Duncan mayor Michelle Staples shares a moment with Cowichan Tribes chief William (Chip) Seymour following a press conference denouncing racism on Wednesday morning. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Cowichan Valley leaders stand united against racism

Tensions flare as a result of dog abuse trial

Cowichan’s MP, MLA, three mayors, the regional district and school district chairs and other local leaders stood united with Cowichan Tribes chief William (Chip) Seymour on Wednesday morning to denounce the brewing racism that’s emerged as a result of the Teddy the dog trial.

Joining the chief outside the Cowichan Tribes band office were Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor, Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, City of Duncan mayor Michelle Staples, North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring, Ladysmith mayor Aaron Stone, CVRD board chair Candace Spilsbury, CVRD board chair Ian Morrison and many other elected local leaders.

Together they urged the community to let the justice system do its job.

“I’m here to ask everyone for calmness. We do need to ensure that justice has its say and that happens in the court,” Seymour said. “I’m just pleading with everybody to ratchet down in their feelings.”

Regional politicians weigh in

“I’m very pleased to join with all the political leaders of our community to take a strong stand against the racism and hate we’ve seen in our community recently surrounding the Teddy the dog trial,” MP Alistair MacGregor said. “I’ve always said from the get-go that changing the law is not going to change the problem of animal abuse and animal cruelty which happens far too often in this country, no matter what the demographics. And I think that we can all agree that the Teddy the dog trial was one of the worst we’ve all seen and it has certainly galvanized this community. With that being said, we have to stand together as a community, we have to have faith in the rule of law and we have to have faith that the Justice system is going to do its job.”

MLA Sonia Furstenau noted the short-notice gathering of the region’s top politicians was an example of how things work in Cowichan.

“We work across jurisdictions, we work across party lines because all of us are committed to doing our very best for this community and right now what is so necessary is to remind everybody in this community that in Cowichan we take care of each other,” Furstenau said. “We don’t react in ways that create division.”

SEE RELATED: Cowichan Tribes chief issues statement asking for calm

Mayors stand in support

North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring noted that before the meeting began, the politicians were greeting each other with hugs.

“The reality is that we have a wide spectrum of political opinion around the table. We have an NDP member of parliament, we have a Green MLA, we have other people of other stripes represented here but you know what? None of that matters because we are united in spite of those differences, in working toward a community that is united.”

Siebring went on to say social media was a blessing and a curse.

“I just find it astonishing, some of the stuff I’ve seen the last couple of days,” he said. “When I see the level of hostility that has been generated by some of those who are seeking justice for Teddy…when I see the kind of things that are being done, the kind of graffiti, the kind of threats, the kind of language that’s being used, I’m aghast. Yes we need to ratchet this down, yes we need to let the justice system do it’s work, but more than that we need to stand as a community and say we live in a place that’s governed by the rule of law and not vigilantism. Let the system work.”

Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said it’s time for people to stand alongside those they see being targeted and let them know they’ve got support.

“…We are here together. We are neighbours, we are friends, we are co-workers we are family and all of that comes first and that it’s all of our voices together, the ones that need to stand up to the people who still want to perpetuate old racist ideas. We need to stand up and say that’s not acceptable here anymore. If you’re going to believe that and think that way, we’re going to counter that.”

Staples said she’s been hearing of incidents in restaurants, in stores, on the streets.

“If you see and hear that, this is the time to stand up to it. This is the time to say I’m sorry you feel that way and I don’t understand why but here that’s not how we treat each other and to stand by the person who is experiencing that so they know that they’re not alone.”

SEE RELATED: Teddy the dog trial will go to a third day

RELATED STORY: Teddy the dog trial begins in Duncan

A recent fire led some to speculate it was intentionally set, but on Tuesday afternoon, North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP Insp. Chris Bear said, “the fire is still under investigation and the cause of the fire has not been determined.”

The Teddy trial is set to continue this Friday, March 15. Anderson Joe faces charges of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal and failing to provide the necessities of life for an animal. His trial has already been held for two days but requires a third.

If convicted, Joe could face a maximum penalty of up to 18 months in prison, a $10,000 fine and up to a lifetime ban on owning animals. Also charged in the case, Melissa Tooshley has already pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to provide the necessities of life for an animal.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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