City moves forward with Cardus negotiations, despite concerns from some LGBTQ residents

Hamilton city council is moving ahead with talks that would see a Christian-based think tank lease historic Balfour House — despite hearing concerns from LGBTQ residents about the agency's views on some equity issues. 

A 'handful of activists' are casting 'unfounded aspersions,' says the faith-based think tank

Hamilton city council is set to ratify tonight a decision to let Cardus restore and lease Balfour House. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Hamilton city council is moving ahead with talks that would see a Christian-based think tank lease historic Balfour House — despite concerns from LGBTQ residents about the agency's views on some equity issues. 

City council voted 13-2 to continue talks with Cardus, a Hamilton-based research facility that wants to lease the 1836 stone mansion on the Mountain brow. The Ontario Heritage Trust owns the mansion, but the city is the caretaker, and will enter three months of talks with Cardus and exclude other interested parties.

The mansion is empty now and needs more than a million dollars in repairs, which Cardus has pledged to do. Cardus says it's already been talking to city staff for months.

Some of Cardus's past reports gave council pause though. Brad Clark, Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek) councillor, said he saw some problematic material on the Cardus website, but the reports were varied. 

"There is little doubt in my mind that some of Cardus's publications could be interpreted by many as homophobic, Islamophobic and transphobic," he said. "However, there was also many other publications that demonstrated acceptance of Canada's pluralistic, multicultural and religious diverse society."

Like others, Clark said discriminating against the Christian agency could be a human rights violation, and leave the city vulnerable to a lawsuit. And it would mean walking away from an arrangement, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, that makes economic sense.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12, Ancaster) said Balfour House has been vacant for years.

Cardus has "a very well respected, proven track record," Ferguson said. And "I am actually encouraged they're a faith group. That makes me feel comfortable."

The opposite of inclusive

Not everyone is comfortable with Cardus. 

"Some of the content that I have seen is homophobic, misogynist, racist and climate change denying," said resident Robert Brosius in a letter to council. "As one of your constituents, I urge you to vote AGAINST this proposal, and AGAINST dealing with Cardus."

Ruth Cameron said the city should reconsider negotiations in light of recent discussions about hate in Hamilton. The city and police, for example, were roundly criticized in how they handled violence at a June Pride festival, and there have been weekly yellow vest protests in front of city hall.

The Cardus negotiations "are in direct opposition to your purported values of inclusiveness and the declaration that Hamilton is a city for all," Cameron said.

In a statement, Cardus president Michael Van Pelt said the agency is equitable and inclusive. 

"Cardus is an open and tolerant organization with a 20-year record of dialogue on numerous public policy files – including poverty reduction, social isolation, and labour rights – with leading Canadian institutions in government, academia, and the media," he said.

'Unfounded aspersions'

"In the last week, a handful of activists have cast unfounded aspersions against Cardus based on a misunderstanding of what we're about as an organization. Certain comments are disrespectful and contemptuous, and not worthy of a public response."

The agency says it also has the support of David Balfour. He's the grandson of Ethel Southam Balfour and St. Clair Balfour, who lived in the house through the first half of the 20th century.

"Cardus has created the type of plan all of us who've lived in or visited Chedoke have longed to see," Balfour said in a Cardus media release. "I urge the city to move quickly on reaching an agreement with Cardus. They have a vision for restoring this beautiful home to its former glory so that this piece of Hamilton history is not lost."

Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 (central lower city) councillor, voted against moving ahead. Maureen Wilson, Ward 1 (west end) councillor, did too.

"I've gotten a lot of calls and emails from residents — not just from the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but other folks from other marginalized groups — who feel troubled by the content on Cardus's website," Nann said.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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