Sudbury chamber allows candidate charged with hate speech to debate despite protest

Sudbury mayor Brian Bigger, who is seeking reelection, is calling to have another candidate excluded from attending and participating in an upcoming debate, because of hate speech.

David Popescu, who has been charged with hate crimes and assault, says he's speaking God's word

Brian Bigger, left, is calling to exclude David Popescu, right, from upcoming debates. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Sudbury's mayor wants another mayoral candidate who has been convicted and charged with hate crimes to be excluded from attending and participating in an upcoming debate.

Brian Bigger is seeking re-election.

He's is asking other mayoral candidates to agree as a group to ban David Popescu from taking part in the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce debate.

Popescu, a perennial election candidate, was convicted of hate speech for comments made during a debate in the 2008 after he suggested homosexuals should be killed. In 2003, he was convicted of assault against his mother.

"The days of giving this man any opportunity to disparage those who speak other languages, to spew his hate and to pose as a distraction to all involved including the candidates, organizers and the media," Brian Bigger said.

"Anyone who calls for the extermination of homosexuals and runs in elections time and time again to promote hatred in the name of religion needs to be shown the door and not given a microphone."

'God's word'

Popescu reiterated in an interview with CBC news on Monday that he believes the Bible justifies the extermination of homosexuals.

After being convicted in 2003 and 2008, he was charged in 2015 for "advocating and promoting genocide and the wilful promotion of hatred" before those charges were withdrawn by the Crown.

Popescu admits he hasn't run in nearly every election over the past 20 years with the goal of winning votes, and that he's not concerned about freedom of speech.

"I know we're supposed to have freedom of speech, but my main concern is what God's word says. I don't care what courts may digress to in taking away freedom of speech; I'm going to speak what God's word says," says Popescu.

Popescu adds he simply wouldn't show up if he were banned from attending a specific debate.

He says he believes Bigger isn't pleased with Popescu's dissent regarding the city's plan to develop a site on the Kingsway that includes a privately built casino.

'Slippery slope' for democracy

Michael Macnamara, the chair of the board of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that Popescu will be allowed to participate in this Wednesday's debate.

"This is an all-candidates debate, and it's not for the chamber to say certain points of view cannot be expressed, certain people cannot participate. I think it's a slippery slope when you go down that road for democracy," said Macnamara, who will be moderating the event.

Michael Macnamara is chair of the board for the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. (Supplied)

Macnamara noted, however, that there were internal discussions at the Chamber about whether or not to invite Popescu.

"[Popescu is] someone we'll be watching closely, as with the other candidates," explained Macnamara.

"The last thing we would like to be is a forum to further a message of hate or intolerance. We've had Mr. Popescu attend in the past, and he's been quite good. There's a line there, and we're going to ensure he does not cross it."

Macnamara added that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the country's criminal code govern hate speech, and that any comments that might be classified as such at the debate "won't be tolerated."

With files from Benjamin Aubé