Municipal political campaigns can be messy affairs, with smears and attacks coming both directly from opponents and from their anonymous backers, spin coming from all directions and wild claims taking life completely out of nowhere.
In Canada, the hope is that candidates maintain integrity over the course of the election, that their teams run honest campaigns and that no one accuses a candidate of injecting children with a mysterious serum intended to turn them gay.
That last tenet may have been broken in Burnaby, B.C., where rumours and allegations swirl that the civic party backing the current mayor intends to inject students with a serum that could turn them homosexual.
The unfounded rumour is being panned by both sides of the debate, but a battle of finger-pointing has broken out in its wake.
Burnaby Now reported on the rumours last week and The Province reported further allegations over the weekend, detailing what appeared to be a smear campaign spreading through Burnaby’s Chinese-language community.
School trustee Harman Pandher told Burnaby Now he first heard the allegations while door-knocking a couple of weeks earlier.
“I had an encounter with one family, and I heard that others had some information come their way as well,” Pandher said. “It’s pretty outrageous, in this day and age, these types of things are being believed.”
[ Related: Burnaby mayoral candidate vows to ban kissing ]
The Province cited school board candidate Katrina Chen’s own account of first hearing the rumour, who said she assumed the rumour would be dismissed by those who heard it, but had been told by a Mandarin-speaking constituent that it had taken root.
For background, here is how the political landscape is laid out in Burnaby. There is the Burnaby Citizens’ Association, which backs a team of candidates headlined by current mayor Derek Corrigan.
And then there’s the Burnaby First Coalition, headlined by mayoral candidate Daren Hancott, which is campaigning against the current government’s record.
Part of that record is the Burnaby School District’s policy 5.45, adopted in 2011 as a plan to combat homophobia and support gay and transgender students.
The policy itself reads like any other sexual equality framework, promising the inclusion of all students, promoting awareness to avoid homophobia, and securing resources to foster understanding and mutual respect among the community.
But it received some backlash at the time of its passing, by those who saw the policy as an invasion into how parents choose to educate their children. The opposition at the time was led by a group called the Burnaby Parent’s Voice, several members of which are now running under the Burnaby First Coalition banner.
Policy 5.45 no longer appears to be a significant issue and neither party has made its content a campaign focus. But according to the rumour mill, someone identifying themselves as a supporter of the Burnaby First Coalition has spread the “gay serum” claim through the Mandarin-speaking population.
There have also been reported flyers and a Chinese-language blog which identifies policy 5.45 and the government’s promotion of homosexuality as reasons to back Burnaby First Coalition candidates.
Burnaby Citizens’ Association members have called this dirty politics, while Hancott told Burnaby Now the rumours didn’t come from his party and suggested it could be a case of “political sabotage.”
Yahoo Canada News has reached out to both the Burnaby Citizens’ Association and Burnaby First Coalition for official comment, though neither immediately responded to the request. One suspects there is little to be said.
With the election just two weeks away, Burnaby has entered its last leg of the campaign – a time when rhetoric can get heated, campaigns can get jumpy and unofficial supporters can start acting a little loopy.
Hopefully the “gay serum” allegations don’t impact the election one way or another.