British Columbia

Councillors in Castlegar, B.C., condemn controversial comments made at public meeting, offer apology

City councillors and the mayor are apologizing for not speaking out last week during a public meeting where a resident made controversial comments about the city's pride crosswalk and homeless community.

'We need to do more to welcome and embrace the different segments of our community,' says councillor

Former Castlegar city councillor Deb McIntosh snapped this photo of her daughter Natalie walking across the pride crosswalk in the West Kootenay city. (Photo by Deb McIntosh)

Two city councillors and the mayor of Castlegar have condemned controversial comments made during a question period at last week's televised council meeting. 

During question period, resident Richard Switzer voiced concerns about the $15,000 price tag for work on the city's pride crosswalk. However, it was his other comments about the LGBT and homeless communities that sparked a backlash.

Switzer told council in the West Kootenay city that he did not think they should repaint the pride crosswalk, because "we don't need it" and "they [the LGBT community] don't deserve it." He also said the Christian community doesn't support the pride crosswalk.

Switzer later added that he thinks the city should stop funding homeless programs. 

"Quit enabling them to keep sucking the system dry. They're doing that," he said.

Since the meeting, Coun. Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff has said she is sorry no one on council interjected when Switzer made his comments.

Apologies from council

"That was the first time that I've actually heard remarks like that," said Heaton-Sherstobitoff. 

"I was getting upset inside, but at council there's certain protocols you follow and any of your questions [go] through the mayor. So, I was hoping somebody at the front would say something and no one did."

After the meeting, Heaton-Sherstobitoff was having trouble sleeping, she told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

"I have many, many, many friends that are in the LGBTQ community and I just thought, you know I should have [done] better for them."

This prompted her to write an apology on Facebook and a letter in a local paper. She has also sent a note to the mayor and council saying she would like to apologize at the next council meeting on Monday, April 15.

"People are outraged," she said. "As soon as I wrote my apology, many people commented and said that they thought Castlegar was a safe haven, that we're an inclusive community … it's true that we need to do more to welcome and embrace the different segments of our community."

Mayor Bruno Tassone said he does not condone Switzer's comments and said he may also address them at the next council meeting.

"As mayor, I think maybe I should make an apology, which I might do as well," Tassone said.

"Hopefully I can resolve these issues so we don't have them again."

'Elected to lead,' says councillor

Coun. Florio Vassilakakis shared Heaton-Sherstobitoff's Facebook post and also apologized.

"We're elected to lead and we're elected to create a community that is inclusive of all people and to support those groups that are marginalized," said Vassilakakis. "I regret not having stood up for what I believe was right." 

"This exact moment proves to us why we actually do need that crosswalk, why we need to support the LGBTQ [community] and support diversity in our community," said Vassilakakis.

Resident stands by what he said

In a follow-up phone interview with CBC, Switzer made it clear that despite backlash, he stands by his comments. 

"The taxpayers cannot afford patronizing or pandering to minority groups, whatever stripe they are, even if it's not homosexual, even if it's homelessness or substance abuse … People don't have a right to collect off the system and mooch off it like we have here," said Switzer.

Changes to question period

Tassone, Vassilakakis and Heaton-Sherstobitoff would like to see changes made to the question period in council.

The mayor said he has been in contact with staff to look at writing a policy that will be read out before each question period to keep the time focused on questions. 

A city councillor in Castlegar posted an apology on Facebook and wrote a letter of apology in the local paper after a resident made controversial comments against the pride crosswalk and the homeless community. 7:24

With files from Daybreak South