Courtenay councillors receive mysterious letters

Scott Stanfield

Record Staff

A trio of Courtenay councillors each received anonymous, one-line letters this week by mail concerning Comox Valley Common Sense, a political lobby group that endorsed certain candidates in Courtenay and Comox before the Nov. 19 municipal elections.

Coun. Doug Hillian was told in his letter to 'Stop asking questions about Common Sense,' Coun. Ronna Rae Leonard was told to 'Stop making trouble for Common Sense,' and Coun. Jon Ambler received a one-line note stating 'It won't pay to take sides with the socialists.'

Ambler described the letter as "irritating" and "gutless."

"In our democracy, if you want to write to elected officials, by all means, but if you can't muster the stones to sign it then you're probably best to keep your thoughts to yourself," he said. "I'll answer any letter that's signed, any and every email that has a name on it I'll answer. But anonymous stuff, it's playground stuff and it has no place in our community."

Group spokesperson John Davis said CVCS has no knowledge of the origin of the letters.

"We certainly condemn that kind of activity 100 per cent," he said. "That's pretty bad. I think that's just terrible."

Leonard, who received a Common Sense brochure addressed to her deceased mother during the election campaign, has appealed to Elections Canada to investigate how the group came up with a mailing list before Nov. 19. In a 4-3 vote last month, council defeated her motion to request CVCS to disclose the source of its contact information. Ambler and Hillian supported the motion.

"When a group like these Comox Valley Common Sense folks say it's OK to act anonymously, which they've been saying consistently, it shouldn't be surprising that anonymous letters come through the mail, even if they weren't delivered by them," said Leonard, who forwarded the letter to the RCMP.

Hillian, who also forwarded his letter to police, said most issues on council do not fall into a partisan, political divide.

"It's obviously suggesting that we're some sort of a threat, and therefore he (Ambler) shouldn't consort with us (Hillian and Leonard), which is pretty ridiculous," Hillian said of the wording in Ambler's letter.

He notes council has mostly voted together over the last couple of years, otherwise votes tend to be 5-2 or 4-3 on divided issues.

Hillian agrees he tends to side with Leonard, but not on every issue.

"When you run for public office, you expect people will disagree with you, and sometimes vehemently, but you also expect they're going to have the courage to stand behind what they have to say," Hillian said. "This sort of sniping behind a veil of anonymity, I just don't think it has any place in our process. I've never suggested that the Common Sense guys, whoever they may be, are the ones who are directly responsible...I just wish they would be transparent with some information about who they are and where they got their mailing list, and then we could all get on with the business at hand. This is a distraction primarily."

Davis, who feels it was appropriate to involve the police, suggests the letters probably came from a "misguided individual" who could be trying to discredit CVCS or

who thinks he or she is doing the organization a favour.

"But that person is not doing anybody a favour," Davis said.

Ambler, who was endorsed by CVCS, believes the letters did not come from the organization, but suggests the writer could be an individual with sympathies or membership therein.

"Anonymous things are kind of the moral equivalent of shooting from the edge of the forest into the school yard," Ambler said. "You do harm with no risk to yourself. It's pretty cowardly."

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