Councillor 'sorry' for causing offence with motion seeking federal money for military events
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt has apologized for the "unfortunate" timing of a motion amendment seeking federal money for policing local military events such as Remembrance Day, but said he's not sorry for bringing it up.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday, Isitt put forward an amendment to a motion seeking to recoup costs for military events in the city.
The amendment, introduced on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, came up as council debated what to do about a police budget shortfall for staffing special events.
It read: "That Council direct staff to engage DND/Veterans Affairs Canada officials to seek to recover costs associated with military events in the City."
The amendment was carried with the support of councillors Laurel Collins, Sarah Potts, Jeremy Loveday Marianne Alto and Sharmarke Dubow.
Reaction on social media was swift and stern, with many saying the timing was disrespectful to veterans.
Doug Grant, manager of the Esquimalt Legion, called the amendment "absolutely disgusting."
"For this to be announced on D-Day yesterday is unrealistic. I believe there was close to 1,100 Canadians on that day who were either wounded or lost their lives," said Grant. "No one seems to understand that the veterans came back home in order to raise money for children, for communities, and it's going on every day and it has never stopped, so this little amount…we gave that away in bursaries from the Esquimalt Legion last year. It's not all about money."
Speaking with reporters outside of City Hall Friday, Isitt said he was sorry that the discussion had to happen on the anniversary of D-Day.
"I'm not sorry for standing up for taxpayers, but if I did cause offence in terms of the timing of when council considered this item, I would apologize to anyone who was offended," he said. "I think it was an important discussion for council to have, but it would've been preferable to have that discussion on any other day of the year."
Isitt said council didn't choose the timing of the amendment because the police department requested action be taken in regards to a $135,000 shortfall in its budget for staffing special events.
He also said council didn't intend to insult veteran and that he has relatives who were among the millions of Jewish people murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust.
The councillor clarified he wasn't proposing the city defund military events.
"I did propose the motion, not that the city wouldn't fund Remembrance Day, but that our staff would talk to federal officials to see if there was a willingness to make a contribution toward the city's costs," said Isitt.
Collins, who is running for the federal New Democrats in the upcoming election, also issued her own apology for supporting the amendment and said she'd be switching her final vote on the matter.
"I understand it was wrong to hold this vote on D-Day, and I take full responsibility for that. I’m truly sorry for the impact. It pains me to think about veterans being disrespected in any way," she said in a statement. "Any motion discussing cost sharing with other levels of government should have been amended to refer to the federal government, not simply to DND and Veteran Affairs."
Coun. Charlayne Thornton Joe, who voted against the motion, said she felt it was appropriate for the city to cover military event costs.
"[It's] a small price in comparison to the cost and sacrifices that our veterans gave," Thornton Joe said in a statement. "I feel that other levels of government should be paying more for housing and mental and addiction health issues but that does not mean as a city we do not step up and pay for in our budget as well."
Media focusing on 'smaller issues'
He said it was a "pattern" of media to focus on small issues, distracting from bigger issues like housing, poverty and climate change, echoing an earlier blog post he wrote criticizing coverage of the meeting.
"The media often picks sort of the easy issues, maybe the sensational issues, maybe the issues that are emotional triggers, and then that initial story gets amplified by these neo-fascist, alt-right groups," said Isitt.
In the Medium.com post, Isitt called on the public to reject "conservative media distractions."
"It is unfortunate that the latter decision was taken on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, marking the landing of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy to turn back the tide of fascism in northwestern Europe," he wrote. "However, an accident of agenda planning resulted in consideration of the Victoria Police Department request on that date.
"More unfortunate, however is the nefarious ways in which conservative political forces and their agents in the corporate media have chosen to distort Victoria City Council's benign request for assistance from federal authorities, into a supposed affront to war veterans."
Isitt said "alt-right" organizations like the Proud Boys and conservative voices in corporate media "would prefer that citizens in Victoria and other communities focus on controversy–rather than on tackling the major challenges of our time."
He also blasted media for not covering another development from the Thursday meeting, after council voted unanimously to endorse $90-million in funding for a regional, provincial and federal partnership to expand housing affordability in Greater Victoria.
"Not surprisingly, the corporate media was silent on this strong policy direction toward an inclusive community that upholds human rights. 'If it bleeds, it leads,' is an old, unfortunate mantra in the journalistic profession," he said.
A final decision on the police budget motion and its amendments will be made on June 13 after city staff receive a detailed outline of police expenses.
The city said it costs $15,200 to police military events.