Original Published on Jun 24, 2022 at 05:30

By Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

NOTE: A report previous to this one is HERE:

Norwich Township sought legal advice before allowing a man charged with stealing Pride flags in the community to speak for nearly half an hour at a council meeting where he compared the Pride movement to Nazi Germany, the mayor says.

After initially denying Jake Dey’s request to address council, politicians in the rural community east of London spoke with a legal expert to determine whether he could speak out against Pride Progress flags on display in the township, Norwich Mayor Larry Martin said.

“The legal advice told us that we can’t stop him from coming, but we can only stipulate that he cannot discuss the incident that has already happened,” said Martin, who doubles as warden of Oxford County.

“We have an obligation to let people if people want to come and delegate to council, we can’t say no. But just because we let them come and speak, that doesn’t mean that we endorse what they are saying.”

Oxford OPP charged Dey, 47, of Tillsonburg this month with theft under $5,000 after several Pride flags were stolen or vandalized over several days in late May in Norwich, a community in Norwich Township. A 16-year-old from Norwich also faces theft charges

The township issued a statement Thursday afternoon outlining its reasons for allowing Dey to address council and the restrictions it placed on him.

The township said it received “continued requests” from Dey to speak at Tuesday’s council meeting and that it sought legal advice.

“Norwich council has practices and procedures that provide for very simple and minimal requirements to provide a delegation to a council meeting, in the interest of remaining easily accessible to residents,” the statement said.

The township said Dey was permitted to speak with the following restrictions:

  • he could only talk about (Pride) Progress banners in township spaces
  • he could not speak “disrespectfully of any person, and this would include presentation about Pride banners in public spaces in a manner that could be considered hateful”
  • he could not talk about the charges against him

The township said it’s aware Dey’s presentation “has exacerbated community divide and especially that members of the community have expressed feeling hurt and unsafe.”

“Council also acknowledges that the delegation that did occur, was in excess of the time limit contemplated and did include what many consider hateful comments. Given the situation and the attendance of many residents at the meeting, best efforts were made to evaluate and react in a manner that would not even further escalate emotions and potential confrontations at the meeting,” the statement said.

LGBTQ+ advocates and supporters of Dey were among the 100 people who attended the council meeting. Many left the meeting fuming after Dey spoke for nearly half an hour about his beliefs on Pride and the LGBTQ+ community.

Dey, who had been allotted 10 minutes, repeatedly cited the Bible and Charter of Rights and Freedoms and compared Pride to Nazi Germany in what he said was a social movement, audio obtained by The Free Press revealed.

It was “an extreme example of what a movement can do when we allow ourselves to be brought along with emotions,” he told council after describing the rise of the Nazi party and a movement that led to the Holocaust, the systematic murder by Nazis during the Second World War of six million Jews and other enemies of the regime in Europe.

He added: “if we allow this to continue it will be the destruction of this nation from the inside out . . . it is a movement that does not fall under any of these protected minorities whatsoever.”

Pride is the celebration of equality and inclusivity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities, the expression of which is typically marked by special events in June.

Dey’s delegation has generated a firestorm of criticism, but Norwich Township council was in difficult spot when he requested to speak, said Andrew Sancton, a political scientist and former head of the local government program at Western University.

“It would be difficult or dangerous for the council to start saying you can’t address an issue that the council was deliberating,” he said. “Once he got going . . . then it would have been wise for the mayor to say, ‘We’ve heard enough of this, this is inappropriate.'”

Sancton said it would be “unrealistic” to expect municipalities to check the political views of those making a delegation, but it would be a different story if they knew, ahead of time, whether Dey held such beliefs.

Tami Murray, head of the Oxford County Pride Committee, said Norwich Township should be held accountable for allowing Dey to speak for as long as he did and for also allowing him to say a prayer in a government building.

Oxford Pride members and “many of the community members from the 2SLGBTQA community were sitting in the room, and none of them chose to pray. It was forced upon them,” she said Thursday.

2SLGBTQA stands for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.

Many left the room in tears, Murray added. “What he said was very traumatizing. It’s not OK and it should have been stopped.”

She added that many have “significant concerns” over diversity, inclusion and equity in Norwich and plan to file a formal complaint with Oxford County about Dey’s presentation.

Martin said he’s never been through anything like Tuesday’s meeting in his 40 years as a politician.

“I’ve been involved with politics since 1982 and this is a first. That was new territory. . . What we’re going to have to do is maybe look at tightening down our procedure bylaws and maybe have to stipulate what can and can’t be said,” he said.

“I am very deeply saddened by what happened, and I’m going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Councillor Lynne DePlancke said she knows Dey’s presentation and the way council responded to it has upset some residents.

“I would personally like to apologize to anyone offended by the delegation” she said Thursday. “He should have been held to the 10-minute limit,” she said, citing the municipal bylaw. “For this error, council I am sure will be held accountable.”

This item reprinted with permission from Free Press, London, Ontario