Allegations that he made a racist slur against Jews days before Calgary’s Oct. 16 municipal election did not stop Ward Sutherland, the incumbent candidate from Ward 1, from winning with 14,336 votes. His closest rival, Coral Bliss Taylor, got 10,601 votes.
“Watch out Calgary voters,” a piece in the Edmonton Jewish News warned on Oct. 12, a few days before the election. The paper was referring to an incident during a debate between candidates for Ward 1 the previous night, during which Sutherland appeared to use an anti-Semitic phrase of his own coinage.
Talking about his desire to reform a municipal arts council, Sutherland complained that “10 out of 10 people” on the council who were responsible for choosing art were themselves artists. He then continued, “And when they were looking at it, they’re going, ‘Well Johnny Jew from New York – he’s the best artist, so we’re going to use him and not even look at it.’ So we tried to have the policy changed, where the residents participate and they help pick the art.”
Sutherland later defended the remark by claiming that he had been talking about “Johnny Choo.”
Global News later reported that Sutherland clarified that he was discussing the “famous New York designer with the last name of Choo.” Yet no such designer has been identified. The closest that Global News could find was a well-known shoe designer who lives in the United Kingdom named Jimmy Choo.
Martin Sampson, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ communications director, said in a statement that, “The unfortunate comment made by city Councillor Ward Sutherland, as we understood it, is utterly unbecoming of an elected official, or any person of good will for that matter. Whatever the intent of the comment, it was an inappropriate use of language that perpetuates anti-Semitic stereotypes and, as such, is unacceptable. Mr. Sutherland should apologize and be more mindful of his language in future.”
Ward 1 Candidate Cam Khan, who was sitting beside Sutherland at the debate, told the Calgary Herald that the comments were racist and inappropriate.
“It was a racist comment,” he said. “If he’s saying racist comments, he’s not qualified for this position.”
‘If he’s saying racist comments, he’s not qualified for this position.’
Fellow debaters at the event did not react to Sutherland’s comment, a fact Sutherland later used in his defence. Taylor, who later claimed that Sutherland’s words were clearly about Jews and not “Johnny Choo,” told Global News that she didn’t immediately react, as she was concentrating on answering questions from residents.
Sutherland said that he thinks he was “re-elected because residents did not believe the story and know my character.”
“It’s unfortunate groups and individuals take snippets from social media and it’s suddenly the ‘truth.’ No opportunity for discussion or background content. Did people know 300 people were present including a reporter and no one heard it,” wrote Sutherland in a statement to The CJN.
“Did the news say I was Métis and experienced serious racists (sic) letters and comments last election? My family has experienced negative comments, slurs about being Métis. My friends, family and associates have never heard be (sic) say any comments about any race or religion, etc. It is very unfortunate people jump in and your guilty first with no investigation. Been called some very nasty names ironically by people supposedly against inappropriate behaviour. This is are (sic) new world of social media.”
Taylor later pointed out to Global News that this wasn’t the first time Sutherland’s behaviour has been controversial.
“We all remember the stabbing incident in council,” she said, referencing video that surfaced of Sutherland making motions towards Councillor Druh Farrell at a city council meeting in May. “This is consistent with what we’ve come to expect from Ward.”
Brian Pinnicott, the outgoing Ward 11 councillor, commented on Twitter that “misogyny and racism are ongoing issues” on Calgary’s municipal council.