British Columbia

Camper gets apology after B.C. Parks worker defends 'all lives matter' slogan

The B.C. Environment Ministry has apologized to a camper for how a member of park staff responded to a complaint about an "all lives matter" slogan scrawled across a road at Porteau Cove Provincial Park.

Park staffer defended message written on road in chalk, says woman who complained

The 'all lives matter' slogan was written chalk across the road at Porteau Cove Provincial Park, but it was an interaction about the message with park staff that led to a complaint from park guest Ayako Gallagher. ( Ayako Gallagher)

Ayako Gallagher, who lives in Richmond, B.C., makes a trip to Porteau Cove Provincial Park each year. Her trip in June was her fifth annual visit, and she's enjoyed camping in B.C. Parks her entire life.

But this year — in the context of global upheaval over racism targeting Black, Indigenous and people of colour and a renewed rise of the Black Lives Matter movement — Gallagher's camping trip was sullied by an experience she had with park staff, which has led to an apology from the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

It started when her husband noticed that someone, probably a child, had scrawled "all lives matter" across the road at the campground in large, irregular chalk letters.

There were other messages, like "be kind," "love," "peace" and "be nice," but the "all lives matter" slogan came as a jolt.

'A really loaded term'

"Writing or saying 'all lives matter' — especially right now in the current climate — is a really loaded term and I feel it really falls on the spectrum of racism, because it's accepting the status quo of the discrimination between races and how people live," said Gallagher.

"I don't think it's an appropriate statement to be in public, especially in a B.C. park," she said.

Rather than risking friction with her neighbouring campers by erasing the message herself, Gallagher went to tell a member of the park's operating staff about it.

Ayako Gallagher is pictured with her husband Paddy and son Takeo at Porteau Cove Provincial Park in June. (Ayako Gallagher)

But she said the reaction from the staff member took her aback. She said the park worker mounted a defence of the phrase, saying things like, "So you don't think all lives matter?" and "I can't believe this," with a roll of her eyes.

"Her bias really came out as I tried to explain that it can be seen as offensive to the Black Lives Matter movement," said Gallagher.

Gallagher was born in Canada, but her parents are British and Japanese immigrants and she identifies as a person of colour. She said throughout her life, the people she's seen camping at provincial parks reflect the diversity of B.C., but she's not so sure about park staff.

"I can't think that I've seen any employees other than white ones," she said, adding that the "surprising" and "disappointing" incident with the worker has left her concerned about discrimination in the park system.

'Racism has no place in our province'

Gallagher emailed a complaint about the incident to B.C. Parks, and on Tuesday she got a reply from a representative of the Environment Ministry, which oversees B.C. Parks. 

"I am sincerely sorry that your camping trip was marred by this interaction with staff, and I wanted to reach out to let you know that the exchange with staff does not represent the views of B.C. Parks or this government," said the reply.

"Black lives matter. B.C. Parks is committed to ensuring all visitors feel safe and welcome in our parks. Racism has no place in our province," it went on.

Porteau Cove Provincial Park is a popular campground near Vancouver on the shore of Howe Sound. (Ayako Gallagher)

"A slogan like 'all lives matter' that is meant to dismiss the important conversations right now about systemic racism can obviously make Black, Indigenous and people of colour feel unsafe," said the apology.

The ministry sent CBC News a brief statement saying that B.C. Parks takes the matter seriously and will be following up with the park operator.

Gallagher said she accepts the apology, which struck her as sincere, but she stressed that it lacked tangible steps that B.C. Parks is taking, either with the staff member in question, or generally to address racism and discrimination in parks.

"It's easy to say a lot of nice words that Black lives matter, but what are they actually doing about it?" she asked.

Gallagher was invited to follow up with the ministry, which she plans to do. She also plans to be back at Porteau Cove next year, even if there's the potential for an uncomfortable interaction with staff.


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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