Ben Cottrill performed as part of the inaugural White Rock Buskers Festival on May 5. Aaron Hinks photo

Councillors upset over First Nation disinvitation

Mayor denies any directive to exclude SFN from White Rock Buskers Festival

Two White Rock council members say they will be asking questions at Monday’s meeting after an invitation to the Semiahmoo First Nation to open last weekend’s inaugural White Rock Buskers Festival was withdrawn two days before the event.

Couns. Helen Fathers and David Chesney say they are “embarrassed” and “offended” by news that the SFN was disinvited to the event.

But Mayor Wayne Baldwin categorically denies that there was any city directive to exclude SFN from the event.

“I don’t know where the idea (that SFN was specifically excluded) would come from,” he said. “The conspiracy theorists are alive and well, I guess.”

Peace Arch News reported this week that Chief Harley Chappell had received an invitation from a member of the event-organizing committee to participate in an opening ceremony for the festival about a month before the Saturday, May 5 event.

The plan was to do a “traditional welcoming and share some of our traditional song and dance,” he said.

When he phoned the committee to re-confirm the SFN participation two days prior, he said he was told it had been “cancelled.”

Committee members Moti Bali and Claire Halpern had told PAN this week that the invitation to SFN had been withdrawn since the committee had decided not to have any kind of welcoming ceremony, feeling it was out of keeping with the informal atmosphere of a busking festival.

But both Fathers and Chesney said this week that they doubt this version, and believe the committee had received a directive to disinvite SFN.

In a Facebook post Tuesday sharing the initial PAN article, Fathers commented: “This is insane. The city decides to “uninvite” SFN. This is so crazy – who gave the directive? This does not represent my voice #disgraceful and completely out of line.”

Chesney commented online on the post that he was “stunned when I heard the news Sunday… Someone is going to have to wear this. Monday’s council meeting should be interesting to say the least.”

Chesney told PAN Wednesday that he was “thoroughly embarrassed by this.”

“There’s a whole lot of dancing going on in that story, and I’m not buying it,” he said. “There’s been meddling from higher up at city hall.”

Chesney said he could not be “100 per cent sure” where such a directive would have originated.

He noted “antipathy” last year over reconstruction at Memorial Park, in which the First Nation claimed insufficient consultation with city leaders.

In a separate online comment on the PAN story, Fathers said “This is not the committee’s fault, this must have been a directive from above, and it was most certainly not from council. That leaves a few options.”

Fathers said Thursday she feels the withdrawn invitation has cast a shadow on what should have been a positive city event.

“It’s a shame that our first (White Rock Busking Festival) event should be marred with such negativity,” Fathers said Thursday.

“I’m offended by what happened. I’m upset – I can’t think of a circumstance where you invite someone and they are uninvited.”

Fathers said she feels sorry for committee members who have received “a lot of heat” for the decision.

“Obviously the committee was dealing with a directive – no committee of the city or the council would make a decision like this, not in my experience in 10 years on council.”

Fathers said she feels the incident is “counterproductive” to the relationship between the city and SFN.

“No doubt there have been issues between the city and SFN, but we live in hope to repair (the relationship),” she said.

“We have to find a way to heal – and this is not the right way.”

Contacted after PAN’s print deadline Thursday, Mayor Wayne Baldwin said there was no directive to exclude or disinvite SFN from the festival – or any other city events.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

“The only question asked was, ‘does it work to have an opening(for the buskers festival)?’” he added.

“Since the festival was taking place at four different venues we thought that that would not be of much value. That was my only input.”

Baldwin said that the closing event of the festival at the Coast Capital Playhouse, at which he made remarks, was different as it took place at one venue only.

He said SFN had not been considered for attending that event.

“I don’t think it would have been appropriate to have prayers or anything there,” he said.

He theorized that organizers might have “got a little ahead” of themselves in inviting SFN to attend a welcoming ceremony.

“This whole thing was a little strange,” he said.

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