2 min

Church poll an affront to gays

Recent conference should disqualify location: activists

OBVIOUSLY PARTISAN. Janna Sylvest says the Pentecostal Broadway Church should not be used as a polling station just weeks after hosting a conference which offended the queer community. Credit: Xtra West files

When should a church be used as a polling station? When it hasn’t hosted anti-gay events in recent times, say some Vancouver East Side gays and lesbians.

And they’re furious and insulted that Elections Canada will use the Broadway Church as an advance polling station just weeks after the Pentecostal denomination hosted an event put on by Focus on the Family.

The May 1 Love Won Out meeting featured Californian clinical psychologist Dr Joseph Nicolosi. He told several hundred people that homosexuality is a gender identity disorder rather than a sexual issue-and can be cured.

Nicolosi advocates reparative therapy, which the American Psychological Association has discredited after removing homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.

The Broadway Church’s website has links to both Focus on the Family and Trinity Western University, which requires students and faculty abstain from gay sex.

Vancouver East riding is home to one of Canada’s largest concentrations of queer voters. Womyns’Ware operator Janna Sylvest says the church should never have been selected as a polling station.

Given the Focus on the Family presence, Sylvest says the very structure of the church is a violation of the Elections Act rule that there be no campaigning at or near a polling station.

The church is quite obviously partisan, she says.

And, says Sylvest, a lawyer by training who has overseen polling stations in the past, it’s a violation of the separation of church and state.

Elections Canada disagrees. Spokesperson Susan Friend says polling station sites-whether they are churches, community centres or schools-are selected for their central locations in ridings.

“It has no connection to the church or any event held there,” she says.

Stephen Burri disagrees. The BC representative to Egale-Canada’s national queer-rights lobby group-says local population demographics should be taken into account in choosing polling stations.

Burri, also a lawyer, says the Focus on the Family meeting was an affront to the queer community and the selection of the church as a polling place is questionable as a result.

However, Friend says, those who do not wish to use the church as an advance poll can contact the riding’s Elections Canada returning office and arrange for a special ballot which must be in Ottawa before 6 pm local time on June 28. Special ballots can be obtained through the Elections Canada website or by calling Vancouver East returning officer Malcolm Bates Bryson at 1.866.564.6457.

That’s not good enough, says Sylvest. Elections Canada’s ignorance of the affront to the gay community creates an oppressive situation. The government agency has left it “up to the voter to protect themselves from oppression,” she says.

“That’s what’s appalling. It’s not good enough to say the voter should get a special ballot. They need to come up with an alternative and send out follow-up [voters] cards,” Sylvest says.

Focus on the Family became the subject of controversy in mid-May when it ran radio spots and display ads in 26 Canadian newspapers-including The Province-promoting the view that marriage means the union of a man and woman. “Traditional marriage-if you believe in it, protect it,” the ads said. The campaign cost upwards of $600,000 but was halted prior to the election call due to the $150,000 cap on third-party election spending.

Advance polling was scheduled to take place Jun 18, 19 and 21. Advance polls in the area were also scheduled at Britannia Community Centre.