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Raucous audience peppers Richmond council with questions on openness, democracy

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he 'insists' on following rules and decorum in council chambers.
Jasmine Piao addressed council, prompting audience members to shout out questions to council members.

The audience at Monday’s city council meeting seemed to test the patience of Richmond councillors as a group of apparent anti-vaxxers peppered the meeting with impromptu questions, comments and applause.

The meeting turned raucous with questions thrown at council members about their right to mandate vaccines, decisions made at secret meetings, transparency and the state of democracy.

But a reference to the Nuremberg trials seemed to be the last straw, after which Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie shut down the discussion after already admonishing the audience for not following “decorum.”

The disruptions began after Richmond resident Jasmine Piao – speaking twice at the meeting – explained how her mother and brother had to do curbside voting during the May 2021 byelection despite having medical mask exemptions.

Her remarks were met with applause from the audience, at which time, Brodie said clapping wasn’t allowed in council chambers.

These early remarks from Piao were met with sympathy from several councillors who said they would look into what happened, stressing the importance of residents being able to take part in the democratic process of elections.

But it was her second address to council at the end of the meeting – arguing that the vaccine mandate at city hall violated Richmondites’ rights - that riled up the audience.

Piao said the mandate denies entry and services to “law-abiding residents and taxpayers.”

“I would like to note, respectfully, council members and city staff are not licenced as medical professionals and are not qualified to tell the public to get a medical intervention in order to receive city services and participate in recreational programs,” Piao told council.

She added, asking city staff or the public to disclose their vaccine status is a “violation of medical privacy, according to the privacy act of B.C.”

“By compelling this information, the city would be coercing residents and members of the public to take a medical intervention in order to receive services and participate in recreation programs, which violates the principles of informed consent…” Piao added.

After her remarks, some audience members – of whom at least one was filming on his phone – started shouting questions at council, calling for “transparency.”

When Brodie mentioned the decision on the vaccine mandate was made in a closed council meeting – usually reserved for personnel, legal and land issues – audience members started pressing him to explain what a closed meeting is.

“I tried to talk to you, and they don’t let me talk to you,” Brodie told Piao, after being interrupted while trying to explain what changes have been made to the city’s vaccine and mask policies.

“Can we talk about closed door meetings? That’s not democracy, that’s not Canada,” said one audience member.

“What’s a closed door meeting? Can you please explain to us. We don’t know what that is. We have a right to know,” another audience member said, addressing the mayor.

The audience members pressed the mayor to explain, saying they’d been sitting in the audience for two hours.

“We’re raising our families here, we have a right to know what a closed door meeting is,” the audience member continued.

To which Brodie replied: “I’m not going to have a town hall meeting here.”

“I don’t care what you want – we don’t care… who do you think you are?” yet another audience member told Brodie.

When Coun. Carol Day suggested having a recess so the rules could be explained to audience members, Brodie said that wasn’t necessary, and council members could talk to the audience after the meeting.

“We’re not going to call for a recess when we don’t have respect for the rules and decorum and the tradition in this city hall, in council chambers,” Brodie said. “I insist on it.”

He finally explained to Piao that the vaccine passport requirement will be dropped on April 8 in city facilities, and that masks are no longer needed, adding it’s up to each “individual enterprise” to decide what mandates they want to have in place.

But when Piao continued to press her points and mentioned the Nuremberg trials – where Nazi leaders were tried for crimes committed during the Second World War – it seemed to be the last straw for Brodie, who moved on to the last items in the agenda.

But at least one more audience member kept questioning council saying, “What is your justification for moving into a closed door meeting – in an open government, if you have closed doors, you don’t need a government anymore.”

But council moved on to adopting bylaws and adjourned the meeting.