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Targeted council members weigh in on the impact of Squamish Voices

The anonymous group’s unrelenting attacks on four council members have impacted discourse in town, but not the work, say councillors.
Council Squamish new
File photo of Squamish council after being officially sworn in, Nov. 2018.

Editor’s note: This story is part two in a multi-part series on the impact on council of the anonymous group, Squamish Voices.

There is no doubt the anonymous group Squamish Voices has impacted politics and the discourse in this town. 

The Meta Facebook page was set up on March 30, 2021. Since then its organizers have paid for 92 ads costing $24,409

Not to mention the several glossy mailers sent through Canada Post to residents’ homes. 

Who is behind the group locally has yet to be confirmed. 

The campaign has taken aim at Mayor Karen Elliott, Coun. Jenna Stoner, Coun. Pettingill and Coun. Doug Race. 

Coun. John French, Coun. Armand Hurford and Coun. Eric Andersen have not been targeted. 

The Squamish Chief asked each of the council members for their take on the impact of this group. 

Members of council, whether singled out or not, all told The Squamish Chief some similar things regarding the issue. 

Each said they found the faceless organization’s campaign upsetting and, at the very least annoying. 

All also expressed solidarity with each other against these actions. 

There was also shared concern about the impact on democracy that a campaign like this can have. 

All those who are being singled out in the campaign noted that they were open to speaking to those opposed to council decisions. Many said they would grab a coffee with anyone who wanted to talk or debate.

All who are targeted said while the attacks have been next level online, folks aren't saying the same things to their faces. 

All council members also said that it has not impacted the way they vote or consider any decisions despite the distraction. 

Most expressed concern that in an election year, this campaign will discourage good candidates from coming forward.

'This is where we’re at'

Coun. Jenna Stoner 

Next to the mayor, first-time councillor Coun. Jenna Stoner has probably recently received the most attention from those behind Squamish Voices, however, Stoner said she has not let it bother her. 

“I’ve like stopped following them. It doesn’t come up on my social media feed. I usually [only] hear about it through somebody who’s like, “Oh, there’s a new attack out.” 

She said two feelings come to the surface about the campaign. 

“One is sadness that this is the level of discourse that we’re dealing with today. And there’s just this really heavy feeling of like, this is where we’re at,” she said. 

“And then the other piece that comes up for me is frustration. Because it seems to me really frustrating that we’re spending time and energy on this discourse when there are so many other really important topics that we should be having good conversations and debates about. And instead, we’re spending our time dismantling misinformation campaigns. It’s just frustrating that that’s where energy has to go, as opposed to having the dialogue that people want to have around a changing community and densification and mental health and unpacking all these things post-COVID. Every single one of those conversations now has to start with this, like dismantling of misinformation?” 

Asked if, in the end, it matters that the campaign is anonymous, Stoner was emphatic that it does. 

“100% it matters, because whoever it is has some sort of personal motivation. And without understanding where that’s coming from, they’re basically getting regular citizens to do their bidding on their behalf without being forthright with what it is that [they are] actually bidding for.

Coun. Chris Pettingill

Coun. Chris Pettingill said he has “steered clear of the page, and it, therefore, hasn’t had an impact on my work.”

“When they’re not willing to reveal their identity and seem intent on spreading purposeful misinformation, I’m not sure they’re worth much attention,” he said. 

He did, however, have some potential fixes. 

He echoed the mayor in saying the District can and should invest more in public engagement and information sharing and promoting sources of accurate information. 

He also pointed to the easing of COVID-19 as an opportunity to engage in-person more

“We’re already doing this, and I’m really enjoying it,” he said. 

“Trustworthy media can avoid giving questionable Facebook pages and ads more attention or more of a platform. Instead, they can be sources of critical analysis and can share more about the tough balances that our community has to strike,” he said. 

“Community groups can help make sure their members are aware of credible information sources and engagement opportunities and are thinking critically about things posted online from questionable sources.” 

He also noted people can all avoid interacting with inflammatory social media content from anonymous sources. 

“It’s not hard to seek out facts from credible sources, as our access to information has never been easier. Every person has a responsibility to do this before they like, comment or share,” he said. 

“We know social media algorithms combined with human nature result in us being bombarded with anxiety-inducing, inflammatory content where interaction is much more important than truth … so maybe we should all spend a lot less time on social media, and instead get outside, and have real conversations, with real people that actually live in Squamish, in the real world.”

Coun. Doug Race

Coun. Doug Race, the most veteran politician on the council, having been first elected in 2008, said he hasn’t followed the campaign — though he hears about it from constituents — and doesn’t let it bother him, though the disinformation does. 

“I mean, it’s just one of the features of social media. Anybody can kind of sit in their basement and type of anything they want and put it on there. And there’s no accountability for it,” he said. 

After he was elected in 2008, Race said he thought joining the social media fray would help him connect with constituents but quickly found it didn’t. 

“It was such a rant that I — just honest to God — it was just sickening. I just got off it within a week, and I’ve never been back,” he said. 

Organized attacks, whether by form letter or mass emails or online or in mailers, are not new, he said, and he never lets them inform his votes or perspectives. 

“If people are prepared to debate and account and be recognized for that, and everybody understands what their motives are, then that’s fine. You know, we can inform our community and present our viewpoints. But the anonymous part, I just can’t deal with it.”

Over the past year, Squamish Chief reporters have made several attempts to speak to those behind Squamish Voices, including prior to going live with this series, by messaging their social media pages and repeatedly calling the phone numbers associated with the advertisements. 

No one has ever answered or returned our calls. 

Other stories in this series so far:

Squamish mayor weighs in on the impact of anonymous group Squamish Voices

What is it like being a member of council who is not being targeted by Squamish Voices?


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