6 min

Odyssey vote proof she’ll support the community: Anton

NPA mayoral candidate on Pride, priorities and Occupy Vancouver

Credit: Janet Rerecich photo

In 2009, Suzanne Anton was the only city councillor to vote in favour of The Odyssey’s relocation to Denman St after it was ordered to close its Howe St doors to make way for supportive housing for HIV-positive people.

She was also the only city councillor to vote against the creation of a gay advisory committee, saying at the time that she was concerned about putting people “in silos” and that a broader diversity committee had “dealt with the issues common to all types of people.”

She now says the dedicated committee could advise the city about making streets safer for queers.

Xtra sat down with the NPA’s mayoral candidate on Oct 25 to talk about gay priorities, civic designation for Pride (which may not happen in her first year in office after all), and the right to peaceful assembly. Here are some excerpts from that interview. 


Xtra: What do you think are the top three priorities of Vancouver’s queer community?

Suzanne Anton: I have to think about that . . . There is hate crime, there is homophobia . . . I don’t know if it’s for me to be telling you what the top priorities are. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to hear from the community.

But in any event, that would be one. Secondly, it’s always been quite interesting on Davie St that that was the gay area, so personally I’m very interested in it staying that way. I know it does seem to be diluting a bit, and I hope that it doesn’t. I did support the move of The Odyssey, as you may know. The Odyssey has not reopened, and that’s very disappointing.


Xtra: If you become mayor what will you do to address the problem of gaybashings that still occur on the streets?

SA: Granville St entertainment district is kind of a wild and wooly area. One of the things I’d like to do is make Granville more of a mixed area, just to tone down that aggressive drunkenness that you get.

Xtra: So you see the Granville Entertainment District contributing to that aggressiveness that we see on Davie St?

SA: I think it is a problem there . . . One of the things I do like to do is make sure I have the people around me who can help. I am very good at listening. We have the GLBTQ committee right now. New council will put new committees in place. It’s that committee which is very helpful to come forward with ways the city can help with this issue. I’m not sure if they’ve been asked to do that, and that would be something I would want them to do: bring us some advice to the city as to how we can make it a safer place.

Xtra:  One of the things various people in the queer community have asked for, over the years, has been beat cops as a way of reducing homophobic attacks. Do you think that is a good solution?

SA: We’d always like beat cops. The reality is the police never deploy beat cops. They do deploy some in the Downtown Eastside. Should there be more deployed? I do think so.

We do have the BIA and the security, and I would hope that people who are thinking that they should have beat cops are also working with the programs that are run by the BIA because they are a little bit more nimble, more available and you have control over their assignment.

At the end of the last council we were implementing training for those teams, and then they would get a little city support. [Vision Vancouver] cancelled the program because they don’t like the idea of private security. I’m certainly interested in looking at that program again.

Xtra: We recently have seen the removal of newspaper boxes, including Xtra‘s, from Vancouver streets as a result of the Occupy Vancouver at the VAG. Our community sees this an infringement of freedom of speech and access to its press. How would you respond to that?

SA: I agree, yeah.

Xtra: Is there a plan if you become mayor to have boxes removed?

SA: Absolutely not.

Xtra: What is your position on the idea of freedom of speech and access to media?

SA: That’s fundamental to our democratic society. There are times — Stanley Cup night was an example of where, if you’re expecting hundreds of thousands of people downtown, and you are sensing there may be a problem, then they need to come out for the night because that’s what gets kicked over and lit on fire and stuff like that. But that removal just needs to be momentary and only on occasions when security is really a significant issue.

Xtra: You reportedly told the Vancouver Sun that the mayor has demonstrated a “failure of leadership” by giving the protesters “carte blanche to stay there as long as they want.” You reportedly argued that protesters should not have been allowed to set up tents in the first place. Are you against freedom of assembly like the one that’s happening at Occupy Vancouver?

SA: Of course not. You keep framing your questions in the negative as though you’re thinking maybe I am . . . I’m obviously very supportive of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I’m a lawyer. It’s part of our fundamental Charter of Rights. What I did not support, and do not support, is the tents there, because once you got a tent, you get what we’ve got now, which is a fairly permanent encampment on public space, and I don’t support the encampment.

Xtra: How would you suggest they get their viewpoint out?

SA: People get viewpoints out in many different ways, in the same way that everybody gets their viewpoint out, which is having a message that people hear . . . I cannot emphasize enough that that is fundamental to our society, that people be able to speak freely.

Xtra: UBC lawyer Bill Black is quoted on NEWS 1130 saying, “The Charter applies whether you try to prevent an activity in advance, or whether you try to shut it down afterwards, and the court has been pretty clear that prior restrictions on expression can be violations of the Charter.” How would you respond to that argument?

SA: Even speaking has limits. You can’t speak hatefully, so there are limits to what we can do, and camping on the Art Gallery front space, there’s a limit. I do not believe people should be camping there. There’s so many groups that want to use that space right now. The menorah should be going up in a few weeks’ time for Hanukkah. People don’t know if they’re going to be able to do that. There’s the Christmas tree and the food-bank fundraiser. There’s all these things impacted by that. And it’s very costly as well.

Xtra: Civic designation for Pride, that’s something that —

SA: Yeah, Sean Bickerton, our guy…

Xtra: Will you designate Pride as a civic event?

SA: Yes, that’s part of our NPA platform.

Xtra: How does that look, have you had —

SA: If there’s a teensiest bit of hesitation, we do need to fit it into the budgeting, and would it be the very first year that you could manage the full budget, or would it be over a couple of years? I’m not sure, but I’d like to get towards that. Pride is a great parade. It’s got to be one of the biggest, and it’s certainly one of the most colourful that’s in the middle of the summer.

Xtra: There is a perception that you’re complaining about Gregor and what he says and does, as opposed to promoting your platform.

SA: When you’re running against an incumbent, you need to tell people two things: what you’re going to do and why this incumbent is not the best mayor for Vancouver.

I think people see it as a leadership issue. The Stanley Cup riot, the fact that nobody was in charge, which I think was very damning. The fact that this Occupy now is running on indefinitely. He gave them the green light to go indefinitely, and now he’s saying, you’ll have to stop. But this again, very uncertain what his position is on it, so fairly weak leadership there.

We have some big projects. We’re going to move ahead with St Paul’s Hospital. We’re liberating it from the 11-storey restriction so it can go higher. It’s really important that we keep St Paul’s here in the West End. The best way to keep it here is to allow it the flexibility to develop in the most efficient manner it can develop. They still do not have a commitment from the provincial government. I want them to get that commitment from the provincial government.

Xtra: When I spoke with Gregor when he was running for mayor in 2008, he said, “I will stand up and fight for queer rights.” What assurances can you give the queer community if you become mayor that you will not only listen, but act on the community’s behalf?

SA: Let me just tell you I was the only person who supported The Odyssey, and that was not necessarily a popular decision, because there were a lot of people down here who didn’t like the idea of it coming down here.

Xtra: Anything else? Why should the queer community vote for you?

SA: Well, I think that that’s an example, that I was very willing to support the queer community at that point, in the face of quite a lot of opposition. I’m saying just look at that example, something I was willing to do at that time, and I would be willing to do it again.