(Village of Pouce Coupe/Lorraine Michetti - image credit)
The mayor of a small northern B.C. village says she won't step down over social media posts she made comparing gun owners to Holocaust victims and another seemingly disparaging how Indigenous people maintain their homes.
Lorraine Michetti, the mayor of Pouce Coupe, B.C., insists she is sorry for making the posts and says that she will seek cultural sensitivity training, but she also says calls for her to step down are part of "cancel culture," and that she is being "bullied" by people opposed to her, some of whom she is considering taking to court.
Among the posts to surface is one Michetti says was a commentary on the federal Liberals' plans for gun control.
"Everyone probably can have them just not Caucasian, that is just about everything. I feel like a Jews [sic] back in the day. Waiting for my cattle car."
Councillor questioned mayor
On Sunday, Pouce Coupe Coun. Ken Drover told CBC News he is upset that the mayor's social media activity is casting a negative light on the small community of roughly 730 people in northeastern B.C., about a 20-minute drive southeast of Dawson Creek.
"We are embarrassed," he said. "It's a black mark ... by no means do those comments represent the voice of council."
He questioned Michetti about the posts during a council meeting Monday.
"You would liken your position to a Jew in a cattle car waiting to go to..." he said before Michetti jumped in.
"Once they take our guns away, back when Hitler, that's what it was all about," she said.
"How dare you?" Drover responded. "That is a terrible, terrible comparison."
Drover also asked Michetti if she would step down, and she refused.
"OK, fair," he said.
On Thursday, the village of Pouce Coupe announced Drover had submitted a letter of resignation, which will trigger a byelection to replace him. Drover could not immediately be reached for comment.
WATCH | Coun. Ken Drover challenges Mayor Lorraine Michetti over her comments at a council meeting:
Multiple problematic posts
The exchange between Drover and Michetti came five days after a different post from the mayor began circulating among Facebook users in the Peace region of northeastern B.C.
It depicted an image of four homes with garbage in their yards and Michetti's caption: "Don't want Pipeline's? [sic] They want to protect our land. Yeah ok."
A number of people interpreted the post as playing into stereotypes of on-reserve housing and calling Indigenous pipeline opponents hypocrites.
Connie Greyeyes, a Fort St. John resident from the Bigstone Cree Nation, said even though the post didn't directly reference Indigenous people, the implications were clear.
"When you've lived with racism your whole life, when it shows itself to you ... you know it," she said.
Greyeyes was among those asking the mayor to apologize and resign.
Mayor did not attend special meeting
Meanwhile, municipal leaders in the neighbouring communities of Fort St. John, Taylor, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd issued statements condemning the post.
"We do not and never will condone racism within our walls or our community," Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman wrote in a Facebook post. "An egregious error was made by one of our colleagues. We will invite them to learn with us."
On Saturday, a special village council meeting was held to discuss the post. Michetti did not attend, she said, because she was too upset.
At that meeting, council received a report documenting several instances of the mayor getting into online arguments with Pouce Coupe residents that were possible violations of the village's code of conduct. By the end, council had voted unanimously to ask Michetti to step down.
Posts personal, not official, mayor says
Reached for an interview Wednesday, Michetti insisted she had not intended to be racist and that the old posts were resurfacing because of a group of people in town who wanted her out of office.
She said she was seeking cultural sensitivity training, and wanted to make a distinction between posts she made from her personal Facebook account versus those of an official mayoral page.
"It was Lorraine Michetti, not the mayor" who made the posts, she said.
Michetti said she was considering legal action against several people in the community who were making negative comments about her online, and she questioned why she was being held to a different standard than her opponents.
"Why do people think the mayor is high stature?" she asked. "They harass and nag me about fireworks. Then they harass and nag me that I'm supposed to get the Shaw internet going. ... It's tiring."
But, Michetti said, she is committed to finishing her term, and she intends to run for re-election in 2022.
"There's lots of things I have on the go."
Few options for removal
Mona Brash, a retired political science professor from the University of Victoria and Camosun College specializing in municipal affairs, said unless the mayor steps down voluntarily, those who want her gone have few options.
"Their only recourse is political," she said, noting opponents could continue to put pressure on the mayor to step down.
In British Columbia, municipal leaders can only be removed if they improperly use their position for financial gain or for missing multiple regularly-scheduled meetings without being excused.
The B.C. government has floated the idea of firing the entire Chilliwack school board in order to remove a single trustee who used a slur against people with intellectural disabilities, but Brash said it is unlikely the province would be willing or able to do the same in order to get rid of a mayor.
"People don't realize how powerful municipal politicians are," she said. "You elect them for four years and that's it, they're in and it's rare you can remove them."
In an emailed statement to CBC, B.C.'s Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osborne said anti-Indigenous racism and anti-Semitism must be confronted, and that she is "grateful to local leaders for standing up against unacceptable behaviour."
She also said the government is exploring the idea of updating the provincial legislation governing municipalities. "We know more can be done to support local officials' accountability to their communities," she wrote.
For more on the controversy in Pouce Coupe, tap below: