A pair of protests challenged Calgarians for their hearts and minds on Sunday.
At stake was whether embattled Ward 4 incumbent councillor-elect Sean Chu should resign from office prior to Monday’s swearing-in.
Both sides, for and against Chu, said at their rallies this was an issue for democracy.
“There is so much emotion around this election because there was so much effort, blood, sweat, and tears to get to this point,” said Dr. Ed Tse.
The CBC revealed on Oct. 15 that Chu was disciplined by the Calgary Police Service in 1997 for having inappropriate physical contact with a minor. CTV Calgary later reported that Chu admitted to having sexual contact with the victim, then 16, at his home.
Chu has maintained that he did not know that the teenager was 16 at the time. He served as a Calgary Police Service officer from 1992 to 2013.
Pro-Chu protesters dismiss 1997 discipline by the Calgary Police Service
Protesters in favour of Sean Chu retaining his seat as Ward 4 councillor largely said they are prepared to overlook his past mistakes.
“Despite the controversial media report three days before election, human beings make mistakes,” said Steven Jin, president of the Calgary Chinese Union Association.
“That’s a given, however, the most important thing is to learn from that and become a better person,” he said.
Jin said that he believed Chu was a responsible councillor, and was needed at city hall to be an examiner of public spending.
“He’s our man, our soldier, and he’s our protector,” said Jin.
Cynthia Shi said she came to protest in support of Chu because of social justice and democracy.
“Let’s support voters,” she said.
“We want this political system and the let’s respect this particular system and let voters say,” she said.
Shi said that judgments against Chu in 1997 shouldn’t be used against him now.
“So let’s say something happened 24 years ago, then lets go to 24 years ago, and if something happened now lets go to now,” she said.
She said that while everyone has a right to an opinion on Chu, the election and the law should be the deciding factor.
“They have a right, we have a right, everyone has a right to voice out,” she said.
An unattributed release given to members of the media by protest organizers said that voters have spoken.
“The democratic process and results have to be honoured and respected. This is fundamental of our democracy.”
Anti-Chu sentiment about conduct, not voters
Protesters gathered at city hall against Chu remaining the councillor for Ward 4 expressed outrage over his sexual contact with a minor in 1997.
“The message we really want to drive home today is that Sean Chu’s conduct is completely and totally unacceptable for a leader in our community and for a councillor in our community,” said Patrick King, a volunteer with the anti-Chu protest.
King said that Chu had become politically isolated after the mayor-elect and 13 other councillor-elects called on him to resign.
“It will be impossible for someone to function as a councillor and he just can’t carry on,” said King.
“It makes no sense for him to carry on, and we’re here to give that message.”
King said that the fact Chu won the election with the majority of votes does need to be respected. He said that the electoral process worked as it did without interference was a good thing.
“The reason why we need Sean Chu to step down is because of his conduct, and not because some people out there might have preferred a different result.”
Protesters used chalk to create messages in the city hall plaza and on Macleod Trail referencing the number 16. Many signs also referenced that the victim in the 1997 disciplinary action was a minor.
A foot in two camps
Dr. Tse ran as a separate school trustee for Wards 1, 2, and Cochrane. He spoke to the anti-Chu protesters about his experiences as an Asian-Canadian running in an election, and the types of racism he has faced.
“I think that it’s been difficult because we often get blamed for things that we have nothing to do with, and so I think as a result, every single one of our candidates is running super hard,” he said.
Dr. Tse condemned Chu as a councillor from a moral perspective.
“We expect a lot from our counselors, we expect them to to be moral role models, and I expect to tell my children that I want them to be like that councillor.”
He said that democracy is a work in process and can be improved.
“I think that is why we’re here today, is that we have a process that has no checks and balances. If I volunteer at Sunday school I need to produce a police check. I don’t even need to produce ID to become a political candidate.”
Dr. Tse said that voters deserve more information but aren’t getting it, and that has translated into anger towards Chu.
“But I also think that some of that anger should go towards systems that have allowed this,” he said.
“Sean Chu was not the first and he won’t be the last, and we are very hard on the people, but we are not hard on the systems.”
Dr. Tse said he has had conversations with both the pro and anti-Chu camps.
“I had the unique privilege of listening to both communities and to be a part of those conversations, and I think that everybody agrees that from a moral perspective this is not what we want,” he said.
He said that the concern is that overturning the election of Chu would be perceived as an arbitrary change to the democratic process. He also said that trust in the media was at a low point in the Chinese community.
“Many people don’t trust the media because it’s been showing our community, the Chinese community, in a negative light,” said Dr. Tse.
“We get blamed for COVID and some of our politicians look tone deaf based on how they’re portrayed, and it’s not fair.”
He said that the path forward is to separate the moral issues surrounding Chu from the issues surrounding democracy.
“We need to say ‘this is not who we are.’ We’ve got to stand against the morality of what happened.”
Mayor-elect Gondek issues Sunday statement
The mayor-elect attended Sunday’s rally at city hall plaza, as did Ward 8 councillor-elect Courtney Walcott and Ward 9 councillor-elect Gian-Carlo Carra.
“Today I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors of sexual harassment and assault,” said Gondek in a statement to the media.
“Those who have been reliving the trauma and the challenges of the past need to know that today, and for all the tomorrows that follow, those in power will stand with them in the pursuit of justice,” she said.
“It is frustrating to be denied the tools to do what is right. I feel that we were first let down by a culture that ignored victims’ voices, and now by a legal structure that removes the levers of power from City Council and the Mayor’s Office.”