Nov. 3, Council ready to make Gay Pride proclamation
Nov. 12, Mayor opposes town's Gay Pride Week stance
Nov. 17, Gay group wants cash to settle, hearing dates set

Oliver Chronicle, Front page, Nov. 3, 1999


By Kathleen Wilson

The Town of Oliver and Mayor Linda Larson will proclaim Gay and Lesbian Pride Day if that action will release them from a claim of discrimination to be heard by the B. C. Human Rights Tribunal in the new year.

The town and Larson were named in a discrimination suit launched by Quentin Hughson and Sharon Dale Stone of Kelowna on behalf of the Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Pride Day Committee.  The complaint arose after town council refused to make a proclamation for the association in 1998.  At the same meeting, council adopted a policy stating it would not make any
proclamation that directs attention to any special interest group or could prove to be divisive to the community.  After considerable public debate, council again changed the policy to read that no proclamations of any kind would be made by the town.

In a letter to Hughson dated Aug. 1 8, 1999 and released by council last week, town administrator Tom Szalay made the settlement offer.

"... if it would end this matter, council has offered to lift its proclamations policy this one time, in order to make your originally
requested proclamation for 1999," stated the letter.

Szalay confirmed Monday that there was no response to the offer.  A mediation conference has been set for Nov. 10 when the town will make the same offer. However, Szalay does not expect the offer to be accepted.

"If they were willing to settle they would have done it months ago... our experience in other cases with this group is that they are not satisfied with that (proclamation being declared)," he said.

Hughson's lawyer, Barbara Findlay of Vancouver, said she is not prepared to discuss her position until after the mediation conference.

Larson, who drew praise from many local residents, including the South Okanagan Ministerial Association, for her strong stance against the proclamation, said town council's offer to settle should not be seen as "backing down."

"Fear-of-fine prompted the decision.  We didn't want any added costs," she said.

In a July 15 letter to the Human Rights Tribunal, Szalay noted the town's limited resources..

"As a small municipality, the financial ability of Oliver to defend its original discretionary position of avoiding endorsement of any group or event on the basis of any religion, race or sexual orientation is limited," he wrote.

Larson noted the decision by town council to make the settlement offer was "not unanimous."

"In the long run, we could have won this," said the mayor.

In the event the matter is not settled through mediation, the Human Rights Tribunal will hear the case in Vancouver.  It has set aside five days for the hearing.  In a bid to save taxpayers' money, Larson said she will defend herself against the allegations, while Szalay will represent the town.

Prior to the complaint being made to the Commission, Larson engaged in correspondence with Stone.

"If the local member (sic) of the Gay and Lesbian Organization feel they have been neglected or left out of Oliver society, I would be happy to receive a delegation to council and to recognize them as an integral part of this community.  I will acknowledge them with the same dignity and respect I acknowledge for all the people of Oliver, no more, no less - no
proclamation,"  Larson wrote on June 5, 1998.

Oliver Chronicle, Front page, Nov. 12, 1999

Mayor opposes town's Gay Pride Week stance


Mayor Linda Larson does not support council's attempt to release the town from a Human Rights Commission complaint of discrimination and said she will "fight to the bitter end" to not declare Gay and Lesbian Pride Week in Oliver.

Oliver town council voted in an in-camera meeting to offer to make the special proclamation if such a move would cause the Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association to drop its claim against the town and mayor. The offer was made on Aug. 18. No response was received from either the association or its spokesman Quentin Hughson. The matter, with council again making its offer to settle, was the subject of a mediation teleconference yesterday, Nov. 9. The outcome of the mediation was not
known as of press time.

Larson said last week that she voted against the motion and that she does not support her council's decision. She noted council's decisions only require the support of three out of five councillors to pass. However, in this case, further investigation showed that Larson was the lone dissenter in making the offer. It is unusual for council members to discuss in-camera happenings, but Larson said she believes so strongly that the proclamation should not be made that she is willing to separate herself from council regarding this issue.

"I refused and stayed on record of not being willing to compromise. I think people are sometimes scared and intimidated into making decisions, and I don't don't think that's right.

"It appears to me that there are two separate actions (being pursued by the Human Rights Commission). They have listed us as two separate entities - the Town of Oliver and Mayor Linda Larson," she said.

Larson said Town Administrator Tom Szalay has been trying to get the action against her dropped, or at least incorporated into the town action. But she said the likelihood of the association going along with the request is on par with the group agreeing to accept the latter day proclamation.

I don't think the complainant is going to be happy with that. We would only make the proclamation one time and they would want it to be an ongoing thing."

The gay and lesbian association originally said it would settle the claim if council made the proclamation and then took "sensitivity training." Larson said council still refuses to take the training.

Larson admitted the outstanding claim of discrimination has caused her stress.

"It's been awful. It's been really, really hard not knowing what power something like the Human Rights Commission has. You don't know what they can do and what they can't do."

"It seems to be the general understanding that they have some power. But at the Supreme Court level, my rights have to be treated equally to theirs."

And Larson is willing to take the case that far.

"I have no problem with that at all. We've ve come to the conclusion that we probably wouldn't get a favourable response from the commission."

Larson said a similar commission found the city of London, Ont. guilty of the same offence about 10 years ago and fined the city $10,000.

"I don't know if they ever collected," she said.

But Larson said several lawyers she has spoken with "strongly believe" she would win in Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court of Canada will recognize that my right to say 'no' is equal to their right to demand something."

Oliver Chronicle, Front page, Nov. 17, 1999

Gay group wants cash to settle, hearing dates set


The B.C. Human Rights Commission will hear a complaint brought by the Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association against the Town of Oliver and Mayor Linda Larson Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Oliver.

The hearing, which is open to the public, was set after the two parties failed to negotiate a settlement in a dispute that arose after council refused to proclaim Gay Pride Week more than a year ago. The gay and lesbian association, represented by Quenton Hughson and his lawyer Barbara Findlay, claim the town discriminated against the group. After receiving the request, town council, with Mayor Linda Larson at the helm, implemented a new policy that stated proclamations would not be made in favour of any special interest group. The policy was later amended to state that proclamations of any sort would no longer be made.

Town council has since made an offer to settle the matter by proclaiming Gay Pride Week in 2000, but the offer was rejected Wednesday in a telephone conference between Town Administrator Tom Szalay and Findlay.

"The lawyer (Findlay) said the offer was not acceptable and she would not settle on that basis. They’re looking for cash and other considerations," said Szalay.

He said he does not know how much money Hughson is seeking or what the "other considerations" may be. Szalay said he was directed by council to offer only to proclaim the event. He said it will be up to the new council, to be elected Saturday, to decide if they want to re-open negotiations or go straight to the Human Rights hearing.

Findlay said the town was not prepared to offer more than the proclamation and "we weren’t prepared to accept." She, too, would not say how much money she is seeking or what the other considerations are. However, Findlay did say that parties involved in a similar case in Kelowna are seeking a financial award of $10,000 and sensitivity training for that city’s council.

"Mayors and councils in B.C. who refuse to make these proclamations are simply flouting the law," said Findlay, adding she will be seeking a "significant award."

In the meantime, Larson continues to separate herself from her council’s offer to settle. She voted against the offer in a recent in-camera meeting. However, Szalay said he is now trying to have Larson removed as a separate party in the matter. He will make formal application to the Human Rights Tribunal to have the action against Larson dropped.

"Council made the proclamation; the action should be confined to the town," said Szalay.

Findlay has not yet taken a position on whether the mayor, as an individual, should be removed from the complaint