One of several rainbow Pride flags that line the main street in Norwich. The flags were replaced after several were stolen or vandalized in late May. Calvi LeonCalvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 23, 2022 at 08:07

By Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Residents in a rural community east of London are fuming after a man charged with stealing a Pride flag was allowed to address a township council meeting, during which he compared the LGBTQ+ symbol to something out of Nazi Germany.

Audio of Tuesday night’s Norwich Township council debate, obtained by The Free Press, includes Jake Dey, in a citizen delegation, repeatedly citing the Bible and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and questioning under what section of the Charter the LGBTQ+ community falls.

But far more troubling to some — who questioned why Dey was even allowed to appear before council — were comparisons he drew between Pride and the Nazis in discussing what he said is a social movement.

“We can also think of the 1930s where an artist stood up and started a social movement and got into politics,” Dey said, referencing Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. “The first thing he did is pump up his nation to tell them they’re bigger, better, faster.”

Dey continued: “The second thing that this man also did, along with that, is turn to the children,” he said, describing the formation of the youth wing of the Nazi party and a movement that ultimately led to the Holocaust, the systematic murder by the Nazis during the Second World War of six million Jews and other enemies of the regime in Europe.

It was “an extreme example of what a movement can do when we allow ourselves to be brought along with emotions,” he told the politicians, adding, “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.”

Norwich Mayor Larry Martin, who doubles as warden of Oxford County, said Wednesday he takes “responsibility for the meeting” and “I should have stopped it before I did” that night.

“I want to apologize to the community, especially residents and allies who were there,” he said. “It was not intentional to hurt anybody. It was just trying to get through the meeting with as little commotion as possible.”

Oxford OPP charged Dey this month with theft under $5,000 after several Pride flags were stolen or vandalized in the community, located south of Woodstock, in May. A 16-year-old from Norwich also faces theft charges.

Dey, a Tillsonburg resident, was allotted 10 minutes to speak about Pride banners “to educate council” and the public about the messages they portray and, as he described it in a letter to politicians, “the experiences this triggered for myself and family.”

He went on for nearly 30 minutes, asking the township to refrain from “promoting sexuality in any shape or form on public properties and at any time in the future.”

But how he even got on the agenda left some residents bewildered.

“For (politicians) to sit there and listen to this and let it happen, let those words be said in a government building, it was our leaders saying, ‘We are OK with this kind of hate speech and are OK with this kind of discrimination,’ ” said Jennifer Wild, one of about 100 people who attended the meeting where both LGBTQ+ advocates and supporters of Dey gathered.

“It was absolutely disgusting,” said Alisha Stubbs, who also spoke at the meeting in support of the Pride flags.

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.

The flag vandalism and recent anti-Pride behaviour in Norwich, a township of about 11,000, has left Sofia Bryant, who was also at the meeting, concerned about her safety, she said. “I’ve lived here 27 years of my life and it’s the first time I’ve never felt safe in my own community,” she said.

Some Norwich residents, including Bryant, say the situation was mishandled by politicians and want action taken to address what they describe as a community divide over Pride.

Members of the Pride community planned to meet Wednesday night to discuss how to move forward, Bryant said.

“The mayor’s role is to make sure their community feel included, feels safe, feels welcoming,” she said. “Because, ultimately, the only way your community is going to grow is if you’re welcoming all people from all walks of life.”

B’nai Brith Canada, a national Jewish organization, wasn’t aware of the flare-up at the council meeting, but its chief executive told The Free Press “a presentation like this has no place at a municipal council meeting” in Canada.

“Comparing the LGBTQ+ movement in Canada to the Nazis in Germany is inaccurate and hurtful,” said Michael Mostyn, who noted thousands of homosexuals were sent to Nazi concentration camps and others were subjected to “extremely cruel medical experimentation” under Hitler’s watch.

Dey declined to comment Wednesday.

This item reprinted from Free Press, London, Ontario