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Coun. Steves’ tweet accused of suggesting ethnicity-based divisions

Steves said his message was misread
Harold Steves
Richmond City Council candidate Harold Steves. Oct. 2014.

The Richmond Farmland Owners Association released a statement on Thursday “strongly condemning” a tweet posted earlier this month by Coun. Harold Steves for “dividing Richmond residents based on their ethnicity,” and asked Steves to recuse himself from an upcoming vote on farmland size.

Steves told the Richmond News that his tweet had been misread and that he will not recuse himself from the council vote on Monday.

On March 1, Steves tweeted about an open house on proposed modular housing for homeless people.

It read, “500 Asian people go to a Public Information meeting. The librarian gets Karate Kicked by an opponent to housing for homeless people. South Asian landowners are campaigning for 10,764 sq ft houses in the #ALR. Is this multiculturalism? What on earth is happening to #RichmondBC?”

The tweet got more than 100 likes and nearly 100 retweets.

“People are outraged,” said Gunraj Gill, spokesperson for Richmond Farmland Owners Association.

“I understand there is something he wanted to say about these two things, but he could have said it without saying ‘Asian people,’ ‘South Asian people,’ it doesn’t have to be like that.

“No city councillors, or any politicians at any level, should be singling out certain communities and dividing them based on their ethnicity.

"That’s very upsetting and saddening. We don’t think there is any room for that in the Richmond that we believe in.”

The letter pointed out that the information in the tweet was misleading because the librarian kicker turned out to be separate from the consultation meeting, and farm owners supporting 10,000 plus sq. ft. homes, “come from varied ancestral backgrounds.”

Steves’ tweet “confirms that he is out of touch and incapable of leading an unbiased and fair consultation,” when “a diverse group of residents is actively participating in the decision making process,” wrote the statement.

“We call on Councillor Harold Steves to recuse himself from the upcoming vote on (the farmland size) issue in Council.”

However, Steves insisted that his message had been misread, adding he had never brought race into the discussion, but had raised a question about “what ‘multiculturalism’ is and whether there are cultural differences in the community.”

“I don’t care what race you are to build on farmland. I never said anything to do with race. I just pointed out that we have certain culture groups with different beliefs than others. That’s it,” said Steves.

“When you come from one country to another, there is a bit of conflict when you believe in the different rules and different beliefs that were in that country...That’s why I tried to discuss the cultural differences. I’m not taking a side one way or the other – I just think these differences are there, we need to talk about it.

“But when people attack you for bringing this (cultural difference) issue up, it’s very difficult to talk about it. That’s the problem. So I shut up."

He also responded that his tweet about the attacker was based on media reports, and that he subsequently tweeted new information.

“They have to look at all the tweets. They are being very selective,” said Steves.

When the News mentioned a reply Steves wrote under his original tweet stating, “there is an organized ethnic group campaigning against homeless housing,” he said he was only stating the "truth" and "doesn't know what the problem is with that."

But he is not against the people opposing the project, and in fact, he is more inclined to not be in favour of the temporary modular housing project himself, added Steves.

Steves said he had regretted the phrasing of the initial tweet during an interview with Global TV.

"I think about apologizing 10 times over on it, trying to explain it," said Steves.

Jas Johal, MLA of Richmond-Queensborough, who has received the statement, said he believes tackling homelessness or protecting farmland in Richmond is a "non-partisan issue," and should be spoken about "in a respectful and thoughtful manner."

“Mr. Steves’ recent comments do nothing to help address these community challenges, encourage engagement, or build a stronger Richmond," wrote Johal in an email.

"I hope after some reflection, he understands how hurtful those comments are to many of his fellow citizens.

"We all want what's best for Richmond - let's get there together.”

Richmond city council is expected to decide at the council meeting Monday night, as to whether or not to formally restrict home sizes to 5,382 sq. ft. down from 10,764 sq. ft.

The motion, which received a three-tie vote at a planning committee meeting last week, was put forward by Steves and seconded by Mayor Malcolm Brodie.