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OUR VIEW: Impasse feeds protest déjà vu at Surrey city hall

Pro-Palestine supporters have been haunting Surrey council since November
One of six pro-Palestine protesters Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke dismissed March 11 for not speaking to the item before council at a public hearing. (Screen shot)

Considering the art of persuasion, there are cases when sugar works better than vinegar.

Yet, a handful of tenacious protesters served up jugs of the sour stuff Monday night to Surrey city council, in a quest to have the civic-level politicians formally call for a ceasefire in Gaza and send a motion to Ottawa. It’s hard to argue against asking anyone to stop dropping bombs that kill innocent people, children among them.

This editorial isn’t about that. It concerns the protesters’ modus operandi in trying to effect change. Since Nov. 20, they’ve been taking to the podium, first in council chambers to air their concerns during public hearings, and now filing in one-by-one, under the watchful eye of a bylaw officer, to speak to a cloistered council that has been meeting in a city hall that’s fenced off on account of the protesters.

Council has a policy where speakers at public hearings must specifically address the application at hand, and nothing else, during their allotted three minutes. The city clerk explains this at the outset of every public hearing, and did so well before war broke out between Israel and Hamas.

READ ALSO: Surrey council contemplates moving to electronic meetings

At the outset of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Brenda Locke said “alternative arrangements” for public attendance had been made on account of meetings being “disrupted by pro-Palestine protesters” and “escalating protests.” Despite the impasse, six protesters tried to speak to the Palestine issue during a public hearing on an application concerning a residential apartment building for West Clayton. Locke bounced each of them, following up with a two-minute recess in each case.

One ventured a hybrid commentary embracing biodiversity and the conflict in Palestine. Locke wasn’t having it. The speaker retorted “it feels as though you’re confused, though,” among other comments and essentially addressed the mayor as though she were a simpleton. “Do you need some help?”

Another speaker accused council of a “racist dogsh*t response.” During the meeting, the politicians read aloud two tributes to Ramadan. A speaker replied council will pay at the polls, “the Muslim community does not accept any well-wishes from this council regarding Ramadan” and “don’t come to our mosques.”

This impasse will no doubt continue to play out, repeating like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, as council is unlikely to yield simply for fear that doing so would broadcast to the wider community that it can be bullied into acquiescence.