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Powell River city committee looks to redirect ‘name change’ delegations

With worries of being “inundated” by presentations, Powell River’s committee of council will look to direct delegations to the Possible Name Change Joint Working Group.

The move follows a passionate discussion Tuesday at a committee of the whole meeting on whether local resident Arthur Richards could speak to council on his research on Dr. Israel Wood Powell.

The city is going through an exploratory exercise at the request and Tla’amin First Nation, to possibly change the city’s name from its namesake who’s history is tied to the Indian residential school system.

The final vote was 4-3 to remove Richard’s opportunity to speak – his work seen by some critics as hate speech.

While the city has had two delegations to date, Mayor Dave Formosa said it was important to “plug this hole real quick” or a swath of delegations “could be a disaster” for the city trying to get other work done.

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The debate was punctuated in a back-and-forth between Formosa and Coun. Jim Palm, who said he would never support a move that “stifles residents’ opinions.” He warned council to “think long and hard” about the city’s legal opinion.

Coun. Maggie Hathaway, who is on the possible name change committee, said it was a “touchy issue” but the committee was set up to hear these arguments. The next sessions are Tuesday (April 12) at Dwight Hall at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, April 20 at the Evergreen Theater at 10 a.m.

In an interview with Vista Radio, Hathaway says it was a “fairly respectful” and “good, healthy debate.”

But she believes a committee of council is not the best venue to hear this contentious issue.

“When the topics are this contentious we could sit there all day long listening to people have input. But is that good use of time on the part of council? In this situation, I think not,” she said.

Hathaway is also “really saddened” that the city’s name has become such a divisive issue.

Before the vote, some on council were concerned that shutting out a delegation may set the municipality up for a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge.

But Chief Administrative Officer Russell Brewer told council a legal review of his presentation deemed it not to be hate speech. Corporate officer Chris Jackson said the procedural bylaw allows council to control whether it hears delegations but the “crux” in any legal challenge would be why Richards’ was not allowed to speak when others were permitted.

A report will come back to city council on a bylaw to limit delegations to procedural issues around the possible name change. The city would still receive written correspondence in its city agendas, under the proposal.

Later during a question and answer session, Richards said he simply wanted to request council look at putting money toward finding a B.C. historian to look at the issue.

Richards felt that if he spoke to the possible name change committee his research “would have been buried” – something Coun. Cindy Elliott denied. Elliott is also part of the committee.

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