An Ontario city councillor facing lawsuits and reprimands remains steadfast in his demand that two Conservative MPs denounce white supremacy and hateful rhetoric.
Barrie, Ont. Coun. Keenan Aylwin posted to his Facebook page March 21 — the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and shortly after the mosque terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand — “there are people in positions of power that are using racist and white supremacist rhetoric for political gain across the world and right here in Canada.”
He wrote that two local Conservative MPs, Alex Nuttall and John Brassard, need to publicly declare white nationalist “Faith Goldy, anti-immigration groups and all white supremacist and hateful rhetoric” are wrong, apologize for “the harm they caused by not doing so” and committ to supporting racialized and marginalized communities.
“They are playing footsies with white supremacists who have inspired violence,” Aylwin wrote.
After the post was made, Brassard complained to Barrie’s integrity commissioner, and he and Nuttall filed almost identical defamation lawsuits against Aylwin, stating he “intended to mean” they are racist, support white supremecists, and that their behaviour will inspire violence, all allegations they deny. Brassard and Nuttall both used to be Barrie city councillors.
They are each claiming $100,000 in damages.
Barrie integrity commissioner Susanne Craig wrote in a recent report that Aylwin needs to be reprimanded for “baselessly” suggesting the MP caused harm, is associating with white surpremacists, and is a white supremicst sympathizer. His post violates council’s code of conduct, she said.
“In no way am I saying that a member of council does not have the right to free speech. It is just not unlimited,” Craig said at a council meeting earlier this week.
In a statement, Brassard commended “the seriousness with which she dealt with this matter” and described Aylwin’s actions as “reprehensible and irresponsible.”
Council voted in support of Craig’s findings and will publicly denounce Aylwin’s post and demand he take it down following a final vote next week.
Also in the Facebook post, Aylwin alleged Nuttall is Facebook friends with Goldy, and that Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer “appeared on the same stage” as Goldy at the United We Roll rally in Ottawa in February.
It is untrue that Scheer literally shared a stage with Goldy, although they both spoke at the rally. While the Conservative leader was invited to speak on the main stage set up on the grounds of Parliament Hill, Goldy spoke to protesters from a scissor-lift parked on the street.
Aylwin later wrote in a letter to the integrity commissioner that he based this assertion on media reports, and that it is also a common expression.
“I made the post in March to invite the public and elected officials into a public dialogue around these difficult issues,” Aywlin said at the council meeting. “But let me be clear, I did not say and I do not believe our local MPs are white supremicists, racist or white supremicist sympathizers or supporters. I do not believe the leader of the Opposition is any of those things.”
The integrity commissioner’s report “completely misinterprets the post and gives it exaggerated meanings that it could not possibly bear as a matter of law,” he said.
Silencing political speech
Now, Aylwin is considering legal action against council for silencing political speech, his lawyer, Philip Tunley, wrote in a letter to Barrie’s mayor and councillors. He said the integrity commissioner unwisely weighed in on a “highly political debate” that may leave her report open to “allegations of political partisanship.”
This spring, in the House of Commons, Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have gone head-to-head about the issue of white supremacy and racism, with Trudeau calling on him to denounce it. Scheer was criticized for speaking at the United We Roll rally, organized by far-right movement Yellow Vest Canada, and then for issuing a statement in response to the New Zealand attack, without mentioning it occurred in a mosque and against Muslims gathered there for prayers.
Scheer accused Trudeau of using “typical Liberal smear tactics” to shift attention away from the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Watch: The SNC-Lavalin affair timeline. Story continues below.
On Tuesday, Scheer denounced racism explicitly, something he’s been pressed to do for months.
“I’d like to make something crystal clear,” he said in a speech about diversity and immigration. “There is absolutely no room in a peaceful and free country like Canada for intolerance, racism, and extremism of any kind. I find the notion that one’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation would make them in any way superior to anybody else absolutely repugnant.
“And if there’s anyone who disagrees with that, there’s the door. You are not welcome here.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the defamation lawsuits and complaint made to the integrity commissioner were filed two months after the Facebook post in March. They were actually filed in the days following.