Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve created this page to help set the record straight on some municipal issues. Feel free to contact me by email (contact [at] benisitt [dot] ca) or phone (250-882-9302) to discuss further. I welcome your feedback and opinions.
Question: “Didn’t you try to ban Christmas?“
No. In 2018, I proposed that the City of Victoria endeavour to increase cultural diversity of seasonal decorations in the municipal budget. City Council unanimously supported this proposal, which occurred in the context of wider budget discussions. Contrary to some media reports at the time, this issue was not a high priority for me or City Council. The matter was resolved during 20 minutes of discussion at a budget workshop.
Question: “Didn’t you benefit personally from the Red Cedar Café?“
No. I founded the Red Cedar Café in a volunteer capacity in April 2020, as a not-for-profit social enterprise to provide healthy meals for people who had experienced employment loss or income loss during the first lockdown. The Red Cedar Café’s primary clientele soon shifted toward low-income people, seniors and people with disabilities, filling a gap in the social safety net with a “meals-on-wheels” service that did not previously exist. Referrals from Island Health and other service providers demonstrate the essential role of Red Cedar Café’s meal program to community members in need. I served as a volunteer director of the non-profit society from its inception in the spring of 2020 until October 2021, receiving no remuneration. No friends, family members or associates have received any remuneration. I also recused myself from all City of Victoria and Capital Regional District decisions relating to funding, due to my volunteer role on the board. In October 2021, I did not stand for re-election to the board, in order to focus on other duties.
Question: “Didn’t you participate in a City Council meeting while volunteering with the Red Cedar Café?”
Yes. In January 2021, I participated remotely in a City of Victoria committee meeting via the MS Teams platform, while observing the installation of a flame-retardant tent on Cook Street, to provide emergency support services for unhoused individuals impacted by the pandemic. I wanted to ensure that the placement of the tent did not interfere with traffic operations and was otherwise in conformity with City of Victoria requirements. For approximately 45 minutes, I passively observed the installation of the tent by contractors, while listening to staff presentations and deliberations of council members, before returning to my home office to participate in the remainder of the committee meeting.
Question: “Didn’t you make veterans pay for Remembrance Day?“
No. In 2019, City Council received a special budget request of $15,000 for policing costs associated with the upcoming Remembrance Day ceremony. I proposed that the City of Victoria ask the federal Department of National Defence if they were able to make a contribution toward this regional event, in order to defray costs to the municipality, given the substantially larger budget of the federal department. The committee of the whole initially supported this request to the Government of Canada, before opting to cover the costs with municipal funds.
Question: “Didn’t you cut the police budget, making Victoria unsafe?“
No. While I have personally advocated and voted in favour of restraint in policing expenditures, Victoria City Council has consistently approved annual budget increases to the Victoria Police Department exceeding the rate of inflation every year that I have served on City Council. In the decade from 2010 to 2020, the population of Victoria and Esquimalt increased by 14.6% and the consumer price index increased by 15.2%, while policing expenditures ballooned by 38.9%. Over the same period (with Statistics Canada data available from 2010 to 2019), the number of criminal charges per 1,000 residents declined by 33.0%, from 3.4 criminal charges to 2.1 charges. Policing is the largest single expenditure in the budgets of the two municipalities – totaling more than $60,000,000 in 2021, with an increase of at least 7% proposed for 2022. Victoria is the most heavily policed community per capita in BC and Canada in terms of the number of officers and expenditures.
Question: “Didn’t you let homeless people sleep in the parks?“
Yes. In June 2020, the City of Victoria received a memo from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, recommending that municipalities exercise “discretion in bylaw enforcement”, to avoid displacing people who are homeless and increasing health risks during Covid-19. City Council responded by relaxing enforcement of sheltering provisions in the Parks Regulation Bylaw until May 2021, when the BC government had offered indoor transitional housing to people sheltering in City of Victoria parks. There were no outbreaks of Covid-19 among Victoria’s unhoused population during the period that enforcement of the sheltering provisions was relaxed.
Question: “Didn’t you try to ban horse-drawn carriages?“
Yes. In 2019, I proposed that the City of Victoria should follow the example of other progressive communities and work with the industry to transition from horse-drawn carriages to other types of vehicles-for-hire, after a four-year notice period, in order to reduce conflicts with other road users. A majority of City Council members initially supported this proposal but later changed their minds.
Question: “Didn’t you offer a bribe to a tow truck driver at Fairy Creek?“
No. In June 2021, I attended the Fairy Creek protests as a legal observer and attempted to prevent the unlawful seizure of private motor vehicles parked on the shoulder of the Gordon River Main forest service road near Port Renfrew. I asked a tow truck operator if he would accept a drop-fee to avoid towing the vehicles, a standard practice in the industry. I did this in a fully transparent fashion, with police officers and members of the public present, including media. My conduct was lawful. The BC Supreme Court later found that the RCMP’s conduct imposing broad exclusion zones that resulted in seizure of vehicles was “unlawful” and “a substantial infringement of civil liberties.”
Question: “Didn’t you cancel Canada Day?“
Yes and no. In June 2021, the City of Victoria learned that no Indigenous partners wanted to participate in a planned Canada Day broadcast, due to mourning associated with discovery of remains of more than 1,000 children at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. As a result, I suggested that City Council should not proceed with the planned Canada Day broadcast in the absence of Indigenous participation, and focus instead on an Indigenous-led event later in the year. City Council unanimously supported this proposal. For 2022, City Council has adopted my suggestion that an event be convened on July 1st focusing on Indigenous traditions, local artistic talent and multi-culturalism.