UPDATED: Hill apologizes for forum comments

BC Southern Interior Conservative candidate Stephen Hill is apologizing for statements he made at a trade forum in Nelson in February, including ones that referred to “the presence of the unwashed” and washing with bleach.

Tory candidate Stephen Hill says he regrets comments he made at a February forum in Nelson.

Tory candidate Stephen Hill says he regrets comments he made at a February forum in Nelson.

BC Southern Interior Conservative candidate Stephen Hill is apologizing for statements he made at a trade forum in Nelson in February, including ones that referred to “the presence of the unwashed” and washing with bleach.

Hill posted the mea culpa Sunday on a Nelson email list in response to Anna Santos, who called him “rude, crude, mean-spirited” and compared him to a Nazi thug.

“I was indeed at the meeting … and did make some inappropriate comments,” Hill wrote. “In hindsight, I should not have attended that meeting. I was not in a very good frame of mind given that I had been invited to participate as a panelist at the forum and then had my invitation revoked. Additionally, I was very tired and not feeling all that well.”

The meeting sponsored by the Council of Canadians on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was held February 11 at the Nelson United Church, and attended by Southern Interior New Democrat MP Alex Atamanenko as well as Peter Julian, the party’s international trade critic. Hill’s comments came toward the end, during the question and answer session.

Hill said in an interview with the Star that he was responding to a comment by Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, who was also on the panel, about “dark Sith lords” — a Star Wars reference.

“I stood up and said ‘I guess I’m one of the dark Sith lords’ and told a joke that didn’t go over very well, and I apologize to Anna for making her feel uncomfortable. A comedian I am not.”

Hill says his comments that people should wash themselves with bleach “because of the presence of the unwashed (me) were meant to be a joke,” and intended to be self-deprecating.

He says while he meant no offense, “someone who aspires to represent you in the federal government should not make that kind of error in judgement. Although I disagree with the position many in that meeting had taken, I should have been more cautious in my comments.”

Santos posted a message on the Nelson List shortly thereafter, and without identifying Hill by name, said she was “shocked by his abusive, insulting, disrespectful address. He spoke loudly and rudely, telling us present that we should go home and scrub with bleach.”

On Sunday, she reposted her original comments with an addendum naming Hill, and again invoking the Nazi comparison. She said she was “shocked and disappointed … to hear a Canadian speak so violently and disrespectfully during the question period at that forum.”

Hill says the Council of Canadians originally invited him to speak at the forum and he agreed, but shortly thereafter, criticized Atamanenko’s “apparent lack of knowledge” about the trade agreement in a letter to the editor.

“Within moments, it seems, of my letter being published, my invitation to attend the event was rescinded because the planned forum [was] supposedly not a political forum and my invite status was changed to audience member instead,” he wrote in a letter to the West Kootenay Advertiser.

Hill and his wife did attend, although in retrospect figures he probably shouldn’t have, since he was ill. Although he was shouted down when he made his comments, he says others in the crowd later told him should have been included on the panel.

He doesn’t think the incident will have a huge impact on the campaign — and says he’s heard similar epithets before.

“Do you know how many times I’ve been called a Nazi at the door? Dozens. People slam the door on me and call me a Nazi. In politics, you don’t take anything personally. I’m sure it happens to other candidates too, but for whatever reason, the Conservatives seem to get a more heated reaction.”

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall referred to supporters of the trade agreement as “dark Sith lords.” In fact, Mungall says she stated just the opposite — that they were “NOT dark Sith lords.”)

The full text of Santos’ messages and Hill’s reply follow:

Santos’ messages:

Dear Nelson List,

A few weeks ago, I posted an email on the Nelson List about a CETA forum sponsored by The Council of Canadians, that I attended on Friday, February 11th at the Nelson United Church.

For your reference, I am reprinting that email below.

In my first email I said how shocked and disappointed I was (and still am) to hear a Canadian speak so violently and disrespectfully during the question period at that forum.

The man spoke loudly and rudely, telling those of us present that we should go home and scrub with bleach. He then uttered a veiled warning, threatening and hinting at what he was going to do to us once he was elected.

I have since learned that this man, who spoke like a Nazi SS thug, is Stephen Hill, the PC Federal Candidate running in this Federal Election.

I urge everyone, in the name of Canadian freedom and Canadian values, to send the Harper Government a strongly worded protest against this candidate, Stephen Hill, and against this and other similar tactics the PC’s are using in this campaign.

Most of all, I urge everyone, in the name of decency, please do not vote for Stephen Hill.

We do not need rude, crude, mean-spirited individuals like Hill representing us in public office.

Thank you.

Anna Santos

*********

Here is my first email:

Last Friday evening, February 11th, 2011, I attended an information session about CETA, held at the Nelson United Church, Nelson BC. The forum was sponsored by The Council of Canadians.

I thought the introduction and explanations about CETA given by Peter Julian were excellent, and I found the entire forum very informative and enjoyable, until the very end.

At the end of the question period, a man rose from the back row of the seats near the far left corner of the church, and identified himself as a PC candidate, who was going to run for office in the next election.

Unfortunately, I did not get the man’s name.

But I was shocked by his abusive, insulting, disrespectful address. He spoke loudly and rudely, telling us present that we should go home and scrub with bleach. He then uttered a veiled warning, threatening and hinting at what was going to happen to us after he was elected.

It is [as] though we were suddenly transported from the safety of that sanctuary into a street gathering in Nazi Germany to be threatened by a Brown Shirt or an SS Officer.

Frankly, I was frightened.

I am nearly 70 years old; and like many Canadians, I have lived through a lot. But never in my life have I ever heard anything so threatening and upsetting as I heard coming out of this man’s mouth.

Is he indicative of what we can expect from the Progressive Conservatives[?]

(The PC Party) if they win this riding in the next election? Do we have to fear that we might be rounded up and herded off to jail to some torture camp by the PC Government for having attended an information forum such as this one?

Do we have to worry about possible retribution from the Harper Government if we sign a petition saying we are against CETA?

CETA shows every promise of taking away the powers of our domestic laws and sovereignty. As I listened to Mr. Julian speak, I was reminded of Percy Schmeiser winning the Right Livelihood Award in 2007 for his heroic struggle against Monsanto: (http://www.rightlivelihood.org/schmeiser.html?no_cache=1&sword_list[0]=monsanto)

And I wonder what will happen to all of us in this country if CETA is approved.

But more importantly right now, after enduring the dreadful speech of a political bully at the forum on CETA, I am worried what the officials of the Harper Government mean to do to those who dare attend a public forum to voice opposition to a trade agreement the PC Party wants to implement.

Anna

Hill’s reply

Dear Nelson List

I am writing in response to the posting by Anna Santos regarding the recent CETA forum in Nelson. I was indeed at the meeting she referred to and did make some inappropriate comments. In hindsight, I should not have attended that meeting. I was not in a very good frame of mind given that I had been invited to participate as a panellist at the forum and then had my invitation revoked. Additionally, I was very tired and not feeling all that well. The comments I made regarding washing with bleach because of the presence of the unwashed (me) were meant to be a joke. Obviously, my joke failed miserably and I apologize to Anna and anyone else who was offended by it. While no offense was intended, someone who aspires to represent you in the federal government should not make that kind of error in judgement. Although I disagree with the position many in that meeting had taken, I should have been more cautious in my comments.

I wish I were perfect and never made mistakes. Alas, that is not the case. All I can say is that I try not to make mistakes of this magnitude and to learn from any mistake, large or small, when they occur.

Stephen Hill