Canadian Anti-Hate Network
This article was updated to include details about VIVA Victoria's political platform.
Across the country, school boards are becoming the latest battleground in Canada’s culture war. With upcoming elections for school board trustees in British Columbia coming in October, a slew of anti-trans candidates are trying to stack the deck in their favour.
This is the case within the electoral organization titled Vancouver Island Voters Association (VIVA), whose founding members come from far-right nationalist politics.
“VIVA Victoria is a new Elector Organization registered with Elections BC,” the group says on its website, “whose purpose is to elect principled candidates to Victoria City Council and the Greater Victoria School District 61 Board of Education.”
District No. 61 is located in the capital city of British Columbia and covers the municipalities of Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Victoria, View Royal, as well as a portion of Saanich and Highlands, according to the district.
The public using elections to influence governance is a fundamental aspect of a functional democracy. Recently, however, focus on local schools is a tactic resurgent among the United States, where school board meetings and elections have been populated by far-right candidates. These candidates platforms have focused on allegations of teaching “Critical Race Theory” to education about 2SLGBTQ+ communities to objections to mask mandates in American schools.
In Canada, many are adopting a similar tact.
Want to take action to keep hate out of Canadian elections? Let us know when you see a candidate expressing racist or far-right ideologies and we’ll dig into it. Contact [email protected].
What Is VIVA?
Founded by former Victoria PPC candidate John Randal Phipps, VIVA is a registered elector organization with BC Elections. Listing Phipps as its principal director and Jeremy Maddock as finance director, both men have been outspoken in their opposition to public health policy around COVID-19 and the accompanying vaccines. Maddock has also organized events featuring PPC leader Maxime Bernier in the past.
John Randal Phipps pictured in a PPC hat. Source: Facebook
As part of their region’s COVID-conspiracy protests, Capital Daily reported that during a rally featuring Bernier, Phipps announced the founding of VIVA to the crowd reportedly citing local governments apparently being “infected” with “woke ideology.”
Appearing in an interview with the “Govern This” podcast while attending an anti-vaccine rally while still a PPC candidate, Phipps said of vaccine mandates, “They lie to hide their fraud and when their fraud doesn’t work they try force.”
Running a Telegram channel throughout his campaign, an account identifying itself as Phipps shared a blatantly false article claiming the Indian government had charged the chief scientist from the World Health Organization with “mass murder.”
The same article claims that regions of India were able to almost completely eradicate COVID using unproven treatments, but offers no source or evidence for this claim.
“Here's what's coming for Health Canada officials when the PPC crew takes the hill,” Phipps said on Telegram.
When asked about this, VIVA declined to comment, saying they do not have any information on the old post, but did direct us to an unrelated article about a candidate for city councillor accused of attempting to hit police officers with their car.
On September 19, Phipps posted a picture of NDP MP Grace Lore wearing a shirt with the words, “protect trans kids,” written on the front. Taking issue with the image of a knife underscoring the word “protect,” he suggests Lore has come “very close to inciting violence.”
“We understand that this comment was in regard to the tweet MLA Grace Lore shared on her social media in which she was pictured wearing a T-shirt with the image of a switchblade on it,” VIVA said in response. “Our understanding is that she, herself immediately pulled the image down from Twitter after great public backlash.”
When asked for comment on her photo, the Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA responded, “I’m proud to represent an open and inclusive community. Unfortunately, a small minority wants to take us backwards and make our schools and community less safe for LGBTQ2S+ and gender-diverse people.
"Our government stands firm in our support for the inclusion and acceptance of people of diverse genders and sexualities, and I will always stand up with and for trans kids and queer families.”
Phipps is not registered to run for any position, while Maddock has thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for city councillor. VIVA Victoria has announced six school board candidates in total.
Source: VIVA Victoria
Retired Health Care Assistant Leslie-Anne Goodall appears to be a first-time candidate, but has been active in organizing over the course of the pandemic.
Online, she has a small footprint. On Telegram, an account under the name “Leslie-Anne” shared a post on the legal status of court cases Maddock is involved in and mentions Unify Canada, a group organizing an upcoming talk between former Member of Parliament and PPC leader Maxime Bernier and former Premier Brian Peckford.
Another post includes a response from Emergency Management BC, thanking a “Leslie-Anne Goodall” for her letter, and indicating a previous state of emergency in BC was triggered by wildfires, not COVID-19 – the message was posted in January 2022, with no indication when the original letter was sent.
“Believing that there is far too much focus on issues that should be strictly in the hands of parents, Leslie-Anne plans to work on returning that decision-making to the parents by ensuring transparency of the curriculum,” reads her profile on the VIVA website.
Adding that it hopes to accomplish this alongside, “eliminating the pressure on children to follow an agenda that may not be in line with the families' values and beliefs.”
Her candidate's page also includes having “sex and gender education in any form offered as an optional program to the higher grades with full parental consent.”
Source: VIVA Victoria
Roberta Solvey is a retired public school teacher signed on with VIVA. Coming with a mixture of valid criticism of the education system alongside suggestions of a conspiratorial worldview, her public statements and posting includes real problems like oversized classrooms and stretched resources, alongside climate change denialism.
“Public schools are trying to do too much by insisting that they can solve the world’s problems,” her candidate page reads, “be it racism, mental illness, gender equality, or climate change.”
Far from only hoping to keep these topics out of classrooms, specifically when it comes to climate change and gender issues, she appears to have a harder stance.
While sharing a large amount of far-right media content on her social media, multiple comments online – including a review for a coffee shop – and replies from an infrequently used Twitter account bearing her name, all deny there’s “no such thing as human-caused climate change.”
In response to another account's tweet claiming that multiple celebrities have died as a result of investigating Hollywood pedophilia – including Halyna Hutchins, who was accidentally shot by Alec Baldwin – Solvey responds with, “you are so right.”
In the same message, posted in August 2022, Solvey talks about her intent to run in the October school board elections and that, “any curricula that sexualizes innocent children will be challenged if I am elected.”
In its comment, VIVA Victoria confirmed the account was Solvey, but stated, “the candidate does not endorse this particular theory and was merely sharing various responses to Hollywood chatter at the time.”
On her candidate page, Solvey states her intention is to “honour the values and beliefs of the parents, the families, the churches and social groups in which children have matured.”
Source: VIVA Victoria
The last candidate whose public statements and online activity suggest a connection to the far-right is Salvetina Agba. Agba is a mother and nurse; her platform, like the other VIVA candidates, is written in airy, soft language, but provides few specifics.
“Parents should be confident to raise their children as prescribed by the law, in line with their faith, culture, and tradition,” reads a portion of her candidate page.
On Twitter, however, she is more explicit about the details. Joining fellow VIVA candidates in piling on, when MLA Grace Lore stated that her constituents needed to “vote to protect trans kids,” Agba responded, “Vote VIVA and protect the innocent kids from adults' insane ideologies.”
VIVA reiterated the statements related to the knife on the shirt worn by Lore in the photograph.
“VIVA Victoria deplores this kind of hateful, violent rhetoric espoused by others in our local election campaign and laments the unnecessary division it creates in our community.”
Many of the candidates on the VIVA slate are supporters of the PPC, though in their comment VIVA noted that its "candidates have supported a wide variety of provincial and federal political parties, including the NDP, Liberal, Green and Conservative parties."
The PPC makes few bones about its opposition to what leader Maxime Bernier has called “gender ideology,” and more so its teaching in schools. The PPC released a statement declaring this in September 2021, stating the party pledges to “change various laws and rules promoted by radical trans activists that are harmful to women, children, and gays and lesbians.”
“Stop the gender/race woke nonsense fraud,” Bernier reiterated on Twitter last week.
VIVA candidates often ask their opponents' to engage with the organization’s platform. Published on September 20, it states that "Victoria has suffered from a lack of democratic values," and says it wants decisions made based on respect, dignity, reason, and logic, "because our arguments must be sound and not based on self-serving ideologies or agendas."