Fighting Words – Team TIG

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Fighting Words by Team TIG (Originally published Oct.12th, 2023)

The Islands Grapevine (TIG) would never publish hate-speech directed at a marginalized group, but an online and word of mouth gossip campaign has mounted into a mob mentality of hateful smears of TIG. While wrapping themselves in virtuous flags of inclusion and diversity, community values and respect for neighbours coexisting, these bullies have joined together to try to destroy a 32 year old community newspaper with false accusations based on hearsay, while TIG employs people who survive month to month on its modest income.

When TIG received an email from Denman Island Bus Service (DIBS) employee Bronwyn Schuster that threatened a withdrawal of publicly funded advertising expenditures in TIG unless its publisher agreed to changes to its editorial policy, TIG replied immediately and privately to inquire whether Schuster wished to share their concerns by publishing them in TIG. We also clarified to Schuster that their accusation that TIG published bigoted hate-speech in relation to transgender people was categorically false. While weeks went by, we did not receive a response from Schuster. It was then that TIG published Part 1 of our Team TIG editorial, Threats, Lies, and the Misuse of Public Funds in its Aug.10 issue.

Schuster’s response was to post on Denman social media, admitting to the misuse of their position, but doubled down on accusations of transphobic content published in TIG without providing any specific example, other than to say the transphobic content was contained in TIG contributor Phoenix’s article. In that article Phoenix expressed concern for the safety of both cisgender and transgender inmates from convicted cis-male rapists who wished to transfer to women’s prisons under a newly enacted law. Phoenix’s source was the Government of Canada’s Correctional Services website. Whatever one’s view about Phoenix’s expressed concern, it was the opposite of transphobic, as she had led off the article with a lengthy preamble of her positive feelings toward the LGBTQQ2SiA+ communities. 

Anyone can read Phoenix’s article by reviewing it on theislandsgrapevine.com in the archived July 6 issue.

DenmanWorks (DW) Chair Anthony Gregson’s response to this was to admit that Schuster had misused their position, but immediately fired TIG publisher Mike Van Santvoord from his job managing the visitdenmanisland.ca website without explanation, or giving him an opportunity to speak with the DW Board prior to a vote to remove him as a Director as is required under DW’s bylaws and the B.C. Societies Act. Gregson has been acting as DW Chair past his 4 year term limit, and has not advertised for new board members, or published the minutes of any DW meetings, both required under the B.C. Societies Act. 

DIBS Coordinator Sam Borthwick claimed to want these matters handled in a more “collegial” manner, but neither he nor Schuster made any attempt to contact TIG in support of a resolution. It was TIG who reached out to Borthwick privately and made an agreement that an apology from Schuster would appear in the following issue of TIG, and that same apology would be posted by Schuster on Denman social media. When the “apology” did not appear on Denman social media, Borthwick claimed that he could not keep his commitment to the social media post, where his spouse Schuster had made the false accusation.

TIG contacted the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), the local government responsible for funding DW and DIBS. CVRD Community Services manager Doug Demarzo offered to support the hiring of a mediator to help resolve these matters. TIG gratefully accepted his offer. Community mediator Karen McKinnon contacted TIG and told us she would be contacting the other parties to see if they were willing to enter into a mediated process. Weeks have gone by, and we have not received an agreement to mediation by Gregson, Borthwick, or Schuster. TIG has now filed complaints in B.C. Provincial Court, under the B.C. Societies Act, and with the B.C Ombudsperson. TIG has also retained legal counsel to file a defamation lawsuit relating to damages to TIG’s reputation, and for the financial damages that have resulted.

Highly respected and 11 year Islands Trustee Laura Busheikin weighed in on social media to endorse Schuster’s misuse of their position and public funds. Members of the DIRCS executive and Concerts Denman joined in the smear campaign, demanding an alternative to advertising in TIG. Smelling blood in the water, erstwhile “anarchist” Aaron Muirhead took the opportunity to announce a rival publication, based on his disdain for TIG, and proudly endorsed Schuster’s admitted malfeasances. When publicly pressed on his issues with TIG, Muirhead was unable to muster any specific complaint. These are all endorsements of a publicly funded employee influence peddling using public monies.

Apparently, all these virtuous members of our community have misplaced their ethical compasses and any sense of mutuality or integrity. No one is required to advertise in TIG, but they ARE required NOT to attempt to extort policy changes in a community newspaper using public funds as a weapon, especially based on a false accusation. We have reached a point in local culture, not unlike the broader world that surrounds us, that an unfounded accusation is enough of a reason to attempt to cancel a local business and the livelihoods it supports. 

TIG is committed to using every legal means necessary in pushing back on these lies and unwarranted attacks, as we demand legal, social, and community justice, and while we continue to serve Denman and Hornby Islands and surrounding areas, 50 weeks a year.