Address to the York Region District School Board Standing Committee
Public Forum – November 20, 2018. 7:00pm
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Thank you for creating this opportunity for us to address all of you this evening.
My name is Bri-anne Swan, and I lead the Living Presence Ministry which is a Community Ministry of the United Church of Canada in East Gwillimbury. I am speaking tonight on behalf of myself and my ministry, but not the United Church as a whole.
I work primarily with new residents to the area functioning much like a Chaplain—I have been placed to make sure everybody, regardless of faith affiliation, socio-economic status, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other marker which has traditionally been used to divide has what they need to live healthy, meaningful, spirit-filled lives.
I am joined by Rev. Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, ordained clergy with the Mennonite Church Canada, a resident of Stouffville, and Associate Dean at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto
We are here to share with you our grave concerns about Trustee-Elect Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey.
I know that you know about the xenophobic comments made by Ms. Terrell-Tracey against her opponent, Lena Singh, during the election campaign.
I know that you know she suggested Ms. Singh go to our Town offices and present her citizenship papers in order to clear up the supposed “misunderstanding”.
I know that you know Ms. Terrell-Tracey has stated that the first issue she wishes to tackle is for a totem pole to be erected at Summitview Elementary.
And I know that you know how the community is very concerned, and very hurt, over these comments. I want to take a moment and thank our current trustee, Loralea Carruthers, for her advocacy is asking for a special meeting after the new trustees are sworn in on the 3rd of December.
But there are some things regarding the trustee-elect for East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch Stouffville that you may not know:
Ms. Terrell-Tracey has been threatening her constituents, and their employers, with legal action. Last weekend, on the afternoon of November 10th, Ms. Terrell-Tracey emailed the National offices of the United Church of Canada, various local media and one of my local partner congregations, asking for me to be fired.
She accused me of being a communist, anarchist and fascist. These are not terms to be thrown around lightly. She threatened legal action if I continued to express my concerns about her ability to fulfil her role as trustee on Facebook, on the Living Presence Ministry website, and to the media.
In one email she wrote:
Please step down, you are not qualified to be a religious minister, you preach hate against Canadian democracy and you scare our community by working with convicted murderers. You are not qualified to work directly with our children. Please step down. Cease and Desist. You continue to slander our elected officials and continue to preach hate against our Canadian democracy.
…Cease and Desist…..Effective immediately you are requested to stop speaking, stop writing and stop All hate against trustee-elect Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey. She is duly elected freely by our population through our democratic Canadian election process. Refrain from any further comment regarding our new trustee; or further legal action with be taken against you.
Arnold also received similar emails, sent to the seminary where he teachers, Mennonite Church Canada and friends from his local congregation. Ms. Terrell-Tracey threatened to sue not only Arnold but also his employers, denomination and friend.
It is worth noting that although I have been speaking publicly on behalf of myself and my ministry, Arnold has been speaking online as a private citizen. He did not identify himself as clergy or as a professor. What this means is Ms. Terrell-Tracey researched Arnold’s place of work, and emailed his employers in order to intimidate him—to silence him.
If Ms. Terrell-Tracey is willing to do this with us, what is to stop her from contacting the employer of any other constituent who publicly disagrees with her? This is not how democracy is supposed to work. She has already threatened a member of a Stouffville Facebook group with a harassment report. She called the police on a mother who attended the November 5th meeting at Huron Heights. The police—after a civil email exchange where the mother invited Ms. Terrell-Tracey to meet face to face. All of these instances are documented and we request they be submitted to the public minutes of this meeting.
Arnold and I are not standing before you because we are the most harmed by the actions of the Trustee-Elect. We are able to speak up because we are protected. We are very fortunate, and our privilege is demonstrated in our ability to stand before you this evening. Both Arnold and I have employers who are supportive of our actions and will continue to support us as we highlight the inappropriate behaviour of the Trustee-Elect, and continue to express our concerns about her health, her well being, her continued refusal to apologize – truly apologize – for her xenophobic comments, and her ability to advocate for our children. Not all of Ms. Terrell-Tracey’s constituents are so fortunate, and it is unacceptable that they cannot voice their concern and dismay openly for fear that she may start emailing their places of employment asking for their dismissal—asking for them to be fired for no reason other than calling her to task for comments she has made, and continues to make, in a public forum, as an elected official with the York Region District School Board. She has effectively disenfranchised her most vulnerable constituents—constituents whose work situations are precarious. Those with precarious work are disproportionately people of colour and, yes, those who were not born in Canada.
It is not right.
It is not fair.
It is damaging the Board’s reputation.
And who is to say she won’t threaten legal action if any of the current and incoming trustees disagree with her? Ms. Terrell-Tracey’s actions and behaviour threaten to bring the board to a standstill.
I have much compassion and worry for Ms. Terrell-Tracey, but attempting to threaten our livelihoods by emailing our employers…this is more than a Facebook spat. It always was. Elected officials attempting to silence the people they are charged with representing and advocating for—that is an affront to the democratic process and should not be dismissed.
I suggest that the Board create a system through which constituents who do not feel comfortable contacting Ms. Terrell-Tracey are still able to access Board services and information. It will be a long four years if those in East Gwillimbury and Stouffville are not adequately represented.
I leave these words with gratitude, and many thanks, for taking the time to hear my concerns.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak. Like Bri-Anne Swan, I speak as a private citizen and parent of a child in the YRDSB.
After Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey was elected, I and others gathered questions that required answers from the Trustee-elect if she was to launch well—including a request to apologize for xenophobic comments sent directly to me and others in town.
Because of the content of those comments and swift reaction by a few, myself included, Ms. Terrell-Tracey, gave her own kind of apology to the person in question: “I apologize that people are taking my comments the wrong way … I was just informing people as to where you said you were born. People have a right to know where their candidate is born” (Sun-Tribune, Sept. 25, 2018).
In our town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, 64% are either children of immigrants or they too were born outside of Canada (Stats Can; 2016 Census Whitchurch-Stouffville). That number is even higher across the board.
The message I received from Ms. Terrell-Tracey reads: “She is born there. Just so you know, Guyana. You are backing someone born not in Canada for our school Board Trustee. Just so you know the truth. … raised by a village.” Why did she send that to me? My father was also born in South America, in the Green Hell of the Paraguayan Gran Chaco, and also very much raised by a village.
Of course my family and I were deeply saddened and upset by Ms. Terrell-Tracey’s message, but even more so by her failure to understand and acknowledge the impact of those words.
Why should a school board official be born in Canada? My own daughter was born outside of North America, and had been in Canada merely 6 weeks before she began Kindergarten.
Ms. Terrell-Tracey asked others in town to spread her message of fear and suspicion. Two minutes before she wrote the message to me at 1:06 am on Sept. 24, a friend received this request: “Go … and say the truth. [She] was born in Guyana. … We need a school board trustee born in Canada.”
In short, bridges were burnt, feelings hurt, and steps need to be taken for Ms. Terrell-Tracey to gain the trust of the community and function as our trustee. If she is our trustee, we want her to be successful and we have tried to help her understand the steps that need to be taken.
The letters before you show Ms. Terrell-Tracey’s reaction to Bri-Anne Swan and me—apparently because we have been persistent and public, although always polite: we have a set of reasonable questions that beg for a reasonable public response.
Ms. Terrell-Tracey is trying to change the narrative, and attack. She has written to our employers and credentialing bodies, directing them to remove us from our positions of employment, threatening to sue and to picket them if they do not order us to “cease and desist.” She has added fantastic claims to her letter to my employer: that I hit her on Friday, even though she and I have never, ever met in person, and I spent the day grading papers and writing. And she informs them that I am a communist, an anarchist, a fascist and a chauvinistic religious activist. No member of the YRDSB community should be subject to this from an elected official.
A democracy has a set of essential puzzle pieces for it to work; even then it can be messy and less than ideal. Voting is one of those important pieces. But so too is transparency, and an engaged constituency. In a democratic society, no engaged citizen should receive a phone call from their employer, because an elected official has just threatened theirorganization unless the employer muzzles and /or terminates the employee.
Thankfully, both of Bri-Anne Swan and I have employers who know us, and trust us to speak with a measure of wisdom and grace for the sake of our larger community. It belongs to our vocation and calling. Our concern is for others, who cannot afford to speak up and be engaged if that means an elected official will contact their employer and threaten to picket and sue.
Bri-Anne Swan and I are both parents of children in the YRDSB system. We thank you for receiving these impact statements and also the letters sent by the incoming trustee Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey.