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Discrimination rears its head on campaign trail, say candidates

Several candidates for city council report incidents of discrimination based on race, gender and more, though most say it's not been an issue
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(stock photo)

Some city council candidates have experienced discrimination along the campaign trail, reporting they’ve been targeted due to their race and gender, among other things, while most say they have not.

GuelphToday reached out via email to all registered city council candidates to hear what they had to say. This article provides a summary of the responses received.

“A big issue that marginalized people face is the idea that because people who look like us have never been at the table, we do not deserve a seat there,” wrote Ward 6 candidate Chetna Robinson. “Sometimes we are harassed but more often, we are dismissed. We get told that experience matters and so we should accept our place.”

There is no record of someone from the BIPOC community ever being elected to city council, clerk Stephen O’Brien previously told GuelphToday.

Robinson said she’s received “angry emails filled with misinformation about the United Nations” and “more aggressive messages about how white men in power are the real victims of racism.

“Even if I am not personally attacked, I would hope the people in power notice that white nationalists or homophobic candidates running campaigns have an effect on me and other Guelph citizens,” she added.

Ward 1 candidate Chidi Nwene said he’s experienced acts of racism and discrimination while canvassing. 

“There are a few isolated incidents that I’m still experiencing,” he wrote.

On one occasion, Nwene said a woman who saw him delivering campaign materials to nearby homes began to yell as he approached her driveway.

“Back off, don’t come any closer,” Nwene quotes the woman as shouting before she “grabbed her two kids, entered her house and slammed her door,” noting he was wearing an identification badge at the time.

In another incident, he said a man started swearing at him and blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for “allowing immigrants to Canada” and added, “immigrants are destroying Canada.”

“He said lots of things that I don’t feel comfortable writing,” Nwene mentioned.

“Flipping to the good side, a majority of our community members are very supportive to my campaign,” he wrote. “That is what keeps me going.”

Ward 4 candidate Christine Billings was the only respondee who indicated they’ve experienced gender-based discrimination, though only “a few times.” Efforts to reach Billings to elaborate have been unsuccessful.

Mayoral candidate Shelagh McFarlane reported she’s not experienced gender-based discrimination. Rather, she feels discriminated against based on her limited access to technology needed to participate in some candidate forum events.

“That upsets me very much. It's not a fair playing field if it is contingent on how updated my computer, browser or skills are,” she wrote.

While some candidates reported feeling discriminated against for non-political reasons, a majority of others indicated they have not.

“I hope everyone is safe, and I applaud anyone who seeks to serve in public office,” wrote Sam Elmslie, “an openly LGBTQIA2 candidate” running in Ward 3.

“That being said, I think that I'm not very visibly a minority, and so am very likely less apt to be subject to harassment and discrimination.”

Instead of discrimination, Hitesh Jagad of Ward 4 said he’s been greeted with happy smiles and support for a diverse council.

“I am all happy to share that, I am living in city a where there is no space for discrimination and welcome everyone.”

Experiences at doors have been “overwhelmingly positive,” responded Ken Yee Chew, who refers to himself as “a young Chinese Canadian” who is running in Ward 6.

“Many people are very encouraged to see a new face make a run for the south end,” he wrote. “Thankfully I haven't had to deal with any harassment or discrimination and I hope it stays that way.”

Numerous other respondees condemned the the presence of racism and other discrimination.

“It is reprehensible and has no place in Guelph or Canadian democracy,” wrote Ward 3's Luc Cousineau, noting discrimination of candidates is an “important issue” to address. “Let us continue to call it out as unwelcome in our community.”