Former Non-Partisan Association (NPA) city councillor Alan Herbert and Vision Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson are calling on the NPA to remove one of its candidates from its slate of city council hopefuls because he opposes gay marriage on religious grounds.
NPA candidate Ronald Leung has hosted a six-day-a-week radio program in Cantonese on Fairchild in Vancouver for the past 10 years. “Because it was an open-line program,” says Leung, “a lot of people phoned in to talk about gay marriage. In the Chinese community, the general perception that I got is that the majority of my audience didn’t want the federal government to change the definition of marriage.
“Maybe in one or two of my comments,” he continues, “I sided with my audience. But that topic has already been settled by the federal government and it’s now the law of the country. I haven’t talked about it in the last few months. This is not a civic election issue.”
Stevenson says it is an election issue. “Mr Leung is wrong,” he said in an Oct 25 press release. “As a councillor, he’ll be voting on a wide range of issues that directly affect the gay and lesbian community. His personal views are absolutely relevant and [NPA mayoral candidate Sam] Sullivan owes it to voters to ensure his candidates are honest and upfront on the issues no matter how abhorrent their views.”
“You know how passionately I’ve fought for the gay community,” Stevenson, who is also a minister in the United Church, told Xtra West Oct 4. “It just scares me to have somebody who’s in a position as a broadcaster in the Chinese community that’s spreading this stuff.”
Sullivan says he’s been a guest on Leung’s program at least a half-dozen times, but he’s never heard him say anything he’d call homophobic. “As far as I know,” he says, “he is open and tolerant and inclusive with anyone.”
Sullivan has refused to kick Leung off the NPA slate.
Xtra West contacted former Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Svend Robinson and former BC Human Rights Commissioner Mary-Woo Sims, who have both been openly gay guests on Leung’s program. They too said Leung never said anything during their encounters that they considered to be either explicitly or implicitly homophobic.
In December 2004, a group called the Canadian Broadcasting Quality Concern Group (CBQCG) issued a press release alleging “bias and discrimination” on Leung’s program in his coverage of the same-sex marriage debate.
CBQCB president Dan Shield says he heads a group of Chinese-Canadians working to uncover and report bias and discriminatory behaviour by the media. Shield, who monitors the programming on Fairchild and personally listened to Leung’s broadcasts on gay marriage, says he wouldn’t call Leung’s comments hateful, just biased.
“He sort of guided the people he invited against same-sex marriage and same-sex benefits,” says Shield. “Even though Canada’s already passed a rule that we all agree on the issue.”
Shield says he thinks everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that his group was more concerned that Leung’s broadcasts were a threat to the democratic process in Canada rather than specifically to gay people.
Xtra West contacted the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) to ask if any complaints have ever been filed against Leung’s program.
“We’ve had two almost identical complaints from the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association (CASJFVA) suggesting they don’t have the opportunity to get on air with their anti-same-sex marriage position,” says CBSC national chair Ron Cohen. “They felt they were getting insufficient access.”
The complaints referred to broadcasts in July of 2002 and January of 2005. Cohen says the CBSC was satisfied Fairchild addressed those complaints. He says there are no complaints alleging anti-gay bias on file.
The CASJFVA staged at least two anti-gay rallies and collected 29,000 signatures, mostly from the Chinese community, on a petition opposing Bill C-38, the same-sex marriage bill. Former Canadian Alliance, now Conservative, MP John Duncan (Vancouver Island North) presented the petition to parliament during the debate over C-38 in the House of Commons this year.
Leung is also a longtime member of the congregation of the Burnaby Alliance Church.
As of press time, the church’s website included a notice from 2002 that read: “The Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association will be holding a rally on Aug 16… to oppose Bill C-250 [an amendment to the Criminal Code that made it a crime to incite hatred based on sexual orientation]. This is the last opportunity for us to raise our concerns on the redefinition of marriage, which will adversely affect our country and generations to come. We encourage everyone to attend this important event. Our church has already rented two buses to go as a group.”
Also on the website is a message to the congregation from August of 2002 in which Burnaby Alliance Senior Pastor Titus Cheung wrote that he was disheartened to learn that elected government representatives participated in Vancouver’s gay Pride Parade.
“Is this what we can expect from our proudly hailed ‘democratic society’ of the West or from our freely elected officials upon whom we look for servitude and governance?” wrote Cheung. “Perhaps our government’s much heralded ‘multiculturalism’ is intrinsically linked to the precursor for the anti-Christ.”
Later in the message Cheung writes: “Today’s Christians must be fully aware that we are living in a most evil time. Satan’s warheads are taking dead aim at those who are devoted followers of our Lord Jesus.”
“You know,” says Leung, “that is a speech given in the church and we have to be very clear in our rights and freedoms. Even in this legislation regarding gay marriage they have a clause that they can choose not to follow that inside a church because in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms they also quote the right of religion in this country.
“In my church, the pastor follows his interpretation of the Bible as his point of view in religion,” Leung continues. “In the Christian faith, I don’t think that can reflect what is happening in Canada.
“I don’t think gay people are Satan’s warheads,” he adds. “I hope you understand that attacks by one individual don’t represent who I am.”
Xtra West asked if Leung had a message to gay people who may be alarmed by his opinions and his pastor’s rhetoric.
“I would say if I am elected as a city councillor, my decision making will be for the benefit and the well-being of the city of Vancouver. I don’t know what is the relationship between what is my interpretation of the Bible and my decision making as a city councillor,” said Leung.