More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling for the suspension of a Victoria city councillor, following his comments about the demonstrations in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
Coun. Ben Isitt attended the tense demonstration at the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 11 where supporters of the Wet’suwet’en, who are fighting a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C., blocked MLAs and other staff from accessing the building. Isitt attended as a citizen.
Victoria police later said several people had accused the demonstrators of assault, prompting Isitt to chastise the department and the media.
“This allegation is hogwash designed to discredit Indigenous youth and their supporters,” he said in a tweet. “VicPD’s mandate is to ensure public safety, not spread fake news.” In a subsequent blog post, he also said, “The corporate media is frantically spinning the non-violent blockade of the legislature as some kind of ‘violent protest.’”
His remarks drew pushback not only from the public but from Premier John Horgan, who said his thoughts on Isitt “are not printable.”
Now, an online petition, founded by local real estate agent David S. Piercy, calls for Isitt to be suspended for attending the “unlawful assembly” with another councillor “in which government staff were injured.”
The protest was not unlawful; Canadian residents have a right to protest peacefully. Additionally, Helps told Black Press Media that councillors are allowed to participate in protests at their choosing and present their own views.
She also noted councillors cannot be suspended, even with a petition. She declined to comment on Isitt’s actions.
Piercy has recently criticized Isitt, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and other councillors on Twitter for not stopping demonstrators from blocking roads and other public areas.
Planned Monday morning trip to @vicpdcanada to file a complaint against Victoria Mayor @lisahelps and Councillors @ben_isitt @SarahPottsH @JeremyLoveday for supporting disruption of the function of the City by allowing protesters to block major City roads/bridges! #policebudget— SPiercy (@spiercy) February 9, 2020
As for Isitt himself, he said the petition is unfounded.
“While I welcome input from the public, this particular petition does not provide a reliable barometer of public opinion. Many of the signatories live outside the province and country,” he said in an email.
“There is also no legal basis from removing me from public office, since I am in compliance with all provincial legislation relating to the conduct of municipal councillors. The petition appears to be motivated by opposition to my political ideas, rather than actual infractions of provincial law.”
Despite often drawing fire for his opinions, Isitt was elected in 2018 with more votes than any other council or mayoral candidate.