After being the target of online outrage over a suggestion to have the military cover police costs at events such as Remembrance Day, Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt says “corporate media” has distorted council’s request as an “affront to war veterans.”

During Victoria’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Thursday, Isitt introduced an amendment to a motion council was debating to provide extra funding for Victoria police for this year’s Canada Day celebrations.

Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board informed Council that budgetary constraints meant it can no longer afford to absorb  “unfunded special event expenditures” in three areas totalling $135,300.

The amendment reads, “Council direct staff to engage DND (Department of National Defence) and Veteran’s Affairs Canada officials to seek to recover costs associated with military events in the city.”

The amendment was approved by a majority, with support from Laurel Collins, who has already won the federal NDP nomination in Victoria for the upcoming federal election, as well as Jeremy Loveday, Marianne Alto and Sara Potts.

Mayor Lisa Helps, and councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Geoff Young voted against the amendment.

Isitt was the target of a stern response online, many taking offence to the timing of the motion being on the same day the nation commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Isitt said Friday he apologized to anyone offended by the timing but was not sorry for standing up for taxpayers and was focused on council’s debate on what to do about a $130,000 police budget overrun.

“The reason it was time-sensitive is the main overrun is associated with Canada Day and that event’s happening in a few weeks, so there had to be some certainty of what to do about that cost,” Isitt said.

On Friday, Isitt confronted the controversy in a blog post on Medium.com, saying “corporate media” was “silent” on a proposal he helped to bring forward Thursday with Councillor Jeremy Loveday for a $90-million for regional housing plan.

“More unfortunate, however, is the nefarious ways in which conservative political forces and their agents in the corporate media have chosen to distort Victoria City Council’s benign request for assistance from federal authorities, into a supposed affront to war veterans,” Isitt wrote.

“We should not be surprised that neofascist, “alt-right” formations such as the Proud Boys and more moderate conservative voices in the corporate media would prefer that citizens in Victoria and other communities focus on controversy — rather than on tackling the major challenges of our time: poverty and housing inaffordability; climate change and the ecological crisis; and the dangerous slide away from democratic participation and toward fearmongering and neo-fascist politics.”

He also spoke to media about his position.

Victoria councillor Ben Isiit speaks to media about the controversy over his motion to ask DND to cover Remembrance Day costs

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt speaks about his motion to ask the Department of National Defence to cover some of the cost of Remembrance Day.Read More Here: https://www.cheknews.ca/victoria-councillor-says-military-should-shoulder-cost-of-policing-events-such-as-remembrance-day-commemorations-567276/

Posted by CHEK News: Official Page on Friday, June 7, 2019

As for the amendment, Isitt said Friday Victoria isn’t looking at defunding events such as Remembrance Day, but the conversation about how costs are allocated needs to take place.

“It is an event commemorating the contribution of veterans. It’s an event where the armed forces are the primary organizers and so it’s just a question of should the expenses associated for that event, fall on the taxpayers of Victoria and Esquimalt, or should they be born either regionally or by the organizers,” Isitt said.

“The Department of National Defence, their budget is nearly 100 times the size of the city of Victoria’s budget, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to ask them whether they are prepared to share the costs with us.”

On Friday afternoon, Victoria city councillor and Victoria NDP candidate Laurel Collins released a statement, saying she could have called to delay the discussion and vote until a later date and she regrets not doing so.

“I understand it was wrong to hold this vote on D-Day, and I take full responsibility for that. I’m truly sorry for the impact. It pains me to think about veterans being disrespected in any way,” Collins said in the statement.

Collins also said she has “tremendous respect” for the members of the Canadian Forces and veterans, which is why she supports a collaborative approach across various levels of government.

“Remembrance Day is not just a military event, it is a community event that includes everyone. It helps us all honour the sacrifice of men and women who protected our rights. Their sacrifice allows me to not only stand here today but also be elected to a body like Victoria City Council,” Collins said in the statement.

“As such, any motion discussing cost sharing with other levels of government should have been amended to refer to the federal government, not simply to DND and Veteran Affairs. I will be voting against this motion when it comes to Council next week.”

Council is expected to tackle the main motion and several amendments including Isitt’s on June 13.

Read Collins’ full statement below:

“I have tremendous respect for the members of the Canadian Forces and the veterans who put their lives on the line for our country, including my grandparents – my grandpa Clinton who served as a captain in the Army and my grandma Marion who served in the Air Force.

That’s why I support a collaborative approach across various levels of government to make Remembrance Day the best possible celebration to honour our veterans and those currently serving.

I voted in favour of allocating over $130,000 to policing for events, including Remembrance Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, and other events across the city. I also voted in favour of an amendment to explore the potential for sharing some of the costs related to military events, including Remembrance Day.

I understand it was wrong to hold this vote on D-Day, and I take full responsibility for that. I’m truly sorry for the impact. It pains me to think about veterans being disrespected in any way.

Seeing that it was D-Day, I should have called to delay this discussion and vote to some other day, and I regret not doing so.

Remembrance Day is not just a military event, it is a community event that includes everyone. It helps us all honour the sacrifice of men and women who protected our rights. Their sacrifice allows me to not only stand here today but also be elected to a body like Victoria City Council.

As such, any motion discussing cost sharing with other levels of government should have been amended to refer to the federal government, not simply to DND and Veteran Affairs. I will be voting against this motion when it comes to Council next week.

And, I want to be clear, I’m wholeheartedly committed to honouring the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedoms. I will never stand by and allow Remembrance Day to be defunded. I will always honour members of the Canadian Forces like my grandparents, who fought against fascism to ensure we have the democracy we have today.”

Andy Neal