The "Ideological Battlespace" In The Race For Cowichan Valley's Leadership

The Cowichan Valley is just one of many communities to see a slew of candidates running for school board and city council on platforms based on climate denial, anti-vaccine, and anti-2SLGBTQ+ inclusivity in schools.

Canadian Anti-Hate Network



Source: Facebook


The Cowichan Valley, like many communities across British Columbia, has been immersed in polarizing municipal and school board elections. With what seem like nearly identical agendas, multiple candidates for school board and municipal council have been organizing on alternative social media platforms to run for leadership positions.

On the surface, the Cowichan Valley candidates’ platforms seem typical, but pay attention and some of their motives become clear: they want to “restore freedom” from what they say is government overreach in its response to COVID-19, and stop so-called “woke” ideologies from taking over our towns and schools.

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The upcoming election is Saturday, October 15th. People can vote for both city/municipal council members and school board trustees.  

   

North Cowichan Council 

   

“I’m running for North Cowichan [sic] with some other freedom folks for October,” reads a screenshot from a Facebook comment by North Cowichan candidate Adrienne Richards.

Richards is one candidate in a slate of three under the name United Independents, along with University of British Columbia neurobiology professor Chris Shaw and Joseph Enslow, all hoping to land a spot on the municipal council of North Cowichan.

 

Adrienne Richards speaking during a public event. Source: Facebook

  

Shaw is the author of Dispatches from the Vaccine Wars: Fighting for Human Freedom During the Great Reset, which boasts a foreword by notable vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Shaw has come under scrutiny in the past for his research into purported links between vaccines and autism. He maintains he is not affiliated with the far-right and that neither he nor his fellow candidates have ever taken a bigoted position.

In an email interview, Shaw said that labelling him and his fellow candidates as “alt-right” is a tactic designed to “stifle legitimate dissent and debate on a range of issues.”

“If you read the narrative, it seems because anyone who questions the efficacy of Covid mandates or vaccines or in any way supported the convoy must be alt-right because otherwise why would they take such positions,” he responded. 

 

Screen capture of Dr. Chris Shaw taken from a campaign video. Source: Facebook

Adrienne Richards said over Facebook Messenger that she is the target of a “hateful, slanderous, sexist, smear campaign,” though did not elaborate further.

Richards has made numerous posts to social media tagging Diagolon’s de facto leader, Jeremy MacKenzie, and his partner Morgan Guptill. In one post from August, Richards references a harassment campaign against Canadian journalists – primarily racialized women – and shares a live stream by MacKenzie.

“Jeremy MacKenzie on another epic rant regarding the ‘journalists’ crying to the RCMP that they are not being taken seriously,” she writes, followed by laughing emojis.


Read More: Confronting and Preventing Hate in Canada's School Boards


In another post, Richards shares a fake Twitter post, allegedly created by an associate of Diagolon:  “Anyone NOT know Diagolon [sic] and how hilarious this is... look up the Raging Dissident [sic] on streaming platforms.”

In an email to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Richards reiterated the oft-repeated claim that Diagolon is “not a ‘group’ but a fake meme country.”

The plot to carve up select regions of North America into a new superstate is, at its heart, a meme. What Diagolon has become, however, is both an actual and symbolic banner under which participants of this movement can rally and self-identify. The community is a cross-section of trolls, edge posters, content creators, conspiracists, survivalist enthusiasts, and extremists.

 

School Board Election
  

The meetings for candidates running for a spot on the board with School District 79 have also been tense, according to several residents. Cowichan community member Kristy Koons recalled her experience at one of the school trustee candidate meetings. Koons said that some of the candidates have been outspoken against the topic of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) in schools. Koons said when candidates spoke out against SOGI, they received cheers and applause from a group of attendees, which made some of the LGBTQ2S+ people in attendance visibly uneasy. 

“You could just see, like people shrinking in their seats. I felt that it was becoming a threatening environment,” Koons said.

Cowichan school trustee candidate Dr. Marina Sapozhnikov is a critic of SOGI in schools. In a video uploaded to Sapozhnikov’s Facebook page, she states, “as a physician, I feel that SOGI does not belong in schools. It belongs with parents and with doctors.” 


Read More: A Children's Rights Framework for Asking School Board Trustee Candidates Important Questions


At an all-candidates meeting for school board trustees on September 26, Sapozhnikov stated she would not support having Pride flags at schools, according to multiple people who were in attendance. Sapozhnikov did not respond to an interview request.

Eduardo Sousa, who is running for school board trustee, said he decided to enter the race after realizing that the school board is not adequately approaching Indigenous reconciliation. But since being on the campaign trail, he’s noticed that many people are running on platforms that are outside of the school board’s control. 

“There's six of these anti-SOGI, anti-vax, anti-LGBTQ candidates on the ballot,” Sousa explained in a phone interview. “Two of them, especially one in particular, was super vocal, practically yelling at people.”

“I feel like they're using the all-candidates meetings as a platform for their own agenda and kind of hijacking,” Sousa added.

Serena Winterburn is a school trustee candidate who has been outspoken against SOGI and Critical Race Theory. 

In another video posted on Winterburn’s school trustee Facebook, she talks about her opposition to SOGI and Critical Race Theory in schools. 

“This type of mass assimilation that is taking place under SOGI curriculum is harmful. We can be inclusive to everyone without imposing upon others,” Winterburn says. 

Regarding CRT, Winterburn says, "It is racist to tell minority groups or people of colour that we are disadvantaged, that we are victims, and that we cannot have equal opportunity unless we dismantle and impose upon others.

"This is the same harm that was inflicted upon all Indigenous people in the residential schools of assimilation. These are the same ideologies and they have just shape-shifted."

However, in an email to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Winterburn clarifies: "I do not claim that critical race theory is being taught in our schools. I have had multiple constituents reach out to me to inquire about my stance on critical race theory, which is why I put out a video addressing the topic and the correlations."

CRT is a complex legal framework of analysis taught in universities, not to school children.

Speaking about resources available to educators in BC, Winterburn says, “Some of these materials are already currently being implemented within schools across British Columbia. It is startling. I would upload these documents for you to see, however, my page would be shut down for child pornography.” 

Some of her social media posts from May also indicate previous involvement in a fringe organization known as the Global Difference Group

According to its website, which has since been taken offline, the group was created in 2021 as a response to what it says is a centuries-old plan by the ruling elite to capitalize on crises and enslave the masses.

The group’s solution is what it calls “the Great Unplugging,” described as “a series of initiatives that as a whole will create a separate infrastructure to enrich humanity rather than enslave.” One of these initiatives is creating its own bank to fund its activities, as well as its own cryptocurrency. 

“There was a time that I did share the initiatives they were working towards and invited others to explore their direction. I was involved with this group for a very short period of time before deciding that the group was not in alignment with who I am,” Winterburn told CAHN in an email.

In a TikTok video, Winterburn appears to be recruiting people into “safe zones” that require investments from people who are “who are willing to put it all on the line.”

She adds that some are seeking to sell everything and leave Canada, due to a lack of freedom.

“Would you be willing to take that same risk, that same chance, and invest within this country, in what we're calling safe zones?” Winterburn asks. “Because we have some places that are safe zones that are in the works right now.”

“No matter where we run, it's going to spread. This is globalization. This is the great reset,” she adds.

These safe zones “are a food security initiative for those who wish to invest in food sovereignty and community through the development of eco-villages,” Winterburn told CAHN via email, further clarifying that GDG and the “safe zones” are unrelated to each other. 

  

“We need to get into politics”

   

In addition to advocating to remove SOGI from schools, Sapozhnikov has also spoken out about vaccines and the government’s response to COVID-19 – issues she says can be solved by getting into local politics. 

“It is time for us to get up and dust off our complacency and get busy reclaiming our freedom and our democracy… We need to get into politics. Start running for local offices, mayoral positions, city and town councillors and school boards,” Sapozhnikov says in a video from an anti-mandate rally in March.

Charles Borg, who declined a request for comment, is running for North Cowichan council. Borg told the Vancouver Island Free Daily that he supported the “freedom convoy” in Ottawa because it was “ruled a peaceful, legal and safe protest by Ontario Superior Court Justice Mr. McLean.” 

Borg also speaks publicly about what he categorizes as the over-sexualization of children in schools – in addition to opposing environmental policies and vaccine mandates. 

On September 15, Borg appeared in an online video interview with Veterans 4 Freedom – the video’s caption identified him as a member – a group whose mission is “mobilizing a nationwide movement of peaceful, lawful, civic action,” according to its website. 

The video description says that while Borg’s military career was cut short, he is now continuing the fight in “the ideological battlespace.”

Veterans 4 Freedom steering committee member Andrew MacGillivray released a video one month before Borg’s interview, appearing to rally those who identify as “awake” and/or “patriots” to infiltrate governments to stop the “progressive left.”

The video description states that it “outlines the fundamental nature of the politics which are dividing Canada. [MacGillivray] identifies the units operating on the information battlefield (INFOWAR) and how some are undermining Canada in pursuit of their globalist ideology.”

He goes on to say that people on the left of the political spectrum have been brainwashed to desire a world where “men are women, where everyone's a victim, all white people are bad.”

Near the end of the video, MacGillivray gives a call to action. He states that when the coalition of patriots has grown big enough, they will put a “breach in the line,” by placing “patriotic bureaucrats in all levels of government.” 

During his own interview, Borg outlined his view of the importance of his run for office.  

“Here in British Columbia, we're kind of site zero for the wokeness that's going on in our schools. We’re seeing over-sexualization of our children with some of the homework that's being handed out,” Borg says.

“It’s within the council as well, you can look at environmental policies, energy policies, and it just needs to be stopped because the overall standard of living for all Canadians is going down.”

Borg adds the changes he believes need to happen should start at the local level because local politicians “control permits” and business licensing. 

“So we do have quite a bit of power at the local level. And I think we need to start putting good quality leaders in place.”

 

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