Declarations are dead in Tofino. Council killed them to avoid any semblance of discrimination.
Tofino has traditionally weighed proclamation requests—like Missing Children’s Day and National Volunteer Week—on a case by case basis, but their staff raised a red flag last week suggesting that approach could open the district up to potential lawsuits from those it turns down.
Manager of Corporate Services Elyse Goatcher-Bergmann submitted a report to council on Feb. 21 suggesting that a court case from 2000, in which the City of Kelowna was found to have discriminated against the Okanagan Rainbow Coalition by refusing to issue the coalition’s proclamation as worded.
Kelowna had proclaimed Lesbian and Gay Day rather than Lesbian and Gay Pride Day as the ORC had requested.
“The effect of the order was that the Mayor was required to treat requests for proclamations from the Coalition in the same way he treated requests from all other groups,” Goatcher-Bergmann wrote.
She added Tofino’s staff consulted with other local governments in B.C. And reached the conclusion that council can either accept all proclamation requests, or none at all.
“Moreover, the ruling highlights that proclamations are not viewed as an endorsement of any particular event or organization, as evidenced by the City of Victoria’s proclamation of International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30, 2016,” she wrote.
“Case law and general practice dictates that the issuance of proclamations and declarations is an all or nothing policy, notwithstanding the administrative constraints surrounding the application process.”
Blanchette opposed the motion suggesting some causes are worthy of support.
“There are some frivolous motions but there are some motions that speak to a larger cause that we want to be able to support,” he said citing a potential Pride Day as an example. “I think Tofino declaring a Pride Day would be good for this community and I wouldn’t want to close the door on that.”
He suggested council set strict administrative criteria for any organizations asking for a declaration or proclamation to meet, like having a representative pitch the initiative to council in person.
“I would add to that something along the lines of decency and the scope of an organization so that we don’t get the ‘Three Jokers League’ proposing the ‘Naked Surf Day’ declaration, or something like that,” he said. “I think we can close those doors, but still leave it open for meaningful declarations.”
Goatcher-Bergmann explained council could consider administrative conditions like requiring an in-person presentation to council, but a proclamation would be mandatory if those conditions were met.
“You cannot limit any kind of decency or types of declarations that you would like to endorse,” she said. “Once someone has met that format, you must then provide the service they are asking for.”
Mayor Josie Osborne supported the move and said there are more effective ways for council to support initiatives, like attending events.
“I’m comfortable that there are ways of demonstrating support for what people want to see mayor and council supporting,” she said.
“I’m willing to make that leap to not risk that something that I, and we, maybe disagree with, but have no choice but to support it because they meet the administrative requirements when a request is made.”
Coun. Cathy Thicke agreed and added Tofino’s staff is busy enough without having to focus on proclamation criteria.
“We’ve got some big issues underway,” she said. “To put this back and create administrative criteria is not in our best interests.”
Council approved nixing proclamations with Blanchette the only vote in opposition.