Tofino’s municipal council received its most heated delegation in recent memory last week that resulted in a hint of possible legal action against the mayor.
During a Jan. 21 regular council meeting council received a presentation from a coalition of local organizations requesting support to bring the Weeping Cedar Woman statue back to Tofino.
The statue was carved by Godfrey Stephens and became an iconic image of the 1984 Meares Island logging protest.
After the coalition’s presentation, local business owner Menno van Barneveld expressed concerns over the statue’s proposed location near Vista Park on Main Street because he believed it would have a negative effect on the park’s viewscape. At last week’s regular meeting, Van Barneveld spoke as a delegation against the statue and this time he expressed concern over the statue itself, not just its proposed location.
He also suggested the district had acted prematurely by advertising that it was accepting donations for the Weeping Cedar Woman’s acquisition at the district office.
He acknowledged the 1984 protest is an important part of Tofino’s history but suggested a more positive and less “in your face” option could commemorate the event.
He said he had lost a close friend several years ago and donated a locally made cedar park bench to the district to commemorate him.
“It has been a very rewarding experience for his family friends, locals and visitors, it’s simply been a great contribution to our community and tourism industry,” he said.
He suggested the district should consider fundraising for a bench or picnic table in Vista Park “dedicated to the people who stand up for ancient rainforest of Clayoquot Sound.”
He referenced the Weeping Cedar Woman coalition’s Jan. 21 presentation that suggested some Tofitians are unaware of the 1984 protest’s significance but suggested the statue is an inappropriate tool to increase education and awareness of sustainable practices. “The main message in our village, we believe, should not be anti logging activism. There needs to be a balance and there are alternative ways to educate the public and visitors,” he said.
Van Barneveld said British Columbians and Albertans are the two largest groups that visit his Main Street store and that BC’s forest industry is a key driver in the provincial economy. He wondered how families who make their living in the logging industry would react to the statue when visiting Tofino.
He said a Facebook page for the Weeping Cedar Woman connects to issues other than the 1984 protest like the Alberta Tar Sands and genetically modified foods.
“Quite often when an object or an event gets connected to the environment people tend to agree blindly without research or looking at the big picture,” he said. “The economic impact of an uninformed decision regarding bringing back Weeping Cedar Woman could be felt in our community for generations to come. It is not activism in Tofino but tourism in Tofino which greases the gears of our community.”
Van Barneveld’s presentation included screenshots of Facebook posts opposing the statue and said a community member had recently spoken to him about the conditions the 1984 protest brought to families that depend on the forestry industry.
He noted Mayor Josie Osborne had posted a comment on her Mayor of Tofino Facebook page that suggested the district was already working out how to collect donations for the statue’s purchase.
Osborne said this Facebook page does not necessarily represent the views of the district. “That Facebook page is my personal Facebook page and it is not the district of Tofino, it is me,” she said. “I want to clarify that what I write on my Facebook page is from me as a person who is the Mayor of Tofino.”
Van Barneveld pointed out Osborne has two Facebook pages, one of which identifies her as the Mayor of Tofino and he said posts made on her Mayor of Tofino Facebook page seem to him to be official announcements.
He said when he saw the Mayor’s post suggesting the district would be collecting donations for the statue’s return he felt like he was in a time warp. “How can the Mayor of Tofino announce this to the public while the Feb. 11 council meeting was still nine days away,” he asked. “Sure feels like decisions have been made already.”
He also mentioned a Facebook post by coalition member Eileen Floody thanking the district of Tofino for providing tax receipts and said this comment had been posted on Osborne’s non-Mayor account.
Van Barneveld accused Osborne of deleting Weeping Cedar Woman related posts and comments from her Facebook pages. “When the mayor deletes Facebook posts with comments from Tofitians she deletes the voices of the community,” he said.
Osborne vehemently denied deleting anything.
“I will just say once, and only once, I did not delete the post it is still there I’m looking at it on the page right now; that’s all,” she said with her iPad in hand.
Van Barneveld moved on to show a screenshot of a news release on the district of Tofino’s website that said the district office was accepting donations for the acquisition of the statue and was providing tax receipts. He said this release was deleted from the district’s webpage within a week.
“Mayor and councillors we have lost our trust in the district of Tofino’s democratic process,” he said.
District CAO Bob MacPherson said district staff had created and removed the release.
“Realizing it was coming to a council meeting in the future and also looking at some of the commentary that was out there we did take that off the page just to give us time to have the council debate here, so if there’s an issue with that, it’s not with council, it’s with me,” he said.
Van Barneveld suggested council should ask why staff had set up a donation campaign.
Osborne thanked van Barneveld for his presentation and for taking the time to present his perspective.
“You’ve certainly given me a lot of food for thought so I thank you for that,” she said. “I apologize for creating any confusion through my Facebook page.”
Several hours later, during the meeting’s public question period van Barneveld re-raised his belief that Osborne deleted posts from her Facebook page.
“My wife and myself are on the internet many hours every day and we know exactly how Facebook works and how you can hide or unhide posts,” he said. “If we do not receive a satisfactory response from the Mayor within a reasonable time we are conceivably planning to acquire legal assistance to obtain the history records from your Mayor of Tofino Facebook account to prove that you are conceivably not telling the truth during this official meeting.”
The statement received no response as the public portion of the meeting was adjourned.