Liberals reject Karen Wang’s request to run again as party’s candidate in Burnaby South byelection

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VANCOUVER—The federal Liberal party is shutting the door on its former candidate in the Burnaby South byelection after she expressed second thoughts about resigning.

Karen Wang, who until Wednesday was the Liberal candidate running against NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the highly anticipated byelection, Wednesday resigned over comments she made on social media about Singh’s race. Later, she asked the prime minister to let her run after all.

But the party has decided against letting Wang run under the Liberal banner.

“Recent online comments by Karen Wang are not aligned with the values of the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberal Party has accepted her resignation as a candidate and she will not represent the Liberal Party in the Burnaby South byelection,” wrote Braeden Caley, Liberal Party spokesperson in an email Thursday.

Wang, a daycare operator who was selected last month to run for the Liberals in one of the country’s most diverse ridings, Saturday urged voters over the Chinese social media network WeChat to vote for her, “the only Chinese candidate in the riding,” rather than her opponent Singh, “of Indian descent.”

She apologized to Singh Wednesday, after the Star published details of the WeChat post initially published in Chinese, and stepped down as the Liberal candidate in the riding.

“My choice of words wasn’t well-considered and didn’t reflect my intent,” she said in the Wednesday statement, adding that she has deep respect for the NDP leader.

Speaking in a phone interview before she knew the Liberal party’s response to her request to run again, Wang said she has the « heart and passion » to serve Burnaby South and that she would consider running as an independent if the Liberals wouldn’t take her back.

Read more:

‘It makes us look bad’: Burnaby’s Chinese-Canadian community reacts to Karen Wang’s resignation over WeChat post

Peter Julian, NDP MP for New West Burnaby, which neighbours Burnaby South, called Wang’s on-again off-again candidacy “bizarre and confusing.”

“The prime minister needs to answer for this,” Julian told the Star Thursday. “He hasn’t commented on the Liberal campaign at all.”

Julian said the NDP campaign in Burnaby South meanwhile remains focused on knocking on doors and speaking to voters about election issues like housing.

In a statement Thursday, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said it’s not too late for the Liberals to do the “right thing” by not running anyone against Singh. May announced last year that her party would follow the so-called “leader’s courtesy” by giving an opposing party leader a pass when they try to win a seat during a byelection.

“Stéphane Dion extended it to me in 2008 and the courtesy has been extended to former leaders such as Joe Clark, Stockwell Day, Stephen Harper, Jean Chrétien and Robert Stanfield,” May said.

“Let Jagmeet Singh run unopposed in the Burnaby-South byelection.”

News of Wang’s resignation was met with mixed reactions from Burnaby’s large Chinese-Canadian community. Some members of the community told the Star Wednesday they were disappointed by Wang’s apparent attempt to appeal to persuade voters on the basis of race.

With files from The Canadian Press

Melanie Green is a Vancouver-based reporter covering food, culture and policy. Follow her on Twitter: @mdgmediaAlex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering wealth and work. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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Liberal candidate Karen Wang resigns from Burnaby South byelection following WeChat post singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

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VANCOUVER—The Liberal candidate running against NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the Burnaby South byelection has resigned following a Star Vancouver report on her post on the Chinese social media app WeChat that urged people to vote for her, the “only Chinese candidate,” and not “Singh of Indian descent.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, Karen Wang apologized to Singh, saying “my choice of words wasn’t well-considered and didn’t reflect my intent.”

She said she has been proud to call Burnaby South home since arriving in Canada as a newcomer 20 years ago, and has deep respect for the NDP party leader.

“After consideration with my supporters, I have decided to step aside as the Liberal candidate in the Burnaby South byelection. I believe in the progress that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal team are making for British Columbians and all Canadians, and I do not wish for any of my comments to be a distraction in that work.”

On Saturday, Wang used WeChat to urge supporters to vote for her in a post, translated from Chinese, part of which said: “If we can increase the voting rate, as the only Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes I will easily win the byelection, control the election race and make history! My opponent in this byelection is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent!”

Singh, who is vying for his first seat in the House of Commons, is Canada’s first non-white federal party leader. The other candidates in the Feb. 25 byelection are Conservative Jay Shin and People’s Party of Canada’s Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson.

Read more:

Liberal candidate’s WeChat post draws criticism for singling out race of byelection opponent Jagmeet Singh

Wang used the term “hua yi” to refer to people of the Chinese diaspora and used the term “yin yi” to refer to people of India’s diaspora.

When StarMetro asked about the post on Tuesday, Wang said her intent “was to stress the importance of people of all different backgrounds getting involved in this important byelection. The phrasing should have been different and it will be taken down.”

On Wednesday, Braeden Caley, senior director of communications with the Liberal Party of Canada, said Wang’s comments are not aligned with the party’s values.

“The Liberal Party has accepted her resignation as the Liberal candidate in the Burnaby South byelection,” Caley said in a statement. “Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada have always stood for the full and equal participation of all Canadians in our democracy, regardless of their background. The Liberal Party has a clear commitment to positive politics and support for Canadian diversity, and the same is always expected of our candidates.”

When asked by email whether the Liberals would nominate a new candidate in the riding, Caley said: “We’ll have more to discuss on that in due course.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment and referred questions about Wang to the Liberal Party.

In Ottawa, NDP MP Nathan Cullen called Wang’s social media post “the worst kind of politics there is.” He said noted her comment about Singh’s ethnicity comes after Shin, the Conservative candidate in Burnaby South, disparaged the NDP Leader for his past as a criminal defence lawyer.

“It’s brutal,” said Cullen, who represents the northwestern B.C. riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley. “It should be a warning to the Liberals and Conservatives that this stuff can’t come out in the general election.”

Cullen added that Trudeau’s silence on Wang’s post is “troubling” and pointed out that “she resigned, he didn’t fire her.”

“I’m trying to imagine if a Conservative candidate had said this, how Mr. Trudeau would have been on the front page of your paper, saying we’ve got to unite, not divide,” he said.

“They screened and vetted her and it took her quitting to end instead of Mr. Trudeau being a little bit more courageous in his leadership.”

With files from Jeremy Nuttall and Joanna Chiu.

Melanie Green is a Vancouver-based reporter covering food, culture and policy. Follow her on Twitter: @mdgmedia.

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Richmond Hill Councillor Karen Cilevitz docked 90 days pay over harassment

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The audience erupted in applause as Steffi Goodfield hugged her friends and family, celebrating the end of a year-long dispute with Ward 5 Councillor Karen Cilevitz over harassment, intimidation and bullying.

Richmond Hill council voted on Monday to suspend Cilevitz’s pay for 90 days, the highest penalty that the Municipal Act permits.

The council decision came after Integrity Commissioner Deborah Anschell found Cilevitz breached the code of conduct by bullying and intimidating Goodfield, a Richmond Hill resident, who produces open mic music events in town.

It also includes a grant for Goodfield, in an amount equal to the pay suspended, for the purpose of promoting music in the town.

Six councillors and Mayor Dave Barrow voted for the motion put forward by Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli, in the absence of Ward 3 Councillor Castro Liu and Cilevitz at the first council meeting of the new term.

“Like many residents in Richmond Hill, I’ve been watching in utter disbelief as the Karen Cilevitz saga has been unfolding,” Perrelli said. “The time has come to hold everyone accountable for their actions and to put a stop to this type of inappropriate behaviour once and for all.”

Cilevitz, who said she would not comment, referred yorkregion.com to her lawyer, Kevin L. MacDonald.

“Councillor Cilevitz respects the decision of the integrity commissioner,” MacDonald wrote in an email.

He said the councillor apologized publicly months before the complaint moved forward and offered to meet Goodfield to resolve the matter. These efforts were all rejected.

Perrelli brought forward the motion after Ward 4 Councillor David West’s motion, which proposed to reprimand Cilevitz for violating the code of conduct, failed to carry.

The regional councillor said he hoped a tougher sanction on Cilevitz — rather than a reprimand — would send a clear message so that everyone on council would “think twice before behaving like this.”

The Integrity Commissioner’s 23-page report, released on Nov. 13, documented the exchanges between Cilevitz, Goodfield and her friend, Matt Bergman.

Last December, Cilevitz started sending text messages to Goodfield regarding an interpersonal conflict in which she was not directly involved, according to the report.

Cilevitz repeatedly demanded information about an alleged conflict between her partner and Bergman, a Thornhill musician.

“ … who heard what and why? And if you’re hearing something 3rd person, do you question it?,” Cilevitz was quoted asking the complainant Goodfield in one of her text messages.

The exchange carried on into January, followed by a dispute over the naming of a music event that Goodfield and Bergman organized.

After learning “Ward 5” was being used — the ward Cilevitz represents on council — in the name of their open mic music event in Richmond Hill, the councillor attempted several times to ask Goodfield, through text messages and voice-mails, to remove the term.

“. . . be advised Steffi, that if you in any way, or Bergman in any way calls your Sunday night jam at Archibald’s The Ward 5 event, there is going to be serious problems that you are both going to have to deal with legally. Nobody does this. It’s just not done. Only councillors who are elected to wards use that terminology . . . ” Cilevitz said in a voice mail on Jan. 25 to Goodfield.

The voice mail, along with many other emails and texts in the past years were determined “aggressive” and an “error in judgment,” according to the integrity commissioner’s report.

The report also found Cilevitz incorrect when she claimed exclusive domain over the use of the term “Ward 5.”

The integrity commissioner found Cilevitz to be in violation of Section 7 of the code, and recommended council issue a reprimand.

Section 7 states “All members have a duty to treat members of the public, one another and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation . . .”

“I take no pleasure from the result of this report,” said Goodfield, who addressed council before a motion was presented.

“The toll on me and on my community, all this completely unnecessary stress and toil of the past year, is incalculable.”

In the report, Goodfield said that, as a person undergoing treatment for a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, she initially wanted to ignore the texts and emails, but later decided to file a complaint to resolve the “continuous chain of troubling communications from Councillor Cilevitz.”

Seven other public members also appeared as delegates at the council meeting in support of the complainant.

In the delegates’ speeches, Ward 2 Councillor Tom Muench was praised for helping Goodfield move forward with the complaint.

Roxiane Alexander, who was sitting in the front row at the meeting, shook her head as the delegates spoke about the contributions Goodfield has made to the community and what negative impact she and Bergman have had to endure during the prolonged dispute.

“I have known Karen Cilevitz for a number of years to be a person of the highest integrity and always willing to help anyone,” said Alexander, a Richmond Hill resident who has worked with Cilevitz since 2007 on the preservation of the David Dunlap Observatory lands.

She found it odd that no one mentioned that Cilevitz helped raised money to support Goodfield’s fight against cancer through a fundraiser in March 2017.

Alexander, expecting a debate on council, said she was shocked to see all council members present agreeing to suspend Cilevitz’s pay for 90 days.

“They were ignoring so many facts,” Alexander said. “That was really disturbing to me. She already apologized. Why did they keep saying she never apologized?”

Calling the council meeting an “organized public bashing of Karen Cilevitz,” Alexander pointed out that many councillors “are no strangers to code of conduct breaches and integrity commissioner investigations themselves.”

In May 2018, previous Integrity Commissioner Nigel Bellchamber found Muench in breach of the code for not treating a colleague in a respectful manner after he “spoke forcefully” to Cilevitz, as well as deliberately misleading his constituents on other councillors’ actions and “inappropriate” use of fund for sign payment, as yorkregion.com previously reported.

Council voted to publicly reprimand Muench and suspended his pay for 30 days. He apologized afterward.

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