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Burnaby Parents’ Voice fielding five trustee candidates in civic election

'We cannot be a single-issue group': Lau

Charter Lau says he's received calls from gay people interested in having a dialogue. "I was actually thinking of sitting with them and talk to them, like if I were elected, is there anything that we can do, that both sides can compromise." Credit: Shimon Karmel photo

A parents’ group that fought the passage of 5.45, Burnaby’s new anti-homophobia policy, will field five candidates in the Nov 19 civic elections under the banner of Burnaby Parents’ Voice.

“The grassroots party is pleased to offer a slate of five candidates, all Burnaby parents of school-aged children. They are Homara Ahmad, Charter Lau, Helen Ward, Gordon World and Long Xue,” an Oct 11 press release from the newly minted party states.

Both World and Lau were two of the main spokespersons for the group Parents’ Voice at the forefront of the late spring protests against policy 5.45, which Burnaby School Board trustees eventually passed on June 14.

When news that Parents’ Voice members were considering an election run began circulating in early summer, Lau told Xtra he was uncertain about throwing his hat into the electoral ring. He now says he decided to run at the urging of his children, especially his 14-year-old daughter, who began asking him about policy 5.45.

“If I’m lucky enough to be elected, anti-bullying has to be my first priority, regardless of your sexual orientation; if you are gay student and you get harassed, I will get the bully, get to him and make sure this is properly addressed,” Lau says. “I won’t hesitate to do a little bit more than normally a school board trustee will do, just to make sure no one will be unsafe in school – without going into too much detail.”

Lau says the prospects of getting elected are “quite honestly slim because we don’t have a budget. We are just trying, we’re just making a gesture to parents, saying, ‘Okay, look, if you want, vote for us. If you don’t care, I can’t do much.'” He says it’s in the hands of parents, adding, “We just make ourselves available.”

But Lau stresses that the party’s formation is not about “the gay issue as people expect it. We cannot be a single-issue group.”

He says the party also supports “excellence in education,” wants to cut waste”  and is for equality. He says the 5.45 conflict was just the start, noting that a trustee’s mandate is “way bigger than one policy.”

In July, Lau told Xtra that he didn’t think it would be “a good gesture to show the gay community that you scrap 5.45.” Lau also said that if he were to run for trustee and win, he would “try to make everybody happy.”

Asked if any gay people have been approached to run on the Burnaby Parents’ Voice slate, Lau says the party cannot find enough straight candidates, “not to mention gay candidates.”

“I’d love to have gay candidates, no kidding,” he says. Lau notes that he has received calls from gay people, some of whom are interested in having a dialogue. “I was actually thinking of sitting with them and talk to them, like if I were elected, is there anything that we can do, that both sides can compromise a little bit; what is the common thing we can do?”

At the height of the controversy over the policy, World suggested during a presentation to the school board that he would vie for one of the trustee’s jobs during the upcoming elections.

“November, as many of us know, is election time. The chances of some of you being reelected is in jeopardy because of this [policy],” World told the Burnaby school trustees in a presentation against 5.45. “If there isn’t somebody who steps up to the plate, I myself will take one of your jobs.”

Asked in July if he planned to push for the removal of 5.45 should he become a trustee, World said he would have to “explore the policies and procedures to facilitate that, but it would certainly be a consideration, yes.” He said the policy is something that “we don’t need and favour.”

But Lau says that the issue of 5.45 has barely come up in discussions in the leadup to the new party’s formation. “We are concentrating on getting information, like asking the school board how many anti-bullying instances have been recorded; we need to know the facts, numbers.”

He says, however, that some of the policy’s terms, such as gender identity and heterosexism, are still hot-button topics that “cannot easily go away.”

Burnaby Parents’ Voice is staging a meet-the-candidates event at the Nikkei Centre at 6688 Southoak Crescent on Oct 14 at 7pm.

All five candidates will address the meeting and will speak to the issues they see as important and present solutions, Lau says. “Hopefully we can sign up a few brave souls to put lawn signs in front of their house.”

Heather Leung, another outspoken critic of 5.45, is president of the new party.