Student addresses MLA Simon Gibson’s ‘racist’ comments

During a class trip to the legislature, Taylor McCarthy reported her shock at MLA Simon Gibson’s remarks about First Nations communities

Christine Beyleveldt / news editor

Just one week after Capilano University communications student Taylor McCarthy visited the legislature on a class trip on Mar. 1, she wrote an impassioned letter to Speaker Darryl Plecas. In her letter, McCarthy wrote about an encounter with Liberal Abbotsford-Mission MLA, Simon Gibson, that she called “not only offensive and racist but hurtful.”

Communications professor Dr. Michael Markwick took his students to Victoria for the day where they met with party members from all three caucuses, which he hoped would encourage his students to take ownership of democracy and build relationships with people in government. “Nobody needed to be told what happened,” he said of his students’ reactions to Gibson’s comment. “It registered with everybody at an intellectual and at a visceral level.”

Despite their earlier discomfort, Markwick’s students left the legislature feeling empowered. “I do want to just reinforce how important it was for us to have positive discussions as well,” said Markwick. In their meetings with the BC Greens, Liberals and NDP, students asked about the confidence and supply agreement between the Green Party and NDP that allowed them to form a coalition and come to power. One important topic of conversation that arose was about how non-renewable resource extraction projects, including the Kinder Morgan pipeline and Woodfibre LNG, which will process natural gas shipped by pipeline from northern BC into a liquefied state for export, would impact the province.

“The only thing I would say is that a lot of First Nations are around the province are struggling, struggling with addictions, poverty, [unclear] and you know all the tragedies,” Gibson allegedly stated in response to a question posed by McCarthy about the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project and Woodfibre LNG. McCarthy included this quote in the letter she wrote to Plecas, explaining that this response echoed a similar sentiment made by Liberal MLA and former Public Safety Minister Mike Morris in February.

After the NDP announced that as part of their budget released on Feb. 20, $50 million was to be put towards preserving Indigenous languages in BC, which are currently under threat, Morris suggested that the resources would be better spent on policing. “The expressed concerns are not just my own, but shared by First Nations people across the province as we are implicated in each other’s lives,” McCarthy wrote. She reported feeling angry after hearing the comment, even wanting to leave the room, and the more she thought about Gibson’s comment the angrier she felt.

“During a conversation regarding economic benefits to First Nations from resource projects such as Kinder Morgan and LNG, I commented that financial economic benefits would help First Nations working to overcome the effects of addictions, poverty and other issues,” Gibson issued as a response. Although McCarthy reports that she still hasn’t heard from Gibson himself. “I was making the case for the positive impact of well-planned economic development on First Nations Communities. I look forward to ongoing positive relations with First Nations from all across British Columbia,” wrote Gibson. Legislative Speaker Darryl Plecas responded that he was unable to comment since he wasn’t present during the meeting in which Gibson spoke and he hadn’t seen McCarthy’s letter until now.

“That [comment] is something that unfortunately entrenches a racist stereotype of Indigenous peoples and again the impact on Taylor was visible and immediate,” said Markwick. Before the class left for Victoria, students took leader training from the Metro Vancouver Alliance and prepared to meet with legislators, although Markwick asserted that they were not prepared for an encounter like the one McCarthy had. McCarthy is a politically engaged individual. She moved to Vancouver from Tacoma, Washington in 2012 and became active during the 2015 federal election canvassing for Jonathan Wilkinson and Claire Martin, who ran for the Liberal and Green parties respectively in the North Vancouver riding. “It really taught me a lot about what they have to do to get to know their constituents while also sharing their concerns, listening and respecting their constituents’ concerns as well,” she said. “It taught me a lot about party priorities in the sense that I didn’t even know who I was going to vote for while I was canvassing, but I would vote for the person I felt the most connected to because I felt I could rely on them if I need help.”

That kind of desire to be involved in politics and in her own community is what Markwick hoped his students would gain from the experience meeting with legislators, and he believes they did after their visit . Whether it’s taking an interest in the cost of housing or transportation or the new provincial budget, Markwick and McCarthy stress engaging in the democratic process.

McCarthy sought help drafting her letter to Legislative Speaker Darryl Plecas from Elders in the First Nations Centre on campus. “[The Elder] shared with me that this had been going on for the past 150 years,” she said. “It’s nothing new but in this era of reconciliation it needs to stop and we need to have mutual respect for each other.” Lateral violence is the term she used to describe the encounter, and it was pushed on students in residential schools, who were encouraged to quarrel with their peers.

“People like Simon Gibson who don’t really know the whole truth about First Nations people, First Nations culture, First Nations values and what really hits home – what we’re really about,” said McCarthy. “For me, to be First Nations, to be Squamish, is to have that connection to the land, having the connection to the water, the air, our language, and I don’t think he really understands that.” On Mar. 21, McCarthy met with Bowinn Ma, MLA for the North-Vancouver Lonsdale riding, and Premier John Horgan to further discuss her visit to the legislature.

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