An all-candidates debate that was to be held at the Westwood Community Church in Coquitlam has ostensibly been scuttled after candidates from across the Tri-Cities declined invitations citing objections to the church’s record on LGBTQ rights.
The decisions to boycott pastor Giulio Gabeli’s planned Oct. 10 debate came after the latest exchange between activists in the LGBTQ community and the church.
Last week, Nicola Spurling — a former provincial Green Party and Coquitlam council candidate, and a trans activist — was tipped off to the church’s association with a network of right-wing activists who support upending homosexual and transgender rights in the name of traditional Canadian values.
On Friday, Spurling took to Facebook, tagging both the church and every candidate for the federal election in the Tri-Cities, calling on them to decline the church’s invitation and denounce its actions.
Gabeli characterized Spurling’s actions on social media as a smear campaign designed to discredit the church and silence its freedom of religious expression.
“This is an assault,” said Gabeli. “We have never said anything about the LGBTQ community.”
But a closer look at the pastor’s actions reveal a different story. Gabeli is a founding member and signatory to the OneAccord, a religious document signed by hundreds of pastors and church leaders across Canada that explicitly calls out homosexuality and “transgender self-perception” as modern-day heresies.
In a video posted to the group’s website, Gabeli calls out his adversaries in the LGBTQ community, saying: “Our opponents are determined to silence the voice of Bible-believing leaders and Christians in the public arena who do not agree with a morality of inclusivity and a sexually progressive Canada. This is the fruit of a strategic opposition to the Judeo-Christian values that have shaped our democracy by left-wing organizations and lobbyist groups.”
In closing ranks with the religious right, Gabeli appears to have forged links with anti-SOGI activist Kari Simpson and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynne Taylor Thompson. In one video posted to his Facebook feed, Gabeli speaks at an anti-SOGI rally in downtown Vancouver.
Now, following several candidates’ decision not to attend the debate, “to isolate some and highlight others,” Gabeli says the candidates have lost the authority to represent “all Canadians.”
But Spurling says Gabeli is missing the point, and that if another church hosted an all-candidates meeting, the LGBTQ community wouldn’t have a problem.
“Essentially their goal is to mislead people what LGBTQ rights are all about,” Spurling told The Tri-City News. “For some people, equality feels like oppression.”
In interviews with The Tri-City News, each NDP, Liberal and Green candidate confirmed they will not be attending the debate, save Conservative hopefuls Nelly Shin and Nicholas Insley, whose campaigns said they had not yet made a decision.
In declining to attend the debate, several candidates made statements denouncing the church and pastor’s records on homosexuality and transgender rights.
“I had looked forward to an open, honest conversation and how they represent Christianity in our community,” said Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam Green candidate Brad Nickason. “But with them, there is no debate. There’s only one conversation. I’m not going to legitimize them.”