New Westminster city council adjourned Monday night’s council meeting early after a delegate refused to stop speaking.
The man (the Record is working to confirm his name) expressed concern about comments made at the Jan. 8 meeting, when council voted on a motion about calling for a cease fire in Gaza. He singled out comments made by Coun. Daniel Fontaine at that meeting.
“This is a life-or-death issue for people in my community, who live here in New West,” he told council Monday night. “Words have consequences. They lead to hate crimes. I am responding to that. I am not responding to it in a hostile manner.”
Mayor Patrick Johnstone stopped the speaker several times – telling him to be careful about casting criticism on council members and advising him to speak to the issues – not individuals.
When allowed to resume speaking, the man said some of the things that had been said in council chambers at the Jan. 8 meeting had been debunked as untruths. He said six-year-old Wadee Alfayoumi died after being stabbed 26 times and his mother was stabbed repeatedly because they were Muslim.
During the man’s delegation, Fontaine called several points of order – something done when someone says something that goes against the conduct of discussion permitted in council chambers.
“There is an item about islamophobia on the agenda,” the man told council. “I am responding to Islamophobia right now. I spent a day preparing my speech, and now you are telling me that I have to mince my words and I have to dance around my words.”
The Feb. 5 council agenda included a proclamation declaring Jan. 29 as the Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.
After several reminders from Johnstone about acceptable language in council chambers and several calls of points of order from Fontaine, Coun. Ruby Campbell requested that the man submit his presentation in writing to council and that council move on to hear from the next delegation.
When the man refused to leave the desk where delegates sit, Johnstone said council would leave the chamber and return when it was able to move on to the next delegation.
After leaving council chamber at 7:37 p.m., council returned at 8:30 p.m. The man, along with a companion, had remained at the table during council’s absence.
Upon council’s return, Johnstone asked: “Are you willing to allow the meeting to proceed and allow other delegates to come up and provide delegation at this time?”
No, he replied.
“We are not in a practice in this city of having people forcibly removed from chambers, and I don’t think it’s a practice we should begin today,” Johnstone said. “The only option I think that is available to council right now is that we just adjourn the meeting.”
When delegation period began at 7 p.m., Johnstone said 10 people had signed up to speak. The man was the second speaker of the evening, coming after a delegation from the New Westminster Minor Ball Hockey Association.
In December, Coun. Nadine Nakagawa presented council with a notice of a motion in support of a cease fire in Gaza. Emotions flared at that meeting, and police were called to council chamber as a precaution.
At its Jan. 8 meeting, council discussed Nakagawa’s motion to have the city write to the prime minister urging the Canadian government to call for a cease fire, to support restricted access to humanitarian aid and to secure the release of all hostages. She proposed an amendment to her original motion, which called on the Canadian government stop all arms shipments, sales and training to Israel in compliance with Canadian law.
In delegation period, one person spoke against the motion and one person spoke in support of the motion, with several other delegations expressing support for Palestine after signing up to speak on other topics.
When it came time to vote on the motion and the amendment, council supported them in a 4-0 vote. Johnstone was on vacation and did not vote on the motion.
Fontaine and fellow New West Progressive councillor Minhas left council chambers before council voted on the motion, saying the city should be focusing on the city’s core responsibilities, not international conflicts.
Before leaving council chamber Fontaine said “things were by no means perfect” in the Middle East on Oct. 6, but there was “relative peace” in the region.
“But tragically on the seventh of October, the Hamas terrorist group chose to kill, they chose to rape, behead and kidnap over 1,200 Israelis and citizens of multiple other nations, including Canada,” he said. “By all accounts, it was a horrific and terrifying event for the citizens of Israel. And no doubt, if something similar happened in Canada, we would all as a nation forevermore be impacted.”
Fontaine went on to say that what he’d witnessed in the weeks that followed had been “equally horrific.”
“Missiles flying across the Israel/Gaza border, and thousands of innocent Palestinians have been killed, hospitals and schools collapsing as a result of missile strikes,” he said. “My heart goes out to both the people of Israel and the innocent Palestinians who had been collateral damage in a war that Hamas leadership triggered on Oct. 7.”
Fontaine expressed concern at the January meeting that the Gaza motion would have no impact on the conflict in the Middle East, but it would only serve to unnecessarily divide the community.