Ontario Provincial Police are looking into the Tuesday council meeting in tiny Norwich, Ont., where a man facing criminal charges for taking down Pride flags spoke for half an hour about his opposition to the LGBTQ2+ community, particularly transgender people.
“I can tell you that we are aware of the council meeting and information is being reviewed at this time,” said Oxford OPP Const. Patti Cote.
Norwich Township council has released a statement saying it had asked for legal advice before allowing businessman Jacob (Jake) Dey to address the Tuesday meeting, leaving many “hurt and unsafe” by “what many consider hateful comments.”
Dey, 47, was charged in May with theft after Pride flags put up by the Norwich business improvement association (BIA) in the town’s downtown were stolen.
Mayor Larry Martin told CBC News he was reluctant to allow Dey to speak at the meeting, but did so after getting legal advice. Dey was told to keep his remarks directed on the issue of Pride flags in the town, to not be disrespectful or speak in a manner that “could be considered hateful,” and to not touch on the criminal charges he is facing.
Usually, the time limit is 10 minutes for people addressing council. Dey spoke for 30 minutes, speaking most of the time about the Bible and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the end, Dey compared the fight for gay rights to a “social movement” akin to Nazism in 1930s Germany.
Martin said he was worried about cutting Dey off, lest tensions in the public gallery between his supporters and Pride supporters boil over.
Dey, who owns a farm equipment supply store in nearby Tillsonburg, did not return calls from CBC. This story will be updated should he respond.
The Criminal Code defines hate speech as “statements, other than in private conversation” that “wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group,” as well as “communicating statements in any public place” that “incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.”
Police board member under fire
The council meeting controversy isn’t the only conflict that has arisen after the Norwich BIA put up Pride flags for June, which is Pride month.
At the closed-door meeting today (Friday), the Norwich Police Services Board asked the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to investigate the conduct of one of its own members.
Gerrit Ten Hove, the provincial appointee to the board, spoke at a June 7 BIA meeting, on behalf of his church congregation, the Netherlands Reformed Church, saying he was disappointed that the Pride flags were put up in Norwich.
“Although we disapprove of the lifestyle, we do not hate these people,” Ten Hove said. “We hold to the authority of the Bible. With regards to gender and sexuality, the Bible is very clear. God created man and woman. We are each called to be content with the sex we are born with.”
He said he and his church community are “grieved and concerned” about the flags.
That prompted five members of the public to write letters to the police services board, saying Ten Hove has breached his duties under the Police Services Act.