Ward Suther­land, seek­ing re-elec­tion in Ward 1, in­sists he didn’t ut­ter an anti-Semitic slur as he was dis­cussing pub­lic art at an all-can­di­dates event Wed­nes­day.


A Calgary coun­cil­lor seek­ing re­elec­tion is in­sist­ing he said Johnny “Choo” — not “Johnny Jew” — af­ter draw­ing crit­i­cism for what was per­ceived as an anti-Semitic slur at a packed all-can­di­dates de­bate Wed­nes­day evening.

In a state­ment sent to news me­dia Thurs­day af­ter­noon, hours af­ter a video of Ward 1 Coun. Ward Suther­land’s re­marks were widely shared on­line, Suther­land dis­puted he used the term “Johnny Jew from New York” while speak­ing about pub­lic art.

“Dur­ing our dis­cus­sion about pub­lic art at the fo­rum I ref­er­enced a fa­mous New York de­signer with the last name of Choo,” the state­ment from Suther­land said.

“The point I was hop­ing to drive home was the im­por­tance of uti­liz­ing lo­cal artists rather than those from abroad.”

While Suther­land didn’t say which Choo from New York he was ref­er­enc­ing, there is a Jimmy Choo who de­signs women’s shoes and lives in the United King­dom.

In his state­ment, Suther­land en­cour­ages “any­one with ques­tions to watch the video of the fo­rum,” and notes no re­ac­tion from the crowd was made af­ter his com­ments.

Rabbi Mark Glick­man of Tem­ple B’nai Tik­vah watched the video Thurs­day morn­ing and said, “It sure sounded like Johnny Jew.”

“If he said Johnny Choo, I don’t know what that means,” said Glick­man. “‘Johnny Jew’ is not a very widely used term, but it is an an­tiSemitic ca­nard and lan­guage like that has no place in civ­i­lized po­lit­i­cal dis­course. I would hope the Calgary com­mu­nity would have no tol­er­ance for such lan­guage and Calgary vot­ers will take that into con­sid­er­a­tion when they de­cide who they’re go­ing to vote for.”

De­spite Suther­land’s ex­pla­na­tion be­hind his re­marks, the Univer­sity of Calgary Grad­u­ate Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion said it had voted unan­i­mously Thurs­day to re­voke a po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship award it gave Suther­land in April.

Suther­land said late Thurs­day he was hor­ri­fied at how his com­ments were in­ter­preted and had called Glick­man to en­sure there was a clear un­der­stand­ing of what he said at the de­bate.

“I con­demn any kind of racism to­tally,” Suther­land said, adding there’s been a trend of neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing this elec­tion.

“Three days be­fore vot­ing, it’s po­lit­i­cal and there’s an ul­te­rior mo­tive be­hind this.”

The con­tro­ver­sial re­marks from in­cum­bent Suther­land came in re­sponse to a mod­er­a­tor’s ques­tion at an all-can­di­dates fo­rum held at the Tus­cany Club, and come in the midst of an elec­tion marred by ac­cu­sa­tions of racism.

Both Coral Bliss Tay­lor and Chris Blatch, who are also vy­ing for the Ward 1 seat and sat on stage with Suther­land at Wed­nes­day’s de­bate, said he clearly said “Johnny Jew,” though no can­di­dates ap­peared to re­act in a video of the fo­rum.

“This is con­sis­tent with what we’ve come to ex­pect from Ward,” Bliss Tay­lor said.

Blatch la­belled Suther­land’s “Choo” ex­pla­na­tion as a flimsy ex­cuse for an of­fen­sive state­ment.

“I heard it. Peo­ple in the crowd heard it … It just came out so ca­su­ally, so com­fort­ably from his tongue, ev­ery­one was a bit shocked,” Blatch said.

The re­marks were made when can­di­dates were asked to pick a “con­tentious” elec­tion is­sue from a list that in­cluded bike lanes, flu­o­ri­da­tion and art projects, and to speak about how they would ap­proach the topic if elected.

“One of the things dear to my heart, ac­tu­ally, is the sit­u­a­tion with the arts,” be­gan Suther­land, who talked about what the Medicine Hill devel­op­ment, next to Canada Olympic Park, will even­tu­ally look like. “A lot of it has dif­fer­ent Abo­rig­i­nal fea­tures in it. And then 20 me­tres away, we get these tow­ers. To me, I thought it was KerPlunk when I first saw it. It just showed how a sys­tem can be bro­ken,” said Suther­land, ref­er­enc­ing the con­tro­ver­sial $500,000 Bow­fort Tow­ers pub­lic art­work cre­ated by Del Geist that spurred con­tro­versy in Au­gust.

Suther­land went on to speak about an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to change the city’s con­tentious art pol­icy in late 2013, af­ter he was first elected.

“As I dove into the weeds, I found one of the big­gest is­sues was the fact that the peo­ple, the com­mit­tee that was pick­ing the art, first of all, 10 out of the 10 peo­ple were artists. 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,’” he said.

Suther­land told the au­di­ence he lost the pitch to change to the art pol­icy in a 4-11 vote.

“The good thing about Bow­fort Tow­ers is be­cause it was so em­bar­rass­ing and it was elec­tion time, the 11 in­di­vid­u­als that voted against it now voted to freeze the pro­gram and we’re go­ing to re­view it. Thank you,” he fin­ished, ref­er­enc­ing a Septem­ber de­ci­sion by coun­cil.

Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pin­cott, who is not seek­ing re-elec­tion, said he’s not en­tirely sur­prised by the re­marks, adding he’s heard sim­i­lar talk be­fore from coun­cil col­leagues over the years.

“Racism and misog­yny is a prob­lem, a chal­lenge on coun­cil and some­thing needs to be done about it,” said Pin­cott.

Cole Chris­tensen is also vy­ing for the Ward 1 seat and at­tended Wed­nes­day’s de­bate.

“The re­marks made by the in­cum­bent coun­cil­lor at last night’s Ward 1 de­bate are rep­re­hen­si­ble,” said Chris­tensen.

Com­peti­tor Cam Khan, who was sit­ting be­side Suther­land at the de­bate, said he’s not sure what was said but de­cried “Johnny Jew” as a racist com­ment.

Reached Thurs­day, Geist, the artist be­hind Bow­fort Tow­ers, re­fused to com­ment on Suther­land’s re­marks.

Martin Samp­son, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at CIJA, the ad­vo­cacy agent of the Calgary Jewish Fed­er­a­tion, said Suther­land’s words, as he un­der­stood them, are “ut­terly un­be­com­ing of an elected of­fi­cial, or any per­son of good­will for that mat­ter.”

“What­ever the in­tent of the com­ment, it was an in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of lan­guage that per­pet­u­ates an­tiSemitic stereo­types and as such is unac­cept­able,” Samp­son said in a state­ment.

Coun. Ward Suther­land


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