A controversial proposal to ask the Canadian military to fund Remembrance Day ceremonies in Victoria died at Thursday’s city council meeting.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and her fellow councillors declined to bring the amendment to a vote, while apologizing to the veterans who had gathered at the meeting to voice their outrage at the request.
Ben Isitt, the councillor who introduced the motion, was silent as Helps and the rest of council apologized while committing to cover policing costs for Remembrance Day and other special events in the capital.
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“Councillors who voted in favour of asking Veterans Affairs to fund Remembrance Day changed their minds — so much so that it didn’t even make it to the floor this evening,” Helps said.
“My biggest hope this week is that … we would send a signal that we support the people who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and who have served.”
The proposal, which called on staff to request the Department of National Defence (DND) to pay for policing costs during Remembrance Day and other military commemorative events, was initially approved during a committee of the whole meeting last Thursday despite Helps and two other councillors voting against it.
It was immediately met with outrage, particularly as the meeting was held on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
At the time, Isitt apologized for the timing of the request, but held firm that asking the department to use its $20-million budget to cover the costs was “good policy.”
At the council meeting Thursday, the emotional veterans said hearing about the proposal was “triggering” for them.
“It was a slap in the face to everyone, every man and woman who has ever put on the uniform,” Keith Rosenberg told the councillors, while saying Isitt’s proposal made Victoria “a laughing stock.”
“I’ve had enough of the disrespect our veterans are getting from all levels of government,” he continued. “I did not serve to be treated as trash.”
Coun. Marianne Alto, who originally voted for the proposal, admitted she and other councillors had made a “terrible mistake.”
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“I think that was the right thing for us to simply acknowledge that no one wanted to bring it forward,” she said. “Each of us understood differently and we all made an error.”
After council declined to bring forward the amendment, Isitt accused the “corporate media” of orchestrating a smear campaign against his character along with conservative political organizations.
“The logical outcome of the smear campaign against this city council will be the rubber stamping of every request for funding and every other decision that comes across our desks, out of fear of causing offence,” Isitt told the room.
“To be frank, this agenda is dangerous and undermines our democratic institutions. It distorts city council deliberations in order to stir up emotional reactions, and it discourages elected officials from asking the hard questions necessary to do the jobs that we were elected to do.”
Isitt again acknowledged that his amendment was ill-timed, and also apologized to the veterans in the room.
The councillor later posted the prepared remarks to Medium.com under the title, “smear campaigns and our local democracy.”
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The amendment was initially added to a motion for council to discuss the future of city funding for the capital’s annual Canada Day celebrations.
Council voted Thursday to approve $135,000 in additional funding for “special event policing costs,” including Canada Day and Remembrance Day.
The money will come from the city’s 2019 contingency budget.
“Council was clear and unanimous tonight in recognizing that Remembrance Day is a community event and that the city has a role to play in honouring people who have served and who are serving in the armed forces,” Helps said in a statement following the meeting.
—With files from Kylie Stanton