Vote ‘YES’: A Message from Stephanie Bakker

A transcript of a message from Stephanie Bakker, lead of the Westlock Neutrality Team.

Across Canada, from the Prime Minister down to the Mayor of our little town, we have seen the rapid spread of the idea that some Canadians should receive preferential treatment. “Equal under the law” isn’t enough. Some, apparently, must be promoted above others. This is the idea of “equity”.

As Interim Mayor Jamaly said, “We believe in equitable governance over neutral governance.” Let’s stop and consider what that actually means.

He believes the government SHOULD be allowed to discriminate and play favourites. If anyone comes along asking for everyone to be treated equally, they will be labelled as against the government’s current pet group. The government, of course, gets to choose who is deserving of this special treatment. Now, they base their favouritism on whether or not a group is a minority or has suffered. But “who has suffered most” is not a game to play to build a thriving society.

It seems it’s no longer enough to just believe that everyone is worth respect regardless of their beliefs or genetics, but that we must elevate some above others to “make up for” past inequality. This is the stuff of anti-racism. As a black woman, my “race theory” is “Have you ever personally owned a slave? No? Have I ever personally been a slave? No? Then no reparations are needed. You are not responsible for anyone else’s actions. I am not defined by other’s experiences. Let’s grab coffee.”

Now I’m NOT saying there aren’t people who have experienced racism on a personal level. And I’m NOT saying that those of the pride and trans community have not experienced prejudice on a personal level. But let me lean in as I make this crucial point: this does not make it right for the government to step in and start promoting certain humans over other humans.

The crux of the matter is that they believe in Equity and we believe in Equality. Equality means everyone is treated the same way. Equity means those who are seen as disadvantaged are to be given special treatment. The trouble is, democracy is founded on the ideas of equality.

Councilor Keyes likened the way they’re supporting the pride community to when one of her kids needs extra help with their homework and so she gives them extra time and attention. I would like to offer a more accurate analogy drawn from my own life.

My half-sister and I were raised together by our amazing single mom. My sister’s father was white while mine was black. If the type of equity the Town Council wants had been played out in my family, my mother would have told us my entire life that I was less privileged than my sister and needed special treatment to make it fair. My sister is also 5 years older and bigger and stronger than me, so it’s even more inequitable. My sister would have been told that it was insensitive to put up decorations celebrating her birthday as she was white and bigger, but that my birthday should be made a big deal of. It wouldn’t be enough that my sister cared for me and never treated me as less than her. In the shared spaces of the house, a big picture of me would have been put on the wall. Any requests by her to be treated as an equal daughter would have my mother immediately grounding her and telling her she was a bigot and targeting me with discrimination.

How much harder would this make it to have peace in our home? How much harder would this make it for my sister and I to feel close? How much would this have negatively shaped my own self-perception growing up?

Perhaps the government is choosing a group that you approve of to promote today. But what happens if a party you don’t like gets into office, and now THEY have the power of promotion and discrimination? Who will they decide is “worthy” or “unworthy”? You may not agree with their choice, but it is very hard to take back power once you have given it to the government.

People ask, “don’t you care about how this will affect the kids who painted this crosswalk?” As a mother, my answer is a heartfelt “yes!” Yet, as a mother, I know that it is better to say no to something I can see will hurt kids in the future far more than my “no” will hurt them in the present. And allowing the government to sway away from neutrality will affect ALL future children. As an adult, it is my job to make decisions with an eye to the repercussions that will ensue, even if the kids cannot see it.

The neutrality bylaw does not target any one group, something the councilor’s themselves cannot help but accidentally keep saying. Councilor Jamaly said, “Only one thing will change if this bylaw passes… we will take the colours of the collected voice… and we will paint over them.” I guess this invalidates former Mayor Leriger’s comment that “we would not be able to fly flags of the Canadian Military or of our schools, of the poppy for Remembrance Day or flags marking the Christmas season, as well as the Treaty 6 Metis and pride flags”?

Which is it – that this bylaw targets and affects one group, or that it asks for general neutrality, which affects many groups? You can’t have it both ways. THEY have made this all about the pride and trans community. They were the ones who chose this group. Had they wanted to paint a Black Lives Matter or a Buddhist crosswalk, we would have taken issue with that as well. Using the pride and trans community as a shield for their actions is harming the very ones they claim are the most vulnerable.

They’ve forfeited any right to gnash their teeth over lost opportunities to honour our military, etc, due to their complete lack of interest until now. Keyes brought up that Clyde had raised an indigenous flag in 2022 and lamented that a neutrality bylaw will prevent Westlock from doing the same. She did not, however, give any reasons for why Westlock did not raise an indigenous flag at the same time or in the year since. Where were you, oh proud supporter of the veterans and Indigenous, before our petition came along?

As we went door-to-door with the petition, the comments we received from those both for or against the neutrality bylaw were fairly Canadian and polite. However, I have never heard such prejudice and intolerance as spewed by our council and mayor. A professional response might have been to say “clearly many of our citizens (over 700) are having issues with this decision. Let’s slow down, address these concerns, and try to find a way to move forward as a united community.” Instead, they called us a Radical Minority (an interesting thing to say considering several of these councilors were appointed to their position with less votes than the petition received).

They have been insulting, dismissive, and smug. But, in their minds, this is ok because we are “those people”. The “bad guys”. So to ride roughshod over the people of the town who disagree with them is ok.

Councilor Morie said that “We find ourselves here because of a poorly written section of the MGA and the artful way the petition was written.” I can only assume she means that annoying part off the MGA where citizens are allowed to petition and have a voice if they disagree with the council.

Councilor Wold commented how he “grew up in a neighbourhood that was very diverse and we were friends with everybody in the neighbourhood.” I have to wonder, how many rainbow crosswalks did they have back then to create such a tolerant utopia?

Councilor Morie mentioned the “ensuing economic ramifications, not to mention the waste of our energy and resources.” Democracy is a waste of energy, it seems. Were the council so concerned about our energy and resources, perhaps they could have scheduled the vote for the bylaw on the same date as the byelection for the new mayor.

They’ve repeatedly said they want the people of the community to feel safe. However, they have shown zero concern for the many people who agreed with the petition but felt too afraid to sign. People who feared reprisals. People who said they would sign except they work for the Town and were afraid to lose their jobs. Maybe have an eye to the bullying and intimidation in your own house, Council. Or is feeling unsafe only A bad thing if you’re the “right kind” of government-sanctioned people?

Is their level of shaming language in any way appropriate for one group speaking about another because they hold different beliefs? How much more inappropriate is this language coming from elected representatives about their constituents?

As I sat in the meeting, listening to their sanctimonious speeches, it was reinforced how much we need to demand government neutrality as a nation. If that needs to start in the small towns and work its way up, so be it.

Jamaly quoted a list of towns in Canada who have already painted a crosswalk, as if this proved the righteousness of their actions, not seeming to realize that this illustrates what a broad-scale problem this is in Canada. The fact that CBC news, CTV news, Global News, Rebel News and the Epoch Times have reached out to our small town about this issue highlights that what we are fighting here is not “just a crosswalk – why make a big deal about it?”. One thing Jamaly and I can agree on: “The gravity of what a neutrality bylaw means for other communities in Alberta”.

I’ve put my face and name to this. That hasn’t been easy. I’m aware that this makes me a target for the leaders of our community who are much more powerful than I and for some not-exactly-impartial news outlets in Canada. There’s always the chance that the vote will go against this bylaw, and of course that will be disappointing but, hey, that’s democracy. But I am compelled to take a stand for what I believe in. So I’m asking you to stretch your own courage and stand up for equality (not “equity”!) and neutrality. For respect for each human you meet, regardless of their beliefs. Stand up for it in every small opportunity that comes your way. In your conversations with your neighbours. In the February 22nd vote on this bylaw. And yes, there are louder people who have a bigger platform to speak from than little old you. But you have the power of your voice and your vote. Use them.

Whether you vote “yes”, “no”, or sit at home – your voice will be heard.

Please take the time to consider what you want it to say.