UPDATE: “Nanaimo City Council voted unanimously during a specially called July 3 meeting to rescind their earlier decision (read here and here). Mayor John Ruttan offered a formal apology, saying the May 5 motion was meant to prevent divisiveness and hate, but instead caused the opposite. The BC Civil Liberties Association wrote city council July 4, stating that their May 5 motion “amounted to discrimination on the basis of religion, and a violation of the freedom of assembly . . .” See Lloyd Mackey’s article: http://churchforvancouver.ca/
“This is just nuts – you know – it is just nuts – so I support this.” Councillor Jim Kipp of the Nanaimo City Council had no idea just how prophetic his May 5, 2014 statement was to become. Though not what he intended, it is an apt description of the decision he and fellow councillors made – “it is just nuts.” 
The City, located on the beautiful Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is better known for the popular “Nanaimo Bar.” Perhaps that rich and delicious desert may be complemented with a sprinkling of nuts in honor of the City Council’s “progressive and open” policy run amok by an 8-1 decision to break a rental agreement of the City’s Conference Centre only 4 days before a Leader Cast event was to take place. The Council cancelled the event because it was sponsored in part by the American company Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A was seen by the Council to “promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate.”
The motion to cancel the rental was brought to the meeting at the last minute by Councillor Fred Pattje – without any notice to the organizers of the Leader Cast event. When confronted about this unfair staging of his motion without the organizers having an opportunity to respond Pattje stated it was “kind of beside the point as far as I am concerned.” Further, the Council staff did not have sufficient time to research the issue for the councillors’ benefit.
Pattje set the context of his motion by describing Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A as having a “rich history of homophobia and other divisive practices.” Pattje did not describe or outline exactly what that history was or what the practices were. In 2012, Cathy was criticised for his support of traditional marriage. Despite the controversy even the American Civil Liberties Union supported Cathy’s right to speak on public policy and has been very critical of government officials denying the right of Chick-fil-A restaurants to open in new cities. A full airing of the Chick-fil-A controversy and ACLU support of Cathy’s right to speak might have doused some water on Pattje’s motion. Unfortunately, the Nanaimo City Council was not interested in hearing any contrary views.
Pattje’s statements were challenged only by Councillor Bill McKay who was the sole vote against the ill-conceived motion. The rest of the Councillors chimed in with Pattje. The total disregard for a fair hearing and the self-righteous attitude against Christian views on marriage was palpable. At one point Councillor Jim Kipp called it an “almost a criminal point of view in this day and age….” Kipp than made the analogy to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram that kidnapped 270 school girls in Nigeria! How the Nanaimo City Council got from a Leadership Cast event to describing its Christian sponsors as akin to the Boko Haram – is, well, just nuts.
Opposition to the leadercast.com program came from Nanaimo’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT) community because of the Chick-fil-A sponsorship and because one of the speakers was Dr. Henry Cloud. Dr. Henry Cloud is a psychologist who has written a number of books including Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No he co-wrote with John Townsend. Cloud’s books have sold in the millions. However, as Pattje sees it his views on “reparative therapy” for sexual orientation are as offensive as it gets.
At that May 5 meeting Councillor Fred Pattje motion read:
that the City of Nanaimo advise the VICC (the Vancouver Island Conference Centre) that as owners of the facility, any events that are associated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate, and as such advise the VICC to not permit the upcoming Leadercast event to occur in a City owned facility that is scheduled for Saturday, May the 9th.
PATTJE’S REASONS FOR THIS MOTION
- Dan Cathy “has a rich history of homophobia and other divisive practices.”
Pattje did not provide the Council or the public with a rundown of this “rich history” or of Cathy’s “other divisive practices.” The 2012 controversy concerning Chick-fil-A reveals that Cathy’s alleged homophobia consisted of at least two statements. In 2012 Cathy stated that he was “guilty as charged” for supporting traditional marriage and not being in favour of gay marriage:
“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families – some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that … We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
On a radio program in June 16, 2012 he said:
“As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”
Whatever one may think of Cathy’s comments it seems difficult to conceive of them as hate – he is not vilifying, but stating his view of a spiritual reality, as he sees it. This is why the ACLU has come out in his defence. The WinShape Foundation, the trust set up by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, has been intentional in providing money to programs that support traditional marriage. It is interesting to note that Cathy has become rather shy recently about getting involved in speaking out on such controversial matters. He will not be publically discussing the marriage issue again. “I think that’s a political debate that’s going to rage on,” he state, “and the wiser thing for us to do is to stay focused on customer service.” Pattje and those he represented in bringing the motion failed to explain these particulars to the Council.
In fact, Pattje was indignant at Councillor Bill McKay’s position that the Nanaimo Daily News, one of the key sponsors of the program, should be available to speak against the motion and explain what the program was about “rather than blindly putting forward a motion like this without even the sponsor… knowing about it.”
- Dr. Henry Cloud was one of the speakers on the Leader Cast program
Pattje’s second reason was that Dr. Henry Cloud was to speak at the program. Pattje wrongly described Cloud as a “psychiatrist.” Rather Cloud is a “clinical psychologist” who specializes in providing “practical and effective advice for improving leadership skills and workplace performance” and whose philanthropic interest lies in “alleviating homelessness in the inner city, as well as missions in the developing world.” At first blush Cloud does not appear to be a dangerous man worthy of such public criticism by the Nanaimo City Council. However, such was the rush to get its “progressive” motion passed.
Pattje was particularly concerned that Dr. Cloud “believes that matters gay can be fixed with reparative therapy. In other words, he can fix – which I think to everybody on this Council and in this room is about as offensive as it gets. So that alone – even that apart from Chick-fil-A was enough for me to make this motion.”
From my own (albeit limited) research of the internet I did find Dr. Cloud speak on a radio talk show giving spiritual advice to a gay person. The full extent of Dr. Cloud’s practice in this area does not seem to be a large footprint. By far the largest professional psychological niche that Dr. Cloud appears to have become involved in is that of leadership psychology and providing skills on interpersonal relationships. It is unfortunate that Mr. Pattje and the Nanaimo City Council did not conduct its own independent review of Dr. Cloud before taking the word of a couple of activists who are obviously distraught over Dr. Cloud’s beliefs concerning sexual orientation. The Council was not informed as to how Dr. Cloud arrived at those beliefs – was it his spiritual understandings, was it derived from scientific research, and why would a business psychologist be involved in the marriage debate, if he was? If he was, what was he saying – was it offensive? If offensive was it hate as understood in Canadian law? If not, should he not be given the same latitude as the ACLU gave Dan Cathy? Certainly in Canada, as stated in the federal Marriage Act, “it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage,” and by extension religious views on sexuality. The Nanaimo City Council appears to have made no such thorough inquiry before making its decision.
TROUBLING DEVELOPMENT IN PUBLIC DEBATE
The twenty minute debate of the Nanaimo City Council about the Leader Cast program at its Conference Centre is an apt example of what is parading as “rational discourse” in the public square on issues involving religious communities that adhere to a traditional definition of marriage. The reality is there is little opportunity for debate. It is now vogue to simply assert a truth about a groups’ view on marriage without the benefit of asking probing questions and getting verifiable answers. It is a form of horde mentality – someone points the finger and everyone copies.
Consider how the Councillors accepted the assertions of Mr. Pattje against Dr. Cloud’s view on sexual orientation without question – it was fait accompli. Simply from Pattje’s expression every other (save the plucky Mr. McKay) councillor metaphorically wagged their fingers at the maligned psychologist and the Leader Cast organization. Councillor Bill Bestwick proclaimed that he was not at all interested in hearing Dr. Cloud, “I don’t want – personally I don’t want to hear what this person has to say.”
That is a remarkable statement from a Councillor who had just admitted to not knowing the full background of what Council was discussing because he had found out about the matter shortly before the meeting. In other words, the bulk of the information about the maligned program and Dr. Cloud came from the current “debate.” As Councillor McKay pointed out – it was a one sided debate where the program organizers were not present to answer the charges. That did not seem to matter to the other councillors.
Bestwick suggested that there should be a “blackout” of what Dr. Cloud would say – he seemed momentarily oblivious to the fact that Cloud and the entire program of speakers were speaking on leadership and not sexual ethics. Among the scheduled speakers of the Leader Cast program were Bishop Desmond Tutu and former First Lady Laura Bush. “It is actually a bigger statement to say we are going to black that out,” said Bestwick, “We are going to draw a curtain across that and lights are going off and sound is going off. We don’t want to listen to this person. He has nothing to say we want to hear and then when whoever else comes up talking about something that’s entrepreneurial, cool, or leadership that is actually leadership then I want to hear it.”
In his capacity as a public official, Councillor Bestwick is expected to engage in a rational discussion about the merits of whether it is in the public interest of the City to rent its Conference Centre to a leadership organization. He heard an accusation against a person he did not meet, nor heard of before, but based upon a fellow councillor’s say so Bestwick immediately shuts off further debate. “Personally I don’t want to hear what this person has to say.” Where is the political discourse? Where is the open fair minded approach to hear the other side?
Councillor Jim Kipp self-identified himself as a “SBNN.” That acronym stands for “Straight But Not Narrow.” It is the first time that I have ever heard of a public official identifying himself as an SBNN – given the increasing use of such acronyms perhaps this will gain some traction – but then again maybe not. One must ascertain whether Mr. Kipp’s self-analysis meets a more objective scrutiny. The opposite of narrow – I suggest is “open-minded.” Mr. Kipp condemns the Cathy family philanthropic enterprise as one that “funds a lot of the organizations … that spread some very, very strong language of hatred against LGBTQ about against gay marriage and the company is renowned for major funding for what I would call a very strong unbelievable Christian belief.”
Mr. Kipp does not provide any examples of “a very strong unbelievable Christian belief,” but he is certain that they do. And such belief he maintains has “very, very strong language of hatred against LGBTQ about against gay marriage.” From his presentation we have absolutely no idea what he is referring to. There is no objective evidence it is simply an ad hominem attack without merit.
Despite the hyperbole Mr. Kipp suggests that the Council must consider not only the speakers but the funders. “I think we have to make it very clear about the sponsorship of these types of events.” He then suggests that the Council would not support “a criminal organization that wants to come into our community and set up and have a podcast.” It is remarkable how a leadership conference could be compared to a criminal organization solely on the basis of it receiving some sponsorship money from a company owned by Christians who support traditional marriage. We have absolutely no idea if Leader Cast holds the same views or advocates such views as Chick-fil-A. Nevertheless, Councillor Kipp and his colleagues were willing to pronounce guilt by association. There is more.
Kipp actually suggests that the Leader Cast and Chick-fil-A are akin to the Islamic extremist group in Nigeria, the Boko Haram that kidnapped 270 school girls. “I find this to be almost a criminal point of view in this day and age with the hatred that we have seen in the last week in our own community and the stuff that is going on around the world – and little girls – 270 girls are missing. This is just nuts – you know – it is just nuts – so I support this [motion].”
I suggest that what is “just nuts” is the Council’s complete disregard of their role in the public square to be fair and open minded giving the benefit of the doubt until verifiable evidence suggests otherwise. Councillor Diane Brennan proclaimed, “we don’t want to be associated with organizations that promote homophobia or other expressions of hate and I and I certainly feel that’s what Chick-Fil-A does….” Brennan appears to have substituted feeling for facts – a very dangerous position for a public official to take.
Councillor George Anderson suggested that the Council was “showing leadership” by passing the motion. However, as subsequent events and discussions have borne out, leadership at least requires a thorough analysis of the implications of a motion rather than accepting the prodding of activist constituents who are willing to be intolerant of those to whom they disagree. In other words, the Council needed independent verification of the claims being made.
Procedures of natural justice require that in making a decision that affects the rights of others the decision makers have to:
- give sufficient notice to the other side that a decision is going to be made that affects their interests thereby allowing time to prepare an answer – for Pattje “it is kind of beside the point” as far as he was concerned – notice did not need to be given;
- ensure that ample opportunity is given to those affected to present their position; and,
- ensure that the matter be held before an impartial tribunal.
In this case, the Nanaimo City Council failed in all three requirements of natural justice required by law.
The Council’s folly has led to a firestorm of opposition from the Christian community in Nanaimo and across the country. Dr. James Lunney, MP for Nanaimo-Alberni, wrote an open letter on May 21, 2014 to the City Council citing his “profound disappointment and on behalf of concerned citizens who are left feeling confused and disenfranchised by council’s support of an alarming and unprecedented action that was based on innuendo and unsupported accusations.” Lunney felt the council ought to address the “potential precedent and confusion it has generated.” He encourage it to “publically express regret for the unfortunate and apparently unforeseen consequences of an ill-considered action with assurances such will not be repeated without a thorough airing of the issue and convincing evidence of ill-intent.”
The Council had been very slow in responding to the controversy. It appears to have simply wanted the story to go away. However, the more it lingered the more the opposition was growing – failure to apologize was taken as evidence of its arrogant attitude that created the controversy in the first place. However, given the recent apology – it is now time for a review of the event to ensure it does not happen again – and it behooves the Christian Community to show magnanimity.
On June 23, 2014, Mayor John Ruttan sought to quiet down the criticism by reading the following statement. There is no doubt, this time around, that the statement was vetted by legal counsel:
The City of Nanaimo hereby reaffirms that it shall unconditionally uphold the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of the Human Rights Code of British Columbia. Without in any way limiting the generality of the foregoing statement, the City of Nanaimo specifically reaffirms that men and women of all faiths are guaranteed the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion and of thought, belief, opinion and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of the Human Rights Code of British Columbia. Accordingly, men and women of all faiths are entitled to utilize facilities that are owned by and/or in the control of the City of Nanaimo in the same manner that any such facilities are available for use by all members of the general public, subject always to the rule of the law.
The Mayor did not discuss the statement in the June 23 meeting. He simply read it and moved on to other business.
Dean Skoreyko, a conservative blogger sought to close that gap by filing a Human Rights complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal demanding, “That the Nanaimo City Council rescind the motion and publicly issue an apology for passing the original motion.” However, given the recent recision of the motion and the apology, Skoreyko’s complaint appears moot.
Councillor Bill Bestwick appeared not to have been satisfied with the Mayor’s June 23 statement and issued his own personal apology independent of the Council. “At no time did I intend to offend or discriminate against any person, Canadian or Christian,” he said. “I was ill-advised on the topic. I take responsibility for my inappropriate understanding of the event, the full consequences and ramifications of the motion and wholeheartedly apologize. I am sorry for any misrepresentation I have made and extend my apologies to those I have offended as a result.”
In the meantime, Ezra Levant, TV host of Sun Media’s The Source, has launched a petition and fundraising campaign to finance a lawsuit against the Council on a website www.the realbigots.com. This too appears to be unnecessary given the recent developments.
As noted in the update the City has since formally apologised. It now falls to the Christian community to do its part in calming the waters — giving the benefit of the doubt to the Councillors who made the ill-fated decision. We must recognized that public office is never easy in the best of times. During the July 3 meeting rescinding the motion Councillor Fred Pattje stated, “As we all know, and very painfully so, that (vote) has been interpreted in a very different manner,” he said. “I hope that all of us together can find it in our hearts to search for solutions that must be found if in the future we find ourselves in a similar situation.” Well said.
CONCLUSION: WHAT CAN WE LEARN?
What can we learn from this event? I suggest the following:
- In our current environment there are public officials who want to be in vogue by adopting a “progressive open-minded” stance by denouncing Christian affiliations that support traditional marriage;
- Often these political leaders are ill-informed and their methods of decision making are not only unjust but illegal;
- Christians in particular, and religious groups in general, would do well to keep public officials accountable for their denial of open and fair public deliberations that take away rights of community organizations access to public facilities; at the same time Christians need to ensure that such officials be given the benefit of the doubt. Public officials are not malicious but rather perform their duties in the public interest as they see it at that moment in time. Mistakes are often made and allowances for such failures must be given. We all know that no one is perfect.
- Vigilance pays off – as this story gains attention, public officials across Canada will think twice about accepting unsubstantiated allegations in taking away access to public facilities because of religious belief.
Councillor Fred Prattje came to the May 5, Committee of the Whole meeting armed with a motion that he thought would address the insult that members of the LGBT community felt because Leader Cast was sponsored by Chick-fil-A. No doubt Prattje’s intentions were noble. He was doing what any Councillor would do – respond to the needs of his constituents. Unfortunately, he was biased and ill-informed, but that does not mean he was malicious. He had not properly researched the implications of his motion. Further, the City Council failed miserably in upholding the legal requirements of its citizens to have their Constitutional freedoms of religion, assembly, and expression respected. As well, it failed to properly follow the foundational rules of natural justice in taking away the contractual rights of its citizenry to rent public facilities.
Mayor Ruttan stated that he supported the motion because “we have a responsibility to look after the interests of everyone in our community, this is an inclusive community, and we support everyone.” Unfortunately the “everyone” excluded Christians and Christian organizations that supported the traditional definition of marriage – though it was not intentional.
When the dust settles on this “nutty” situation we can only hope that Christians will not be so maligned by well meaning but ill-informed public officials who claim to be “progressive and open.” Further, it is only as we continue an open dialogue can we move together. Given the sensitive public apology of the Nanaimo City Council to the public reaction we can all learn to live together on the same real estate in the spirit of peace and accommodation of all.
 All quotes of the Nanaimo City Mayor and Councillors are transcribed from the video of the May 5, 2014, Nanaimo City Council Committee of the Whole meeting (unless otherwise indicated) at:
 All quotes of the Nanaimo City Mayor and Councillors are transcribed from the video of the May 5, 2014, Nanaimo City Council Committee of the Whole meeting (unless otherwise indicated) at: http://www.nanaimo.ca/meetings/VideoPlayer/Index/COW140505V
 ACLU stated, “[W]e oppose using the power and authority of government to retaliate against those who express messages that are controversial or averse to the views of current office holders.” See: http://www.aclu-il.org/statement-on-chik-fil-a-matter/
 This was read by Prattje in the video of the May 5, 2014, Nanaimo City Council Committee of the Whole meeting. The motion is recorded in the minutes found online at: www.nanaimo.ca, at page 3, item 7.
 Leon Stafford, “Back to Business: Cathy seeks to put gay marriage flap behind Chick-fil-A,” The Ledger, March 18, 2014, www.theledger.com
 JC Sevcik, “Chick-fil-A CEO admits it was a ‘mistake’ to oppose same-sex marriage,”March 18, 2014, www.upi.com/
 June 24, 2011 broadcast of New Life Live found online at: http://newlife.com/tag/dr-henry-cloud
 Civil Marriage Act, S.C. 2005, c. 33, online: laws-lois.justice.gc.ca
 James Lunney letter to Nanaimo City Council, May 21, 2014, online at: http://www.jameslunneymp.ca/english/?p=3136
 Read by Major John Ruttan at the Council Meeting on June 23, 2014 found online at: www.nanaimo.ca/meetings
 Robert, Barron, “Bestwick offers up apology for part in decision,” Nanaimo Daily News, June 26, 2014 www.nanaimodailynews.com
[17} See more at: http://www.nanaimodailynews.com/news/controversial-city-council-motion-now-rescinded-1.1193521#sthash.gDA3dZy2.dpuf