hardwick, Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung — have not responded to emails from Glacier Media seeking comment on the controversy tied to the board.
Here is the mayor’s statement, in full, that is at issue for the NPA board:
“Continuing media reports about the extreme views of Non-Partisan Association board members, including open support for hate groups, are deeply troubling and must be fully denounced and publicly condemned by NPA leaders.
Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities in the world and it is that diversity that makes us strong. When one group is singled out and attacked, it is an attack on our entire city.
As alt-right extremism and openly racist politics have taken hold around the world, we in Vancouver cannot take this lightly. Just a few weeks ago, white nationalist posters were plastered along the seawall.
Incidents of violence and hate towards the members of the LGBTQ2+ community, women, people of Asian backgrounds, Jewish people and Indigenous peoples are on the rise.
We must work every day to dismantle systems of oppression and lift up the lives and voices of those who have never been marginalized. And we must call out hate and racism, whenever and wherever we see it — especially within our politics.
Our duty moves beyond just not discriminating, we must all actively fight back against racism, homophobia, misogyny and anti-semitism.
NPA leaders have so far failed to stop hate spreading within their party.
These extreme individuals will choose who stands as candidates for the NPA in the next election, their election platform and from whom they accept donations. These extremely disturbing developments cannot be met with silence and must be fully condemned by all of us, including NPA members and leaders.”