A citizens’ group has formed in the wake of an Ontario town’s council meeting where a man charged with stealing Pride flags was allowed to speak for 30 minutes and “spew the hatred” of the gay community.
Jacob (Jake) Dey, who runs a farm equipment supply store in Tillsonburg, Ont., had been charged with theft after Pride flags in the farming community of Norwich were taken down. On Tuesday, the 47-year-old businessman addressed Norwich Township council for half an hour, in a speech that likened the gay community to a social movement akin to the Nazis in 1930s Germany.
No politician stopped Dey from speaking. People in the public gallery who asked him to halt the speech were told by politicians to be respectful and let Dey speak.
“A lot of us share a very similar sentiment, that we are all shocked by what we heard at the council meeting, frustrated that it even happened, that council provided this specific delegation the platform to spew the hatred and the hate speech that they did,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesperson for the citizens’ group.
“It left us really feeling like we were let down by our township and that has really led us to have to now deal with the consequences of hearing that hatred, to have been there, to witness it, to live with it, and now to have to respond it it. Everyone was very hurt, very saddened and, of course, angry.”
During Dey’s presentation, he spoke about the Bible and questioned the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The citizens’ group, which met on Wednesday evening, discussed what to do about Dey and what it’s calling a homophobic presentation, as well as the Norwich Township council’s inaction during the presentation.
The Criminal Code defines hate speech as “statements, other than in private conversation” that “wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group,” as well as “communicating statements in any public place” that “incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.”
Dey ignored rules, clerk says
When Dey asked to present his thoughts about Pride flags to township council, officials sought legal advice about whether to let him speak, said Ken Kruger, Norwich’s clerk and chief administrative officer.
It’s the first time officials have sought legal advice before having someone speak to councillors, Kruger said.
“Based on that legal advice, he was allowed to speak,” Kruger said, but with some limits: only about Pride banners in township spaces and not about the legal charges he’s facing.
Dey was also told not to speak “disrespectfully to any person or in a manner that would be considered hateful,” Kruger added.
Dey went considerably over the 10-minute time limit usually given for delegate speakers. In the eight years he’s been city clerk, no one presenting to council has had their time cut short even if it was over the 10-minute limit, Kruger said.
The Norwich Township integrity commissioner, Greg Stewart, said he had no comment about whether or not he has received complaints about Dey or any council members.
Mayor Larry Martin didn’t immediately return CBC’s calls for comment.
Coun. Lynne DePlancke, who was at the Tuesday meeting, said she regrets no one stopped Dey after 10 minutes.
“He started out not hateful or judgmental, but as it went on, it did get very hateful toward people,” she said. “As a council, that’s an error on our part. He should have been cut off.”
DePlancke is also a member of the Norwich business improvement association (BIA), which voted to put up the Pride flags in town.
Coun. John Scholten said he wouldn’t call what Dey said “hateful,” but rather a “strong disagreement” with those in favour of Pride flags.
“The feelings are strong, that’s for sure. They’re very strong. I just wish everyone would simmer down,” said Scholten.
Complaints against police board member
The Norwich Police Services Board has received five complaints against Gerrit Tenhove, a provincial appointee to the police board, after he spoke to the Norwich business improvement association about his disappointment that the BIA put up Pride flags in the community.
“As a Christian church community, we hold to the authority of the Bible. With regards to gender and sexuality, the Bible is very clear. God created man and woman … in terms of sexuality, all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful,” Tenhove said in his June 7 presentation.
The Norwich police services board meets June 24 to deal with those complaints.