Kitchener-Waterloo

Councillor questions Wilmot mayor apology after sharing 'White Lives Matter' video

Jennifer Pfenning, who is the Ward 4 councillor for Wilmot Township, says Mayor Les Armstrong should apologize for sharing a Facebook video with a banner that said "White Lives Matter."

Mayor took post down following pressure from councillors Monday

Wilmot Township council is comprised of five councillors, including Jennifer Pfenning (back, second from right) and Mayor Les Armstrong (front, centre). (Township of Wilmot)

The mayor of Wilmot Township faced criticism from township councillors during a virtual council meeting Monday night after he shared a video on Facebook framed by the banner "White Lives Matter."

The video was originally posted by a Facebook group called Conservative Nation, as was first reported by Kitchener Today. In his caption, Mayor Les Armstrong wrote: "Another view. Interesting."

During the meeting, Ward 4 councillor Jennifer Pfenning asked Armstrong to remove the video, saying his post did not display the compassion and empathy she'd come to expect from him.

"We're all free to post what we like and think what we wish … at the same time we must be responsible for the impact of our actions and words," said Pfenning during the virtual meeting.

"I ask you tonight to acknowledge the hurt it has caused, even if it wasn't intended, and I don't believe it was intended. But please acknowledge it and remove the post."

Following Pfenning's statement, the township's other councillors weighed in about the need to fight racism locally, prompted by both the Facebook video and by an earlier incident in which red paint was thrown on a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Baden, which is located within the township.

Macdonald has been criticised for his racist policies and his role in setting up Canada's residential school system.  

In response, Armstrong said his post had been misinterpreted. He said that he did not believe the comments made in the Facebook video, but simply found them "interesting," as he had stated in his caption.

"We do need to erase racism, we do need to get to the point on this planet where we understand that there is one race — the human race," Armstrong told council during the meeting.

"If my share caused people to have a conversation, that's good," he said, adding that some people may take the video out of context.

'He needs to clarify'

Jennifer Pfenning is Ward 4 councillor in Wilmot Township. (Submitted by Jennifer Pfenning)

After further questioning by Pfenning, Armstrong said he would take his post down.

CBC News has reached out to Armstrong for further comment but has not yet heard back.

During an interview Tuesday morning, Pfenning told CBC News she's been inundated with calls and messages from people in Wilmot Township.

"There's a lot of people who view his remarks as an apology — there are a lot of people who are very angry and don't see it at all as an apology," said Pfenning.

"If he meant it as an apology, then that's something he needs to clarify for himself."

Higher standard for elected officials

Pfenning said based on their conversation, she doesn't think Armstrong intended to hurt others, but she also doesn't think he believes it was wrong to have shared the post. 

If residents are still unsatisfied with Armstrong's behaviour, the appropriate channel to lodge a complaint is the township's integrity commissioner.

Leah Vusich, who lives in Wilmot Township, said the situation doesn't demonstrate good judgment on the part of an elected official. She said everyone needs to be cautious about the content they share online, and public figures are held to an even higher standard.

"As a leader, you need to be respectful of the people in your community that you're serving, and that you are representing the values of your community, Vusich told CBC News. 

"Whether it's your personal Facebook page or not, you're a public figure."

Although the original Facebook post has been taken down, Pfenning said she thinks the local conversation around racism has only just begun.

"I think we need to talk about why these attitudes exist, why there's blindness to the privilege that allows one person to post something and not take responsibility for it and someone else can face severe consequences for something less impactful," said Pfenning.

"Inequality does exist in our community … now we need to move forward and make it better."

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