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Private event at 108 Mile Community Centre stirs controversy

An upcoming private event at the 108 Mile Community Centre this weekend has divided public opinion in the South Cariboo
The 108 Mile Community Hall. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

An upcoming private event at the 108 Mile Community Centre this weekend has divided public opinion in the South Cariboo. 

Awake in the Cariboo, organized by the group of the same name, bills itself as an event about educating the community ahead of this year's election. However, controversy began when it became known that one of the speakers invited to speak at the event was Tanya Gaw, the founder of Action4Canada.

Gaw is known for her controversial and conservative takes on several social issues, most notably regarding the LGBTQ+ community. In the past communities such as Abbotsford, Mission and the Alberni Valley have barred her from attending school board meetings and cancelled events she was set to speak at. 

Several community members, after finding out about Gaw's involvement, called upon the 108 Mile Ranch Community Association's board of directors, which runs the hall, to cancel the event. As of the publication of this article, the RCA has declined to do so, with some members leaving the board following the controversy. 

Among the loudest voices to call for the event's cancellation is Saturn Zezza, chairperson and founder of the 100 Mile House Pride Society. They said both themselves and the entire society were deeply shocked and saddened to learn about this event. 

"We recognize and respect that there are many different beliefs here in 100 Mile House, however, to include such a controversial and known hateful speaker as a presenter at the event was a surprise," Zezza said. "This is someone who denies the horrors of residential schools, blames entire races and religions for nationwide issues, and believes gender diversity is a mental illness. The 100 Mile Pride Society is reeling with the news and the 2SLGBTQIA+ and allied community is devastated and upset." 

Zezza said that Gaw's organization, Action4Canada, has been designated a hate group by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Her opinions on Residential School History, 2SLGBTQIA+ rights and women's rights, religious supremacy and immigration are dangerous, in Zezza's opinion. 

"We believe she aims to dehumanize groups of individuals and portray them as a threat, inciting hatred and fear and potentially even perpetuating violence against them," Zezza said. 

The RCA's board of directors did not return the 100 Mile Free Press' request for comment before the publication of this article but in a since-deleted Facebook post did address those upset at them for not cancelling the event. In the post, they acknowledged that Gaw's attendance may not be welcomed by certain societies in the community but said it is not up to the board of directors to tell renters who they can and cannot host at their events.

"The Community Hall is a community venue that is available to all. For the (board of directors) to audit every group would be onerous and labour-intensive," the RCA wrote. "We can't imagine having to audit every wedding and or group and ask for the guest list and then investigate everyone on the list before we rent out the hall. We cannot and will not burden our hall manager with that task."

The RCA further said that they believe it would be wrong for them to single out certain users for their political or religious briefs. Cancelling events because of this would be "bordering on censorship" in their view. 

They also reiterated the RCA was not hosting the event and that concerns about the event should be directed to the organizers, Awake in the Cariboo. 

When reached by the 100 Mile Free Press for comment the Awake in the Cariboo Organizing Committee declined an interview and instead submitted a letter to the editor. In the letter, the committee said what they believe is dangerous is members of one minority group making decisions, such as cancelling their event, for the entire community. They also rejected the notion there would be any hate, fear or misinformation at their event. 

"People of the South Cariboo are responsible adults and should be treated as such by not trying to shield them from what an individual or a group of individuals perceives as 'decreasing folks’ sense of safety' and/or causing 'fear and pain'," the committee wrote. 

They asserted that the cancellation of views and events one dislikes runs contrary to the principles of Canada's democratic society. The planning committee said that they invite anyone with concerns about this event to attend themselves, participate in the discussions and ask questions. 

"A truly diverse, equitable and inclusive community is one that respects and fosters the ultimate diversity – diversity of opinion," the committee said. 

For Zezza, however, this event has already caused them to choose to boycott the 108 Mile Community Centre. They have relocated the Masquerade Dance for this year's Pride celebrations to the Lone Butte Community Hall which Zezza said is in line with their values. 

"We chose to move our event from the 108 Hall to ensure the safety of all our attendees and to honour our ethics of not supporting an organization who disregards the concerns of their community," Zezza said. "The values of the 100 Mile Pride Society include inclusivity, advocacy, celebration, and reconciliation. We no longer feel the 108 RCA is in line with those values." 

Patrick Davies

About the Author: Patrick Davies

An avid lover of theatre, media, and the arts in all its forms, I've enjoyed building my professional reputation in 100 Mile House.
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