Canada Day parade crowd in Courtenay, circa late 1970s  /  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Town of Comox parade denial was a petty ploy

Aug 2, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

Update: Courtenay Canada Day parade chairman Scott Mossing says “I can confirm that I have not received nor have any complaints regarding Mack Laing Heritage Society’s involvement in the July 1st Parade.”


Another week has come and gone and once again the Town of Comox has done something stupid. If it seems like The Week criticizes Mayor Russ Arnott and his gang a lot, it’s just because “the powers that be” at town hall can’t help making themselves a target.

This week, Mayor Russ Arnott called Nautical Days parade organizer Wendy Petrie and demanded that she revoke her approval of an application by the Mack Laing Heritage Society to appear in the Nautical Days parade. His justification: the “alarming” and “inappropriate behaviour” of MLHS in the Courtenay Canada Day parade.

After telling the Mack Laing society they were prohibited from being in the parade, Petrie later convinced Arnott to reverse his order and she rescinded the denial later in the week. She says the group is once again welcome in the parade.

But the MLHS says the rescinding order came too late and “some special participants and supporters … were not able to attend or assist, having made other arrangements. Given the restrictions placed on us, which are not listed in the official ‘Parade Guidelines’, we felt it best to cancel our appearance.”

Petrie told Decafnation in a telephone interview that the special restrictions — not to have petitions or hand out any negative paraphernalia with participants or spectators — apply to all political groups in the parade.

But there is something seriously “alarming” about this turn of events. Mayor Arnott has attempted to stifle the free expression of genuinely-held viewpoints that run contrary to his own. And it appears that he used his position to do so without Town Council support.

Could the mayor have committed a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom?

Were the other Comox councillors aware of his actions and do they support them?

Arnott’s personal feelings about the Mack Laing society also put Petrie, a dedicated volunteer who has organized the Comox parade four times in the past, in a difficult spot.  

FURTHER READING: Who is Mack Laing and what is this dispute about?

Petrie said she agonized over how to tell MLHS they could not participate in the parade. In the rejection email to MLHS on July 30 — eight days after approving their parade application — Petrie wrote that while “researching” the society’s “alarming behaviour” and after hearing “from many people how inappropriate your behaviour was” in the Courtenay Canada Day parade that the MLHS application had been denied entry into the town’s “family-oriented” parade.

What was this “alarming” and “inappropriate” behaviour that might threaten family values in Comox?

During the July 1 parade, MLHS supporters say they handed out a few tee-shirts and a bag with the society’s logo. They also carried a banner saying “Join us to preserve heritage” and signs that said “Mack Laing Matters” and “Keep the Trust.”

They were accompanied in walking the parade route by well-known local fiddler Jocie Brooks, the granddaughter of naturalist painter Alan Brooks, who was a close friend of Mack Laing.

Scary stuff, indeed.

It’s clear that the decision to exclude Mack Laing from this weekend’s parade was made after Arnott discovered the society had been approved. Petrie, in fact, freely admits that she didn’t make the decision to reverse her approval and deny entry. She agrees it was a raw deal.

In subsequent emails to MLHS, Petrie says, “I know I was looking forward to having you, but this was not my decision. I have to listen to the powers that be.” And, later she says, “I am as disappointed as you are.”

Mayor Russ Arnott’s actions — and/or whoever else conspired in this travesty — played petty politics.

Arnott doesn’t want the public to hear about Mack Laing. He doesn’t want the Mack Laing Heritage Society to generate any additional support for forcing the town to abide the terms of the famous naturalist’s trust agreement . He wants the Mack Laing debate to just go away.

So he kicks them out of a parade. Sounds like middle school.

But the “alarming and inappropriate behaviour” here is that an elected official would use his position to prevent the free expression of ideas. Mack Laing supporters have a different point of view from Arnott about the town’s action in regards to Mack Laing’s trust and the fate of his heritage home, called Shakesides. Thankfully, expressing differing points of view is still legal in this country.

An email sent to Arnott inviting him to explain his actions have not been answered. Petrie responded quickly with a phone call. 

On a related topic, the Comox Valley Record recently took a strong stand against anything in local parades except horse-drawn wagons, clowns, animals and bands.

In the editorial, Record editor Terry Farrell writes, “Put the fun back into parades, and for a change, leave the politicking at home.”

Farrell makes an exception for local elected officials, but doesn’t explain why. Maybe he classifies them as clowns or animals. They certainly don’t put any more fun in a parade than the real targets of his editorial: the Green Party and the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

And how do commercial vehicles offering nothing but their business names add to the fun in a parade? Farrell doesn’t mention them.

Besides the fuzzy argument that tries to distinguish between local politicians and federal or provincial ones, and between acceptable nonprofit organizations and not-acceptable ones (the ones he doesn’t like?), Farrell makes one point on which we can agree: Parades should be fun, not sombre events.

Parade participation or not, there is a federal election coming on Oct. 21, and the political parties have already started their pre-official election campaign campaigning. See the Election Countdown Timer on the Decafnation home page.

One of the interesting debates already occurring concerns the possible shifting of traditional NDP votes to the Green Party. Strong NDP advocates are all over social media slamming Green Party leader Elizabeth May in an attempt to discourage this shift. They have blasted her for, among other things, saying she might consider an alliance with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives under certain circumstances.

But NDP stalwarts can relax because, according to Scheer, that’s not going to happen.

In an ad that keeps popping up on The Week’s Facebook page, Byron Horner, the Conservative candidate for Courtenay-Alberni, says don’t be fooled by the new Green Party slogan. “The Green Party is a Left-Wing Big Government party that would economically devastate Islanders who own a car or a home. Thinking about the Green Party? Read the fine print.”

It appears there will be at least one federal election all-candidates forum in the Comox Valley. Details to follow.



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