Leadercast in Nanaimo: What happened

leadercastBy Frank Moher

The Leadercast controversy is a classic schmozzle, marked by confusion and misinformation on both sides, but now that Nanaimo City Council has rescinded its motion to ban hate events from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, we can say two things for certain: the bullies have won, and The Nanaimo Daily News has once again been a force for division in the community.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of people express confusion about this issue, and in particular how it came to involve a portion of Nanaimo’s Christians. I also found myself tempted to mouth off further about it without having looked into it fully, and so now I have — looked into it, that is. I’ve watched all the videos, read the points-of-view on various sides, and checked into what Leadercast is really all about. Here’s what I can tell those of you still confused.

Councillor Fred Pattje’s motion had nothing to do with Christianity. It had to do with ensuring the conference centre isn’t used by hate groups. In the ensuing discussion, Councillor Jim Kipp, not the most articulate of council members, managed to bring Christians into it — specifically, “strong Christians,” by which he seemed to mean religious extremists.

That led the Nanaimo Evangelical Fellowship to somehow decide the motion meant Christians wouldn’t be allowed to use city facilities. They were encouraged in this woolly thinking by MP James Lunney, an evangelical Christian also, who told the Central Vancouver Island Leadership Prayer Breakfast 11 days later that the motion could be applied to Good Friday community services at Beban Park.

In turn, a delegation of evangelical Christians turned up at the June 16th council meeting to object to being made into civic pariahs, even though they hadn’t been, and to request an apology. I don’t include them among the bullies who’ve prevailed in this controversy; they were just confused. Bully status is reserved for the likes of Ezra Levant, who, on the June 24th edition of his Sun News Network show The Source, titled with typical blowhardiness “The Shame of Nanaimo,” railed against the “bigots” on Nanaimo city council. Levant was just doing what he does — lying, exaggerating, and trying to beef up the Sun Network’s lousy ratings, but the program and a subsequent National Post story did allow Lunney and others to claim the matter was now damaging Nanaimo nationally. “Just recind [sic] the motion!”, Lunney tweeted. (Meanwhile, for more on the sideshow that is Ezra Levant, see this search page from the online magazine I edit and publish, backofthebook.ca.)

Bully status is also reserved for Dan Cathy, CEO of the American fast food chain Chick-fil-A, which was, until recently at least, Leadercast’s major sponsor. Much has been made of Cathy’s right to speak his mind on gay marriage, which he’s against, and of course that’s correct: He’s free to say what he wants about whatever. But Cathy and his company went well beyond just free speech by giving millions to organizations opposing gay rights, including ones that seek to limit the civil rights of gay people. When a company does that, it has become a vehicle for oppression.

Now, Cathy has since said he probably shouldn’t have spoken publicly about gay marriage, though for business reasons, not for reasons of, say, equality under the law. In other words, he’s abridging his own free speech (though thankyou for caring). And, singed by the response to his comments, Chick-fil-A withdrew its support for the most extreme of the anti-LGBT groups it was funding. It’s also unclear what relationship, if any, it still has to Leadercast, whose vacuous website, full of bromides about “living out our purpose,” no longer contains any information about its sponsors (though as recently as April of last year, its URL was still chick-fil-aleadercast.com).

It’s also not clear whether councillors, when they made their decision, were aware of the changes that have gone down at Chick-fil-A or Leadercast in the last year. It appears they were operating on circa-2013 information, which illustrates the rushed way in which the motion was introduced and passed, for which they are certainly criticizable. But the motion itself remains correct: publicly-funded facilities should not be used by hate groups or ones seeking to restrict the civil rights of portions of the public, whether on religious grounds or otherwise. Is this really a subject for debate?

I don’t blame council for rescinding the motion, which I expect they did on the advice of lawyers. If the Canadian Charter of Rights provides for the use of public facilities by hate groups, then there’s a big problem with the Canadian Charter of Rights, but it’s not one a small city can afford to fix. Who I do blame is the Nanaimo Daily News, for once again wanting to bring this banal and hucksterish thing called Leadercast, with its sketchy history, to Nanaimo.

The News, of course, is notorious for printing a racist letter about First Nations last year (and then following up with the defense, “Hey, we didn’t say it, he did!”). At the same time, they were planning to bring the 2013 edition of Leadercast to the city, but quietly dropped the idea. (They didn’t want to explain why.) But now here they are again, like a puppy that never learns, with the same bad idea, which they must have known would sow the same sort of discord in the community. But I guess when you’re finding it hard to sell papers, you have to do something to make money.

Now the Daily News reports that, having come to a legal settlement with the city for an undisclosed amount, and in an effort to ease tensions, it has offered to sponsor a recorded replay of the event at the VICC. Thanks, fellas; rubbing the nose of your opponents in your own puppy doo-doo always works well to heal rifts.

Council may have acted precipitately. Some local Christians may have acted out of confusion. But it’s the News that has acted, and continues to act, in ways that deeply damage the community it purports to serve.