Emo Township council candidates face criticism from Borderland Pride

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Borderland Pride released a statement on October 11 expressing their disappointment, after receiving no response to a survey, aimed at assessing views on LGBTQ2+ inclusion and ongoing litigations against the Township of Emo.

The survey was issued to Emo council candidates Geoffrey Pearce, Lisa Teeple, Gerald Wieringa, Phil Whatley, Frank Szeder Jr., and Russ Fortier.

Lori-Ann Shortreed and Harrold Boven are running as incumbents and were not surveyed, “as their views are widely known on these issues from the previous term,” said Borderland Pride.

“It is disappointing that no one aspiring for leadership in Emo wishes to address homophobia in the community and on its council,” reads the statement. It adds that the group is shocked, “how little members of council and candidates for the next council appear to understand about their responsibility to manage risk for the municipality and ensure the municipality complies with Ontario’s human rights and discrimination laws. It is shameful.”

The deadline to submit survey answers to Borderland Pride was October 7. Four survey questions were included. They were: If you had been on council in the current term, would you have voted with the majority in May 2020 to refuse to recognize Pride Month in Emo; if you are elected and are invited to Pride events taking place in Emo, will you attend; do you believe that the Township of Emo should try to resolve the legal dispute with Borderland Pride rather than spend more taxpayer dollars on legal fees; and, if elected, what will you do to make your municipality a more inclusive and safe place for the LGBTQ2 people to repair the harm that was caused by your council in 2020?

The cover letter referenced the May 2020 vote by Emo council which declined to adopt a resolution provided by Borderland Pride, which would have declared June Pride Month in Emo, display a Pride flag and support a number of LGBTQ2 affirming statements. Councillors Lori-Ann Shortreed and Lincoln Dunn voted to support the resolution. The defeat resulted in Borderland Pride filing a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Due to backlogs at the Tribunal, the hearing is ongoing.

“To be frank with you: Borderland Pride is likely going to be successful in this lawsuit,” says the letter. “The law is clear, and in every single case we have seen, whenever a municipal council or official has refused a Pride resolution or proclamation (like the one we requested), the Tribunal has found that it breached the [Human Rights] Code and has ordered payment of compensation.”

The letter notes that the municipality has spent $38,000 in legal fees on the matter, which is more than Borderland Pride’s claim.

“It is simply not economical to fight this losing battle,” the letter says.

The letter concludes by saying, “Your position on LGBTQ2 inclusion and Pride in your community is a matter of significant public interest in this election. We encourage you to reflect closely, and to take a positive and inclusive stance on these important issues.”

A copy of the questionnaire and letter were delivered to the Times by Frank Szeder Jr before October 7, and included his answers.

Szeder wrote that he has insufficient information to speak to the actions of the previous council and in response to resolving the ongoing legal dispute with Borderland Pride, he wrote, “the Township of Emo represents everyone in the community and as such must protect the rights of everyone that they serve.”

The Times reached out to the candidates who received the questionnaire. No comment was received as of press time.