VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Two weeks out from the provincial election, The BC Liberals are facing heat after a video emerged of the party’s candidates laughing at disparaging, sexist, and misogynistic comments about an opponent.
The video, showing nine BC Liberals — including Leader Andrew Wilkinson — taking part in a virtual “roast” of long-time MLA Ralph Sultan last month was sent to prominent Vancouver podcaster Mo Amir, who shared it on Twitter Saturday night.
I’m not going to editorialize this.
Rather, I’d like to hear from women on how they feel about this clip.
— Mo Amir ॐ This is VANCOLOUR (@vancolour) October 11, 2020
In the clip, BC Liberal candidate for North Vancouver-Seymour, Jane Thornthwaite, seems to suggest that Bowinn Ma, NDP candidate for North Vancouver – Lonsdale uses her looks to get ahead.
“Bowinn is, you know, a very pretty lady and she knows that she’s got it. And she knows how to get Ralph (Sultan) going,” Thornthwaite said.
She then goes on to “roast” Sultan while recalling an event at Capilano University, which was attended by the two of them and Ma.
“And both Bowinn Ma and Ralph were stuck on the couch together, very, very close together, for almost the entire time,” Thornthwaite said.
“We were supposed to be networking and all this, but Bowinn knows how to get you. She knows how to get you. There’s these big couches, but Ralph would be sitting … and Bowen would be right up right next to him, cuddling-cuddling, a little cleavage there.”
The other Liberal members, including Wilkinson, laugh at the comments.
On Facebook Sunday, Ma reacted to the video and said the comments are “a deeply uncomfortable characterization of my efforts to extend kindness across partisan lines.”
“However, this is not about me,” her post reads. “Young women deserve a province that encourages them to take on leadership roles without fear of sexism. If we want more young women and people of colour to enter politics, we must commit to creating environments that respect them. The comments and reactions in that video do the exact opposite.”
As a woman who has worked in male-dominated industries my entire life so far, I am sadly no stranger to casual sexism….
Ma added this is not the first time she has encountered casual sexism since she has been a woman working in a male-dominated industry her entire life.
“Like many women in these situations, I found myself making choices about the way that I act, dress, or carry myself to avoid having sexist interpretations read into my interactions – interactions such as, for instance, deliberately speaking closely with an elder who is very hard of hearing,” she said.
“It is a burden that women should not have to bear while they are simply trying to live their lives and do their jobs.”
Thornthwaite initially took to Twitter not offering an apology, but said she made light of the fact that Sultan has a “soft spot” for Ma and has respect for women who push through glass ceilings.
“I have always and will always support more women in politics,” her tweet reads.
I have huge respect for all women who push through glass ceilings. I’m one of them. So is Bowinn Ma. Ralph Sultan has the same respect and a soft spot for his fellow UBC engineer, and I made light of that at a roast. I have always and will always support more women in politics.
— Jane Thornthwaite (@jthornthwaite) October 11, 2020
About an hour and a half later, she issued an apology.
“I wish to add this. The comments I made at the roast for my colleague Ralph Sultan fell flat and were inappropriate. I unreservedly apologize for making these comments. I have reached out to Bowinn Ma to apologize to her directly as well. I commit to doing better moving forward,” a second tweet reads.
UPDATE: @jthornthwaite changes tune, apologizes for comments she made in leaked video about @BowinnMa in new tweet. Says she has reached out to Ma as well to apologize directly to her and commits to "doing better moving forward." @NEWS1130 https://t.co/Gs3VW7dA4f
— Monika Gul (@MonikaGul) October 11, 2020
Wilkinson has also apologized on Twitter, saying after that reflection, he’s realized the comments were “inappropriate.”
“I want to apologize to @BowinnMa, as this never should have happened,” his tweet reads.
“I understand why many people are upset, and I continue to be committed to doing everything I can to make sure women are welcomed, encouraged, and treated with respect in politics and public life.”
I understand why many people are upset, and I continue to be committed to doing everything I can to make sure women are welcomed, encouraged, and treated with respect in politics and public life. 2/2
— Andrew Wilkinson (@Wilkinson4BC) October 11, 2020
Example of ‘White-Feminism’
Ma, who is of Taiwanese ancestry, makes Melanee Thomas, a political scientist from the University of Calgary, believe the comments made are likely derived by sexist-racism and is “a classic example of white feminism.”
“A white woman who is not taking the time to understand how race informs the comments that she made because the trope that she trotted out like viciously is this idea that this woman who’s not white is just like temptress and seductress and like this white man just couldn’t help himself and you don’t have to think too hard about like some pretty grim bits of history to see like where this is coming from to legitimize some pretty dark behaviour,” Thomas tells NEWS 1130.
“I would struggle to imagine this particular individual making the same comments the same way about a white woman.”
Thomas adds Thornthwaite comments is an example of how “leaders set the tone.”
“In order to actually get candidates that represent what Canadians or British Columbians look like, parties have to be prepared to say ‘no’ to candidates who are older white men, basically, because they’re the ones that will volunteer first,” she says. “And so, when we say ‘well how did you manage to do that?’ It’s usually coming from the leader and the leader saying, ‘This is what I would like us to do, and this is a tone I would like us to set.'”
“In the absence of a leader doing that you create all of this space for things like this particular event to happen.”
Thomas calls the incident a “triple failure” because the party leader did not dispute the behaviour by saying it wasn’t acceptable, and for not sanctioning the behaviour or condemning the actions later.
The video is sparking widespread condemnation, with people on social media, calling the video racist, misogynist, shameful, disgusting, and disrespectful – saying it sexualizes a woman in politics. Many people are also criticizing the members in the video for not calling out the comments.
Those criticizing the video include Green Leader Sonia Furstenau.
“This is appalling,” Furstenau’s tweet reads. “If women are not warm in the workplace, we are castigated as rude. If we are friendly, we get this. @BowinnMa is incredibly professional and her ability to forge friendships across party lines makes the legislature better. She is owed an apology.”
This is appalling.
If women are not warm in the workplace, we are castigated as rude. If we are friendly, we get this. @BowinnMa is incredibly professional and her ability to forge friendships across party lines makes the legislature better. She is owed an apology. https://t.co/xhwCxWJ6mS
— SoniaFurstenau (@SoniaFurstenau) October 11, 2020
BC NDP Candidate for Vancouver Mount Pleasant also condemned the video in a tweet.
“Shame on you #JaneThornthwaite and your colleagues for laughing while you make sexist and derogatory remarks about @BowinnMa. Just over 100 women have been elected as MLAs to the @BCLegislature. I’m #102. This is not leadership.”
Shame on you #JaneThornthwaite and your colleagues for laughing while you make sexist and derogatory remarks about @BowinnMa. Just over 100 women have been elected as MLAs to the @BCLegislature. I’m #102. This is not leadership. #Antifeminism #NoJoke #Pretty #Low #PublicApology https://t.co/nfEnAaoiun
— Melanie Mark (@melaniejmark) October 11, 2020
NDP Candidate Katrina Chen was asked about the comments during a press conference Sunday morning and said she is “very sad.”
“This is not acceptable. Bowinn is someone who has worked so hard for her community, dedicated to the work she does and she deserve nothing but the best. Nobody should deserve comments like this, it’s ugly sexist comments that are not acceptable,” Chen said.