A South Surrey-White Rock all-candidates forum, originally scheduled to take place at White Rock’s Star of the Sea Parish, will be held in a different location after concerns were raised regarding LGBTQ inclusion.
To be hosted by the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce and White Rock Business Improvement Association, chamber executive director Ritu Khanna told Peace Arch News Thursday that the Oct. 4 all-candidates forum will now be held at the White Rock Community Centre (15154 Russell Ave.) at 6:30 p.m.
She confirmed that the concerns which led to the location shift included some raised by Liberal Party candidate Gordie Hogg and Green Party candidate Pixie Hobby.
Hogg told PAN he had expressed to Khannu that he had “a real moral dilemma” with attending the forum, if it were to be held at the Star of the Sea hall, after learning of a human-rights complaint that was filed earlier this year against the church by the White Rock Pride Society, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Simply, I grew up in a community that has inclusivity as one of its values and principles. Certainly, that wasn’t being reflected,” Hogg said Thursday.
“I had not decided to attend or not to attend. I just said this is my conflict I’m feeling.”
Hobby said that she was also unaware of the human-rights complaint, but was made aware of it by Hogg.
“When Gordie told me, I thought ‘oh my goodness,’ this would be a problem for some of the folks who want to attend the debate there on (Oct. 4). Particularly, some business owners and operators may be members of the LGBTQ2S community. They might feel uncomfortable, or unwanted there. That’s just not right,” Hobby told PAN.
The Pride Society’s complaint stemmed from the parish’s denial of a request to host a “Love is Love” event at the community centre, which is attached to the church.
In response to PAN’s queries at the time, James Borkowski, the Archbishop’s delegate based in Vancouver, said the parish reviews applications for events to ensure that the venue use “would not be contrary to the teachings on faith and morals of the Catholic Church.”
Following the BC Human Rights Tribunal complaint, which has not yet been resolved, a sign on the Star of the Sea community hall was changed to “Parish Center,” from “Community Centre.”
Thursday afternoon, in response to a request from PAN, Borkowski emailed another statement.
“Out of respect for the Human Rights Tribunal process we will not be commenting on the actual case at this time. We affirm the value and dignity of each person and encourage all Catholics to love every member of the human family equally. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with members of the White Rock Pride Society as soon as these proceedings are complete,” the statement reads.
Khanna said that prior to booking the Star of the Sea hall as a venue for the business-focused all-candidates forum, she spoke to White Rock Pride Society president Ernie Klassen.
“He felt it would be fine and understood the circumstances in that some people might not attend,” Khanna said. “After I spoke to him, we booked it. But after, I did receive some phone calls from people expressing concerns that they didn’t want anyone to not attend the debate because of the venue. In terms of not feeling comfortable in that space.”
Contacted Thursday, a representative from Star of the Sea Parish – who declined to provide PAN with his name – said the church has no reaction to the chamber withdrawing from renting the venue.
“They’re free to kind of go wherever they want to,” he said.
Asked if members of the church have raised concerns to church staff regarding the parish’s position on LGBTQ inclusion, he said “no.”
“We’ve got no reaction to your questions. If you would like a statement, I’d direct you to the people downtown.”
The Oct. 4 candidate forum is one of four public events planned in the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
A Peninsula Homeless to Housing forum is to take place Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at Gracepoint Community Church (3487 King George Blvd.). The task force traditionally hosts candidate forums for all three levels of government. The debate is to focus on homelessness, poverty and federal actions to address the relating issues.
A third all-candidates forum is be hosted by the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo from 6:30-9 p.m., Oct. 10, at Semiahmoo House (15306 24 Ave.).
Candidates are to be questioned about how they will support issues relating to cost of living, employment and business, transportation, housing, enhancing community, health care, climate change, taxes and accessibility.
And on Oct. 16, the Surrey-White Rock Political Engagement Society will host a forum at the White Rock Community Centre, at 15154 Russell Ave., beginning at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome and Mandarin translation will be provided for the event, which is to be moderated by PAN columnist Frank Bucholtz.
In addition to Hobby and Hogg, South Surrey-White Rock candidates include Kerry-Lynne Findlay (Conservative Party); Stephen Crozier (New Democrat Party); and Joel Poulin (People’s Party of Canada).