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BC Conservatives Reveal Their Ugly Approach to Democracy

When a man disrupted a school sports day with a transphobic outburst, the party faced a test. It failed.

Paul Willcocks 20 Jun 2023The Tyee

Paul Willcocks is a senior editor at The Tyee.

It didn’t take long for the new BC Conservatives to out themselves as a vile, dangerous fringe party that has nothing to do with conservatism.

Most people have read about the horrible events at an elementary school track and field day in Kelowna.

Josef Tesar was waiting to watch his nine-year-old granddaughter compete in shot put when he decided that one of the other competitors was a boy. Why? Who knows — maybe something as simple as her pixie haircut.

Tesar and his wife walked on to the field. Accounts differ on what happened next. Tesar says he privately consulted the official overseeing the event to ask if it was “a mixed competition.” When the official said no, Tesar demanded that the girl’s “certificate” be checked before she was allowed to compete.

The girl’s parents say Tesar and his wife shouted insults. And teachers at the event say he was belligerent, accosted the family, questioned the girl’s gender and created such an uproar that the girl began crying. He wouldn’t stop when teachers asked, and the event had to be moved to a different part of the field.

I prefer the nine-year-old girl’s perspective on the experience, shared by the Vancouver Sun.

“I was kind of feeling devastated and sad because some people have mistaken me for a boy before because of my short hair… but no one has taken it as far as he did,” she wrote.

“My first two throws weren’t that good because I was crying and hurt because of what he said. I think I could have gotten a ribbon if this had not happened.”

I expect any reasonable person would agree that an adult who shows up at an elementary school sports event and makes a child cry is behaving despicably, and that such behaviour should be condemned.

But not BC Conservative candidate Karin Litzcke, who described the discussion of gender and sexuality in schools as “mental torture” while campaigning unsuccessfully for the Vancouver School Board last fall. Litzcke is running in Saturday’s Vancouver-Mount Pleasant byelection.

When a person on Twitter suggested that Litzcke’s rhetoric and policy directions helped inspire this kind of behaviour, Litzcke didn’t deny it or condemn Tesar’s actions.

“Of course confronting children or parents directly is not optimal; a quiet query to organizers and polite response would do. That said, this kind of tension arises when societal trust is eroded by glorifying dishonesty,” she tweeted in response.

Breaking up an elementary school sports day, scaring people and making a child cry is way beyond “not optimal.”

And claiming this behaviour is the kind of thing that “arises when societal trust is eroded by glorifying dishonesty” is even more bizarre. Conservatives are supposed to believe in personal responsibility, not hide behind vague political excuses.

Conservative Leader John Rustad had a chance to salvage the party’s reputation.

But he didn’t. Rustad responded not by condemning the behaviour, but instead by standing by Litzcke and pledging that BC Conservative would never “back down" in fighting to impose its ideas on who can participate in sports.

It’s “dangerous and unfair” to allow trans athletes to compete, Rustad said. “We refuse to go along with allowing ideology to be pushed on children,” he wrote. “We will not go woke — and we will never give in to cancel culture.”

Where to begin? There is no fairness or safety issue in letting nine-year-olds of any gender compete. Pre-puberty, their strength development is equal. So Rustad’s stance is entirely about imposing his ideology on everyone else.

Conservatives, we are told, are supposed to respect individual rights and be wary of government. BC Conservatives specifically say they want “smaller government.”

But Rustad wants governments to dictate who is eligible to participate in sports, from kids’ leagues to the pros. Presumably his “anti-woke” campaign will bring more and more government control over the lives of individuals, parents, school districts and all of society. Quite an overreach from a “small-government” party.

The BC Conservatives are a fringe party, with four per cent support in a recent poll.

But they are dangerous, because their rhetoric, borrowed from U.S. ideologues and autocrats, encourages people to ignore the rule of law.

We’ve seen the results in the U.S. And we are seeing them in Canada: in Tesar’s disruption, attacks on elected school boards, threats of violence over library events and border blockades.

These ideologues are legitimized by politicians like Rustad, with his promises the party will “refuse to go along” with policies it doesn’t agree with.

It’s a language of confrontation that rejects the rule of law and the importance of respecting democracy and individual rights.

And it emboldens a fringe group to do whatever they want to impose their ideology on society, with tacit support from people like Rustad and Litzcke.

Rustad and his fellow travellers may not be calling for violence. But they are legitimizing it by failing to condemn aggressive behaviour, and instead insisting how important it is to “not back down.”

The threat of violence is already real. And if we continue down this path, everyone the fringe group disagrees with will be at risk.  [Tyee]

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