3 min

Who’s prompting the Burnaby protests?

No one, says Parents' Voice spokesperson

“It’s not even a coalition,” Parents’ Voice spokesperson Charter Lau protests when asked who’s backing opposition to the Burnaby School Board’s anti-homophobia policy. “Sometimes I don’t know even where they come from or who they are; it’s just a grassroots movement.”

Parents’ Voice, a self-described “parent and student movement” that “seeks transparency” from Burnaby school trustees, formed at the beginning May “primarily to ask questions,” Lau says.

Several hundred protesters have since attended three rallies, claiming the proposed policy is tantamount to reverse discrimination and is an infringement of parental and human rights.

“It’s safe to say 4,000 support our idea, and about half of them are willing to join us as members or supporters, but I didn’t ask that question yet,” Lau says.

“We have no money,” he adds. “The only venue to advertise is through email.” 

While many rally attendees claimed membership in Burnaby’s Willingdon Church, a large Mennonite Brethren congregation, Lau says most of those opposed to Policy 5.45 are not from the church.

“It’s not a Willingdon issue at all,” insists Lau, a 10-year member of the congregation. “When people from Willingdon attend the Burnaby School Board meeting, they are not there to proclaim that they are Willingdon church members; they are there to ask questions as a parent, but somehow media play it up. I don’t know.”

“Initially, there was 80 people coming from Willingdon Church to attend the meeting,” Lau admits, but the “hundreds of people” who subsequently turned up were not church members.

Lau says Willingdon Church’s senior pastor, John Neufeld, has “never” contacted him or Parents’ Voice to signal his support.

“I go to Willingdon Church; I see him every Sunday,” Lau says, but it’s not a “Willingdon Church idea” to scrap the policy.

Lau says the closest Neufeld came to addressing the issue at the church is saying that “when Jesus Christ doesn’t agree to something, he didn’t protest, then we all know, okay, Pastor John is not going to do anything. I wish he said something about it, but unfortunately he didn’t.”

Neufeld told CKNW that the church is not behind the anti-5.45 rallies. Xtra‘s attempts to reach him were unsuccessful by press time.

Lau lists the Catholic Civil Rights League, the BC Muslim Association and Christian Social Concerns Fellowship among the supporters of Parents’ Voice’s stance on 5.45.

“For groups that I can identify, those are about it,” he says.

Sean Murphy says the Catholic Civil Rights League got involved only at the beginning of June, when a couple of parents contacted him for support. He submitted a statement opposing 5.45, calling the approach taken by the policy’s authors “authoritarian.”

The policy is intended to “force the moral beliefs of its authors upon students and teachers, and to silence and punish those unwilling to conform,” the statement reads. “The policy’s authors believe that homosexual, bisexual and other undefinable sexual inclinations, conduct and lifestyle are morally acceptable: that they are morally equivalent in every respect to natural heterosexual attractions and relationships.”

That view amounts to sexual dogma, Murphy says. He says the League has not provided any funding to the anti-5.45 effort and “wouldn’t be in a position” to do so.

“We can make a submission as we did in this case,” he says. “Generally speaking, the League would prefer the people close to the situation deal directly with it; they’re most familiar with the lay of the land.”

Lau says he hasn’t received any support from BC’s Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association. “They always oppose homosexual issues; they’re very loud,” he observes. “That made me scratch my head: I thought they would come on board,” he adds, admitting he hasn’t formally approached them.

“I respect them. I don’t like to force them to make a statement, so I just play it a little bit laid-back.”

Neither has Lau heard from Focus on the Family. “Those big names should be on board from day one.”

Lau says he heard rumours that BC Conservative Party Leader John Cummins wanted to get involved, but he hasn’t heard anything from the party.

Though the party’s Vancouver media spokesperson says he remembers some “conversations around the issue,” Keith Roy says he didn’t see the final decision on supporting Parents’ Voice. “That certainly was the direction the group was leaning in.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Cummins’ spokesperson, Andrea Smith, told Xtra. “We’ve actually not taken a position on it. It’s not a provincial matter at the moment, so we’ve made no comment, or taken any side on the issue.”

Cummins recently made headlines for suggesting sexual orientation should not be protected by the Human Rights Code, a statement for which he later apologized.

The Burnaby School Board is expected to vote today (June 14) on Policy 5.45. Supporters and opponents are both planning to rally before the meeting, which starts at 7pm at 5325 Kincaid St in Burnaby.