Racism not an issue in Courtenay, mayor says

Brennan Clarke


As the shock waves continued to reverberate over a race-based assault in Courtenay, B.C., last Friday night, Mayor Greg Phelps defended his council’s refusal to join the community’s latest anti-discrimination efforts.

“I really didn’t think we had a big issue, and I still don’t,” he said. “I’ve lived here most of my life and this is the first incident like this I can recall.”

In an attack that was captured on video, three Caucasian men attacked 38-year-old Jay Phillips – a B.C.-born landscaper who describes himself as “half black” – in a parking lot outside his Courtenay apartment.

In the video, which received international attention after it was posted on YouTube, the three men can be heard using racial slurs as they kick and punch Mr. Phillips.

 On Monday, unaware of the attack, Mr. Phelps was one of three council members who voted “no” to signing on to a community-based anti-discrimination effort known as “critical incident response protocols.”

A series of broad statements-of-principle on tolerance and inclusion created by the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre, the protocols have been adopted by 35 other community organizations and local governments in the past six months.

CJC representatives asked council to endorse the document’s four main principles, one of which is: “No resident or visitor to the Comox Valley ought to suffer from the effects of harassment, intimidation, threat, hateful actions, physical injury, damage to their property, or other forms of violence which are motivated by bias.”

Mr. Phelps said Wednesday that even if he had known about the assault on Mr. Phillips, it wouldn’t have changed his vote.

“We – the majority of council and two other councillors who weren’t there – view it as a flawed document,” said Mr. Phelps, who cast the deciding vote as council rejected the protocol document 3-2.

“There’s some problems with the wording and some confusing messages. We had asked for some changes but they weren’t forthcoming. …

“We were told it’s just a feel-good document, and I have trouble signing a feel-good document.”

Local signatories to the protocols include the RCMP, K’omoks First Nation, Comox Valley School District, the local native friendship centre, the Town of Cumberland and the City of Comox.

CJC president Aneil Datoo disagreed with suggestions the protocols come with obligations.

“It’s a fairly innocuous document,” he said. “There’s no commitment. It’s largely meant to raise awareness.”

Prior to Friday’s attack, the most serious act of intolerance in Courtenay was the 2001 pepper spraying of the Sid Williams Theatre during a performance of the Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir, Mr. Datoo said.

Mr. Datoo said with the community growing and increasing in diversity, the CJC wanted to “get the word out” about discrimination.

Roger Kishi, program director of the Wachiay Friendship Centre, said Courtenay’s refusal to sign the protocol was “surprising, to say the least, especially with the widespread support and endorsement within the community.”

“Without Courtenay on board, it sort of leaves a hole in the protocol” Mr. Kishi said. “This was supposed to be a public demonstration that we have a protocol in place in the event of a hate crime or some other critical incident.”

Councillor Larry Jangula, who voted “no” to signing the protocol, said he was worried the document contained hidden requirements for city resources to support the program.

“We don’t need another level of bureaucracy for this,” he said. “This is all covered by the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights. How many other levels do we need to cover this?”

Three men aged 19, 24 and 25 have been charged with assault in connection with the attack on Mr. Phillips, and RCMP investigators are considering adding a hate-crime designation to the file.

Police said Wednesday the investigation is ongoing and the names of the accused will not be released until RCMP have forwarded their report to the Crown.

Hundreds of area residents are expected to attend an anti-racism rally at noon Thursday outside the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay.


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