03/06/2018 16:11 EST | Updated 03/06/2018 18:13 EST

Vaughan's Mayor's Nod To Italy's Far-Right Agenda Can't Go Unchallenged

Maurizio Bevilacqua has disrespected a broad range of members of the public within Vaughan, Ont., which is home to diverse communities.

I never thought I'd see the mayor of a major Canadian city endorse a candidate affiliated with the far-right. Yet that's exactly what happened here in Vaughan, Ont., where Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua endorsed a very wealthy developer who ran in the March 4 election for the Italian Senate.

Canadians with Italian citizenship, such as myself, are allowed to vote in the country's elections. The candidate Bevilacqua endorsed was Mario Cortellucci, who ran under the banner of a coalition of political parties led by Silvio Berlusconi (Forza Italia,) Matteo Salvini (Lega Nord) and Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli D'Italia.)

I am not suggesting Cortellucci has done anything illegal, and he is free to express himself politically. However, Bevilacqua is bound by his oath of office to serve the public interest and to respect all members of the public equally. Endorsing Cortellucci is not serving the public interest.

Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters
Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi sits next to Northern League leader Matteo Salvini during a meeting in Rome on Mar. 1, 2018.

Amnesty International recently attributed 95 per cent of the discriminatory, racist and hateful discourse in the Italian election to the vile coalition Cortellucci ran under.

This reckless coalition seeks to normalize anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant discourse within Italy, and pretend their prejudice toward women is acceptable. Members of this coalition have been behind the following: demanding the closure of 800 mosques; a pledge to kick out half a million undocumented migrants if elected; a promise to rename a road after a famous Italian fascist.

By virtue of endorsing Cortellucci, Bevilacqua has also endorsed the agenda of this hateful coalition. As a result, Bevilacqua has disrespected a broad range of members of the public within Vaughan — which is home to diverse faiths, including significant Muslim and Jewish communities — and beyond our municipal borders. The damage to our city has already materialized, as York University professor Caroline Hossein pulled out of a planned International Women's Day event at Vaughan City Hall in protest of Bevilacqua's reckless actions.

Bevilacqua justified his support in a media comment where he said that he was "proud to support" Cortellucci "and his lifelong work to serve the greater good." Unfortunately, the Mayor has lost sight of what the "greater good" is, and has failed to understand that the "greater good" is severely compromised by racially charged political discourse.

I could not let something as blatantly disrespectful as Bevilacqua's endorsement go by unchallenged

It's interesting to note Bevilacqua's comments in the local newspaper, where he states, "I believe in inclusive societies that are welcoming and where the quality of life is improved for everyone regardless of ethnicity, culture, faith or sexual orientation."

I'm sorry, but Bevilacqua can't say he believes in inclusive societies in one breath and then support a destructive, hateful and racially divisive right wing agenda in the next.

Bevilacqua has brought shame to our city, and the vast majority of Canadians who believe diversity is our strength. On a personal level, Bevilacqua's endorsement hit close to home. Three years ago, my eldest daughter chose to convert to Islam. This was her personal decision, and one that I support and respect. I would hate to imagine that she'd have to deal with any type of personal attack simply because of her religious beliefs.

Maurizio Bevilacqua's Twitter account
Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua speaking at the Vaughan Business-to-Business Expo and Trade Show.

I could not let something as blatantly disrespectful as Bevilacqua's endorsement go by unchallenged, so I submitted a complaint to the City of Vaughan Integrity Commissioner who administers and enforces the Code of Ethical Conduct for the Mayor and Members of Council.

My complaint asserts very clearly that "when Mayor Bevilacqua speaks, he speaks for the entire City of Vaughan by virtue of his position. Mayor Bevilacqua's endorsement does not represent and is inconsistent with who we are as a city and country, which is comprised of a wide diversity of cultures and religious groups, many of whom have fled their countries of origin due to persecution and discrimination. The Mayor had no right to represent us in this manner."

My complaint requests that Bevilacqua provides a full explanation of his actions, and an unconditional apology to the residents of our religiously diverse and multicultural city. My hope is that the Integrity Commissioner of Vaughan will emphatically send the message to all current and future politicians that the multicultural fabric of our society must be respected.

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