Brampton Councillor Apologizes for Racially Insensitive Email

A Brampton city councillor who caused a stir last month with some racially charged comments in an email exchange with a resident has finally issued some clarification as to what he was actually attempting to say.

Wards 9 and 10 Regional Councillor John Sprovieri stood up during the regular council meeting last week to issue an apology for his poor choice of words. He began by recounting the situation, beginning by mentioning emails from a Brampton constituent allegedly berating and disrespecting city staff. Sprovieri replied to this person with the infamous 'white values' comment that not only caused some turmoil in Brampton, but probably across Canada as well.

Sprovieri's entire statement can be viewed in this segment of video from the council meeting, but here is a summary of what his statement was:

I wish to discuss my recent comments regarding values that have been reported in the media. I have, with the wisdom that comes with the hindsight, realized that I owe an apology during a confusing exchange with a constituent. In my haste to defend my colleagues at the city hired to bring their skills and expertise to Brampton, I chose my words poorly.

My intention was to make a point about democratic values and freedom. But by doing so, I committed the same error I was rallying against. In categorizing people on the basis of colour, I want to make myself clear: when I referred to white values, I was referring to Canadian values and was applauding Canada's commitment to building a nation of equity, peace, democracy and prosperity. I was addressing how fortunate we all are to live in a country adopting multiculturalism, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Being a Canadian is a great source of pride for me. In expressing that gratitude it was not my intention to marginalize or ignore the contributions of people of all origins. My intention to highlight Canadian values of freedom and democracy was lost in the result. In my haste to defend those under attack, I failed to include all those people that I have great respect and appreciation, and allowed my lack of judgement to cloud my words.

This oversight was not a deliberate slight. I reacted too quickly and failed to recognize the context on how those words would be interpreted. Obviously it was not only white people that built and defended this great nation. Freedom and the desire to live in peace are obviously not just white values, per se. I realize that my words do not pay homage to all people of all origins that have served Canada at home and abroad, or the people who continue to safeguard those ideals. To all those people I am forever indebted to you for the freedom and liberties we all enjoy.

On behalf of my constituents it behooves me to do better as their representative in this council. It is my duty to do better for the whole city and this nation. In highlighting only certain contributions, I neglected that duty and I apologize for that. I want to thank all the people who reached out with messages of support. I hope by issuing this apology we can move forward to continuing building a free and prosperous city.

One of Sprovieri's colleagues, Ward 1 and 5 Regional Councillor Elaine Moore, responded with a stack of paper which she said were emails from the constituent that Sprovieri replied to, dating back from 2015. Moore herself was not included in the distribution list for these emails, but they had been circulating for two years and she raised concerns that these ideas, having been permeating throughout Brampton for that long, only fed into the negative perception of the city.

Moore went on to point out that through all the emails, the constituent makes seemingly disparaging remarks about a wide swath of people of various backgrounds, including people of Anglo-Saxon, German, Polish, and Muslim backgrounds, the police department, various senior city officials, and an unnamed staffer in the Public Works Department that the constituent believes to be of Polish descent. The emails were sent to select members of council, various members of the Brampton community, as well as local media.

She also found it mind boggling that it took two years before someone on the email distribution list (Councillor Sprovieri) took some action and responded to this person, albeit in a rather clumsy manner that led to the controversy. Councillor Moore said she did not defend nor condone Sprovieri for his poor choice of words, but she just wanted to put things in context. From the way the emails sounded, this was a person more interested in causing a disturbance in the community than asking legitimate questions, and Sprovieri should be commended for his apology and clarifying what he meant.

Besides the councillors' responses, there were a few Brampton residents that came to council during this meeting to respond to the apology. A man named Jagdeep Singh said in turbulent times that we can have all the power we want but without perspective we don't really know where we are going, so he too wanted to thank the councillors for providing some clarity.

A woman named Yvonne Squires came forward to speak during the public question period, proclaiming she was speaking on behalf of 'the silent majority of Brampton.' Mrs. Squires (who is black) wanted to know why these comments about Sprovieri were printed in the paper, saying she did not believe he was a racist and he did a lot for Brampton. Squires also said she didn't want Sprovieri to end his career walking away with the label of being a racist. She sounded more upset over Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey's response about Sprovieri's past statements in the paper than what Sprovieri previously said, as well as the woman who exchanged emails with the councillor. If there were any racists sitting in the council, Squires said, then they should not be there.

To be clear, my original piece from inbrampton did not say Sprovieri was a racist. I said he made some comments that sounded racially insensitive. In fact, it seemed Sprovieri took my advice when I initially suggested he should praise 'Canadian values' instead of 'white values'. But again, when you've been a politician for 30 years and you do not realize that particular phrasing of words will elicit some strong reactions, then perhaps it is time for you to reevaluate your career in the public eye and make way for the younger generation, which Sprovieri and his colleagues have espoused as being the future.

As for Mrs. Squires, while I commend her for coming out during her busy day to speak before City Council, I disagree with her criticisms of Mayor Jeffrey and Jeffrey’s mention of Sprovieri’s past comments. His past statements give an indication whether this is a pattern of behaviour. This will be for his constituents to judge him on next year, but to say that there's no reason to bring them up is incorrect.

These facts are important and constituents have a right to decide on this matter.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens going forward.

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