Nearly 2,000 people have signed a petition calling for Coun. Ben Isitt’s suspension, following comments connected to recent protests.
Isitt attended a demonstration put on by the supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs as a citizen on Feb. 11. Following the demonstration, where allegations of assault were reported to Victoria police, Isitt chastised the police and the media.
“This allegation is hogwash designed to discredit Indigenous youth and their supporters,” Isitt posted in a tweet. “VicPD’s mandate is to ensure public safety, not spread fake news.”
In a blog post, Isitt later claimed that “the corporate media is frantically spinning the non-violent blockade of the legislature as some kind of ‘violent protest.’”
The comments drew public pushback, as well as comments from B.C. Premier John Horgan who said that his “thoughts on that individual are not printable… I do not view the city council in Victoria as a mirror image of Mr. Isitt. He will carry on living his life the way he does and will have to reckon with that as time goes by.”
A Change.org petition claims that Isitt’s actions lay in “contrary to the community charter” of B.C., saying that a mayor should “provide leadership to council including by recommending bylaws, resolutions and other measures that may assist in the peace, order and good governance of the municipality,” and that Isitt’s actions are affecting the mayor’s role.
Petition founder David S. Piercy said he “would like to ask for a suspension and investigation in to the actions of Ben Isitt and the effects his actions have on the City of Victoria, businesses, jobs and safety of the residents of Victoria and first responders.”
The petition wrongly says Isitt attended an “unlawful assembly” at the B.C. Legislature; Canadian residents have a right to protest peacefully.
Additionally, municipal councillors are allowed to participate in protests at their own choosing, as well as present their own views, said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to Black Press Media following Isitt’s comments.
She more recently noted the councillors cannot be suspended, even with a petition.
When asked what her thoughts were on the public animosity against Isitt, she declined to comment, saying it was inappropriate for her to do so.
Isitt is aware of the petition, but feels it is unfounded.
“While I welcome input from the public, this particular petition does not provide a reliable barometer of public opinion. Many of the signatories live outside the province and country,” he said in an emailed statement. “There is also no legal basis from removing me from public office, since I am in compliance with all provincial legislation relating to the conduct of municipal councillors. The petition appears to be motivated by opposition to my political ideas, rather than actual infractions of provincial law. I intend to do the job that 14,205 people elected me to do a little over a year ago.”
Despite consistent public pushback against Isitt’s opinion, he received the most votes of anyone on council in the 2018 election, including more than those put forward for the mayor.