Controversial all-candidates meeting cancelled in New Westminster

A controversial all-candidates meeting in New Westminster-Burnaby candidates has been cancelled after several candidates declined to attend and the venue pulled the plug on the rental.

Yesterday, NDP candidate Peter Julian raised concerns about an all-candidates meeting scheduled for tonight at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. His concern centred around the fact that it was being organized by Paul Dirks, lead pastor of New West Community Church in Sapperton, who was involved in a 2017 campaign against Bill C-16, which would add gender expression and gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in Canada.

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“Paul Dirks is well known for opposing the rights of transgender members of our community and opposing SOGI which is a framework that makes our schools more inclusive,” Julian said in a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “This is my sixth federal election campaign and the first time I've refused to attend an all-candidates meeting, and I believe it's important to communicate why. Knowing the history of the organizer, I refuse to provide a platform for hate.”

Julian said he stands with the LGBTQ2S+ community and encouraged his fellow candidates to stand up against hate and refuse to attend this meeting.

Liberal candidate Will Davis said he advised meeting organizers on Sept. 27 that he would not be attending the event.

“People are compelling us not to go – we weren’t planning on going to that,” he told the Record. “I echo what’s being said – this is not a healthy debate that’s being organized or promoted. We don’t agree with the premise of who is putting it on.”

By the time the Justice Institute informed Dirks the space wasn’t being made available for the event, Green candidate Suzanne de Montigny and Conservative Megan Veck had said they would no longer be attending, with only Hansen Ginn of the People’s Party of Canada and Neeraj Murarka of the Libertarian Party planning to attend.

Dirks told the Record he was tasked with inviting the candidates but wasn’t the event’s organizer. He said it was being sponsored by First Free Methodist Church, Five Stones Church, New Westminster United Reform Church, New West Community Church, RCCG – Grace Chapel and Word Christian Community Church.

“Six churches here in New Westminster were working together to sponsor an all-candidates meeting. JIBC has cancelled on us,” he said. “It looks like Peter Julian was the one that kind of made people aware of our meeting and targeted me personally in regard to that.”

Dirks said there was no particular focus for the meeting, which was intended to give the Christian community a chance to hear from the candidates so they could determine whose views align best with their own convictions.

“I don’t know,” he said of the topics to be covered. “I suspect there are people within the faith community that are very concerned women’s sex-based rights being protected. There are host of other issues as well that would have been raised.”

Dirks said he felt “tremendous disappointment” that people were unable to hear what candidates had to say on various issues.

“There is no room for shutting down conversation, important conversations,” he said.

Julian said he contacted the Justice Institute, as did others, about concerns it was providing space for an event being organized by Dirks, whom he said has been involved in organizing a number of meetings that are basically opposing any measures that reduce discrimination, reduce bullying to the LGBTQ community, to transgender people in the community.

“The issue of human rights is not something that can be toyed with,” he said. “His (Dirks) relentless attempt to try to block measures that reduce discrimination, reduce bullying, reduce the violence that the community experiences, I did not in any way feel comfortable about giving him a platform for his views. That is why I chose not to go, and also let people know through social media.”

Noting that nearly 40,000 people attended this year’s New West Pride street festival, Julian said it’s clear that people in New Westminster and Burnaby feel very strongly about human rights and equality for everybody – without exception. He said he attends a variety of churches, including evangelical churches, in the community and firmly believes in respecting faith.

“At the same time, there are principles and rights and community standards that are extremely important. In this community, we do not engage in hate against any group. When there are problems, when a group is facing discrimination, when it is facing bullying, we seek solutions,” he said. “I will continue to do that outreach – but it’s within the bounds of respecting all citizens and respecting their human rights. I think it’s an important stand to make.”

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