When Xenophobia Wins an Election
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:
Sometimes, when I wonder “what would Jesus do?”, I remember that screaming and turning over the tables in disgust is a valid option.
Tonight is one of those nights.
As the results of the Ontario municipal elections are finalized across the province, I am left not only shaking my head but banging it against the wall.
This is the first municipal election since I was 18 years old that I did not cast a ballot in Toronto. This means I lived through the entire Rob Ford debacle: the crack smoking, the racism, the anti-immigrant comments, etc. But on some level, I got it. Although it made me vomit a little, I could understand how the idea of “Stopping the Gravy Train” (there isn’t one) and cutting taxes was appealing to cash-strapped Torontonians. Get the elitists out. Donald Trump took some lessons from Rob Ford. It was maddening, but I understood how it could happen.
But tonight, East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch-Stouffville elected a school board trustee who, well, just take a look…
Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey and Lena Singh were the two trustee candidates for the York Region District School Board in Whitchurch-Stouffville and East Gwillimbury. After a candidates meeting where Lena described being born in Guyana, messages from Elizabeth’s account started making their way through Facebook. The posts were both in public forums and in private messages to members of the community who were supporting Lena.
Now obviously, people were pretty outraged by the whole thing. I mean, somebody running for trustee in a school board that is already struggling with intercultural and racism issues saying such obviously xenophobic remarks is completely unacceptable.
When asked by a local reporter for comment, Elizabeth said, “Reporting on Facebook drama is not important to me. You should report on something important.”
She also wrote Lena a “sorry not sorry” email:
“Hi Lena, Sorry if you took my comments the wrong way, I just didn’t know if you knew that you have to be a Canadian Citizen as a qualification to become an elected trustee. You can clarify your candidacy with the town and supply them your original papers to verify that you qualify to be a candidate. [emphasis mine] In your speech you only talked about your experiences being born and raised in Guyana. I was just wondering more about you and how you came to be living in Canada and that transparency to the voters is a good thing. I apologize that people are taking my comments the wrong way and I really didn’t mean anything by it, I was just informing people as to where you said you were born. People have a right to know where their candidate is born.”
A reasonable person would assume Lena’s eligibility (like any candidate’s eligibility) would have been verified when she filed her candidacy papers. For Elizabeth to imply that it was Lena’s responsibility to clear up anything resulting from her comments was completely outrageous.
When Simon Martin, the reporter for YorkRegion.com, asked her why she was apologizing, Elizabeth responded “I was trying to be the better person. Now she’s a victim of racism, so she’s doing great.”
Some other gems:
(some of Elizabeth’s responses are missing because she blocked me on Facebook).
[Side note: Please take a moment to compare CVs of Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey and Lena Singh, making your own judgement about who was more prepared to represent students at the school board based on demonstrated skills and experience.]
And yet, after the votes were counted, guess who won:
Is it actually possible that 2625 people in East Gwillimbury don’t care that the person representing them at the school board says and thinks such horrifying things? Is it apathy? Is it that some people haven’t really looked at either platform and just picked the most “Canadian” sounding name (whatever that means)?
Or is it possible that the majority of the people who voted for trustee actually align with Elizabeth Tracey-Terrell’s views and just don’t articulate them publically? The responses on social media resulting from Elizabeth’s comments overwhelmingly condemned the nativist tone. So who are these 2625 people who cast a ballot marked with Elizabeth’s name?
There are many who believe that there is no place for religion in politics and vice versa. But from a Christian perspective, the crucifixion was a political act. There may be no room for partisanship, but the faith I practice is a political faith with much to say about nativism, racism, sexism, imperialism and so many other “isms”.
Because of my role within the East Gwillimbury community, I did not endorse any of the candidates. I didn’t put out any lawn signs. I didn’t do any campaigning.
But I have no problem saying that this…this is unacceptable. I am disappointed in a lot of people tonight.
Disappointed and angry.
I also have two children within the York Region public school system, and I am appalled that their educational interests and the educational interests of their friends (many of whom were not born in Canada) have been entrusted to somebody capable of making such anti-immigrant statements in a public forum.
Once more for the folks in the back:
What happened tonight is wrong…
…and we are called to name it.
Name it, and then figure out what to do about it.