Council members oppose declaration of equality in support of LGBTQ2+ community

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After a heated debate during a public meeting held on Sept. 13 in the Township of Emo, a proposed declaration of equality formally stating allyship with members of the LGBTQ2+ community was approved by town council members—but not without opposition.

“I’ll sign it, but I’ll make my statement very clear. I, mayor McQuaker, am not in favour,” said Mayor Harold McQuaker who had suggested tabling the motion until a later date.

“I believe this declaration needs more study and research to ensure all minority groups are included in name. Naming one and not the entire group opens the Township of Emo to even more possible lawsuits.”

“With this in mind, I suggest we put this item off until a future date until a full and comprehensive investigation will be undertaken ensuring the full listing of minority groups that should be included in this declaration,” mayor McQuaker said.

Councilors Lincoln Dunn and Lori-Ann Shortreed had introduced the proposed declaration of equality. They stated during last week’s meeting that most importantly, the council needed to acknowledge the harm that had been caused to members of the LGBTQ2+ community.

“I do believe that in light of the issues that we’ve had in our community, the harm that I’ve been made aware of that’s been done to members of the LGBTQ community here because of our decision around Pride about two years ago, I believe that it’s important for us to acknowledge that harm,” said Dunn.

In April 2020, Borderland Pride had requested the Township of Emo to adopt a resolution that declared the month of June as “Pride month” and that a LGBTQ2+ rainbow flag was flown for a week in the month of June.

“These requests may appear only symbolic, but their fulfillment is deeply meaningful to the

LGBTQ2 community,” the letter of request read. “Borderland Pride regularly receives messages and emails from people with ties to communities across the Rainy River District and Koochiching County.”

“They tell us about the abuse they suffered here as a young person who was different; about the times that they felt so isolated that they attempted self-harm; and about the bullies, the harassment, and the physical and emotional violence they survived, at home or at a school. Many tell us they have never come back as a result. Many also tell us that seeing Pride in their community means so much to them today because they know what it would have meant to them in their time of need.”

In May 2020, the resolution was defeated in a 3-2 vote with Mayor McQuaker, Coun. Harrold Boven, and Coun. Warren Toles against the resolution, and councilors Dunn and Shortreed in favour.

In June 2020, Borderland Pride filed a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for alleged discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orietnation, gender identity and other grounds protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Borderland Pride launched a petition which garnered over 2,000 signatures. Only a quarter of signatures came from Emo, Ontario, which has a population of around 1,400. Most of the signatures were from surrounding communities in northern Ontario.

The petition was to request the council to reconsider their decision about Pride events, make a public apology regarding homophobic comments made in their meeting, and require councillors to complete training on topics related to diversity, inclusion, and human rights, with a focus on LGBTQ2+ issues.

Peter Howie, co-chair of Borderland Pride, said in a public release that the celebration of Pride events was essential, especially in small communities where there is less visibility and support for members of the LGBTQ2+ community.

“Pride continues to be most needed in places where it is least visible,” said Howie in a past statement. “Too often we forget that LGBTQ2 people outside of larger centres – and especially youth – lack access to resources, positive role models, or sources of support and understanding related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The basic observance of Pride by leaders in small communities sends the message that even if their families may not accept them, their institutions are in their corner. It signals that there is hope and that there are allies.”

Despite on-going criticism against the township of Emo, over $38,000 of incurred legal fees, and the “Emo Ambush” Pride parade protest which garnered national coverage, Emo town councilors continued to push back against the proposed declaration of equality on last week’s agenda.

Councilor Boven quoted Toronto’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion statement as an example of what would be a better fit than the declaration that was proposed by Dunn and Shortreed.

“And I don’t think we’re quite prepared with the statement that we have, after seeing that statement from other places in that context,” Boven said.

When questioned by Shortreed whether his opposition to the declaration was because it highlighted LGBTQ2+ community, he replied, “The best way to say it is that there’s more groups than the group that is identified here.”

Shortreed said that they wanted to highlight the LGBTQ2+ community because that community was the one that had most recently suffered within the town.

“The reason that we did look at having that one community listed was just because that is a community that right now is really hurting and suffering within Emo. And we want to make sure that we recognize this and that we want to move forward with this,” Shortreed said.

Mayor McQuaker denied that any harm had been done and suggested that there would be no resolution in the meeting.

“There’s no harm. The harm that you’re talking about is the harm you’re bringing to this council,” McQuaker said.

Shortreed referenced criticisms that were purportedly against McQuaker’s family on social media as a result of the case, showing that his family had also been impacted.

“You may say that there was no harm, but I felt that there was harm within our community. I feel that there’s still a lot of hurt in our community and that there’s still a lot of people who don’t feel safe here because of how things progressed. A lot of it was on social media. And those words are never forgotten; they’re there for the rest of the world to see,” she said.

McQuaker suggested again that the declaration needed further study and suggested tabling the item until a later date after a “full and comprehensive investigation can be undertaken.” Dunn brought up the procedural bylaw which prevented the motion to be tabled as a majority vote was required, however Coun’s. Boven and Toles had declared a conflict of interest and were no longer voting members for the discussion, making Coun’s. Dunn and Shortreed the majority vote.

The motion to establish a declaration of equality was approved, but McQuaker said that he was not in favor.

The legal proceeding against the Township of Emo in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is still ongoing. Borderland Pride recently issued a survey which canvasses the incoming candidates’ views on the municipality’s legal dispute, and to seek out the candidates perspectives on Pride and LGBTQ2+ inclusion in the municipality.

“Borderland Pride is reaching out in hopes of building a more positive relationship with the new council,” the media release read.

McQuaker has been acclaimed as mayor in the 2022 municipal election. Boven and Shortreed are registered as candidates for the council election. Toles and Dunn will not be returning.

An audio recording of the public meeting can be found on the Borderland Pride website along with background information on the preceding legal events.