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2002 – The Speaker asked Mr. Salmi, and his editor, if in providing any future coverage, “were they prepared to show some respect for the institution of parliament?” The answer was “in the negative” and at that point talks broke down. But Mr. Salmi and his editor refused to leave the Speaker’s office, whereupon security staff were summoned, the two were handcuffed, arrested and escorted from the building.

Vancouver Sun 
October 23, 2002
Page B4
Guy who ran as a Rhino looks good: 
At least Brian Salmi is adept at political theatre and offers concrete ideas
Charles Campbell

Political leadership is a rare thing. You need a worthy vision, the personality to sell it to the public and the capable hand needed to see it through the bureaucracy.

Every once in a while, we get the whole package. Pierre Trudeau, say, or Rene Levesque or Tommy Douglas. Others might offer Brian Mulroney, or Mike Harris, or Preston Manning. Or maybe none of the above.

The point is simply that we have far too many leaders who will never be accused of leadership — more even than the number of losers on Survivor. We elect them, and they make a spectacle of themselves. Or we are lucky that they are just ineffectual apparatchiks.

Better luck next time.

In municipal politics, examples of real leadership are particularly hard to find. Former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein anyone?

Certainly not Mel Lastman, who defeated a worm composter and a transsexual in the last Toronto mayoral election, on his way to proving that truly ridiculous politicians are not the exclusive preserve of British Columbia.

Which brings me around to the point that at the civic level, here and everywhere, we’re absolutely thrilled when we elect ineffectual apparatchiks.

But wait. In this municipal election campaign, have we seen a hint of a glimmer of a spark of possible leadership? Or were we sadly mistaken?

In Surrey, Mayor Doug McCallum wants to run crooks and junkies into jail or at least right out of town. He’s a leader, isn’t he? Or is this just the old tough-on-crime schtick?

Then there was McCallum’s effort to get the local RCMP to clam up on crime. That showed purpose, vision and power, didn’t it?

Too bad the RCMP blew it for him by objecting to the pressure. McCallum’s pratfall was Lastman-worthy in its clumsiness. Then, not content to ape one political clown, he tried on the Klein-like statement of contrition — he loves Surrey, he wants to protect it from its critics.

McCallum’s a goof, but he’s an honest goof, sort of. And that’s leadership of a kind, isn’t it? It may even be enough to redeem him in the eyes of Surrey voters.

Then there’s Lois Jackson’s fight to keep Delta Hospital’s overnight emergency services and acute-care beds open. A crusade against the provincial government to preserve our precious health- care system. Never mind the risk of opening the floodgates of civic funding for provincial services.

That’s leadership. Or is it just the desperate strategy of a woman hoping to make voters forget that she spent $1,500 searching her office for bugging devices?

In this context, the guy who once ran for the Rhino party in a Godzilla suit looks pretty good. This time out, Brian (Godzilla) Salmi — a veteran campaigner who also once ran federally in Abbotsford as Sa Tan (“Mmmmm, could it be SATAN!!!) — is running a relatively straight campaign for council.

He’s got ideas — dozens of them — on his Web site. Recruit Wal-Mart as a tenant for the Woodward’s building; let all bars open until 4 a.m. if they want to, then shut them down if there are problems; emulate Pamplona, Spain’s running of the bulls by getting the willing public to run a gauntlet of people trying to pie them in the face.

He’s also running for school board (yes, you can run for both) for one simple reason — he wants our schools to adopt the successful Baby Think It Over program used in many schools across North America.

The program gives high-tech infant simulators to teens to take home, and the kind of care the teen provides is monitored by the simulator. The objective is to both teach parenting skills and reduce teen pregnancy.

Will Brian Salmi show up at a school board all-candidates meeting as a pregnant man? Don’t be surprised.

Is that leadership? It’s just political theatre, really. But as political theatre goes, it appears to be the best we can hope for in this campaign.

At least Salmi has a Web site that risks concrete ideas. He’s not the only one, of course. Alan Herbert of vcaTEAM has a site with comprehensive policy positions. The Green party, with only three candidates for council, has the most thorough party platform.

What’s surprising is how little others have offered beyond the standard homilies of sustainable development, rich culture and fiscal prudence. Of course, this is true to the time-honoured political axiom that the chances of someone saying something meaningful are in inverse proportion to their chances of getting elected.

Certainly no candidate has spent more time saying less than NPA mayoral hopeful Jennifer Clarke. She met for nearly two hours with the Vancouver Sun’s editorial board on Monday, but while she illuminated the complexity of many issues, she habitually avoided making any hard choices.

Sun publisher Dennis Skulsky asked her about leadership. I can’t remember a single thing she said on the subject — it was that gripping.

On safe injection sites, she’s in favour of a scientific trial, as long as the feds are too, but she hasn’t pursued them for approval in months.

On voter turnout in civic elections, it’s out of her hands.

On ensuring that municipal police forces better respond to crises such as the missing women tragedy, it’s not in her power.

On whether the NPA nomination process should be more transparent – – the party doesn’t disclose its nomination vote totals — she’s neutral.

On electoral reform, she’s opposed to wards and she’s opposed to direct elections to the GVRD. Hey, at least it’s a position.

On any subject you can name, she’s very well informed, and will gladly bore you with all the details. One colleague said she’s a forest person who sees every tree. Those who know her say she’s very a good in committee. In hockey, players who aren’t good on the ice are frequently “good in the room.”

I wish the nine-year council veteran were running for council again. There’s every reason to believe that she’s a slightly effectual apparatchik, which is much more than can be said of a couple of her NPA colleagues.

But she’s chosen to run for mayor. That job requires daring, firmness and an ability to inspire others to share your vision. She’s not up to the job.

There are still many questions to be answered about Larry Campbell, her closest rival for the mayor’s position. He claims a good administrative track record as a chief coroner, and has a degree in public administration, but there’s uncertainty about how capable he’d be at reining in the spendthrift impulses of some potential COPE councillors.

But he can lead, and I doubt he relishes the prospect of being the one-term COPE mayor who returned the party to a position of political irrelevance.

He’s firmly advocated electoral reform, prompt experimentation with safe injection sites to see if they work and weekly meetings of key players to drive effective action on the Downtown Eastside.

Is Vancouver ready to take some risks? We’ll see on Nov. 16.

I know I’ll likely save a vote for Brian Salmi, for provoking us with both thoughtful and crazy ideas that are far beyond the ken of apparatchiks everywhere.

The Province (Vancouver)
October 20, 2002
Page A31
Godzilla approaches city hall, wears party hat
Dan Murphy

Up until now, Brian Salmi’s approach to running for political office has been pretty straightforward.

A: Find a prominent riding with a formidable opponent.

B: Enter the campaign dressed like either a giant Japanese movie monster or Ronald McDonald.

C: Lose spectacularly.

It’s a formula he’s used often, and it has never let him down.

In 1988 he ran as Rhino Party candidate in Vancouver South against MP John Fraser, then Speaker of the House. When Fraser wouldn’t show up for all-candidate debates, Salmi dubbed him “the silent Speaker.” For that campaign, Salmi took the name Godzilla.

“Rhinos need a catchy name, and I was doing a lot of anti- nuclear work at the time . . . And Godzilla was originally an anti- nuclear film.”

In ’93, when Salmi took on Kim Campbell, he got a Godzilla suit to go with the moniker.

“Those were poor days in my life, not unlike these days, and the only money I could scrape together was about 50 bucks to buy this ratty — it was supposed to be a Godzilla outfit, but even the kids mocked me and said it looked more like Kermit the Frog.”

So what is the hardest thing about running for public office in Canada wearing a Godzilla suit?

“Going to the bathroom. When you’re a Rhino and you’re campaigning, you’re drinking a lot. I mean, that’s part of the campaign. And getting in and out of that goddamn Kermit the Frog outfit was a bit difficult.”

During that campaign, a rift developed amongst Rhinos over the finer points of their political philosophy. Salmi wanted to run a dominatrix for party whip in Richmond. Rhino headquarters in Montreal said no.

“This from a party that two years prior had promised Canadians a guaranteed annual orgasm. And then they told us we had to send all the money we raised back to them so they could get even stupider smoking more bad Lebanese hash.”

So Salmi broke away and founded the Gnu Democratic Rhino Reform Party.

As Gnu Democratic Rhino Reform candidate in Vancouver’s ’93 mayoral race, Salmi, always the visionary, “promised to break Vancouver away from Canada and join Japan.”

For the ’94 provincial byelection against Gordon Campbell, Salmi dressed up like Ronald McDonald and fine-tuned his election strategy: “I spent the entire campaign out in front of the McDonald’s restaurant at 41st, drinking wine and handing out Marlboros to teenage high-school girls.”

In ’96, Salmi encouraged others to get involved in the democratic process. He did this by giving them free beer to run for mayor in Vancouver.

That was the year that Frank the Moose, Barb E. Doll and Zippy the Circus Chimp appeared on the ballot. Salmi’s goal was a thousand- candidate mayoral race, where the all-candidate debate would have to take place in B.C. Place Stadium.

Salmi wore the clown suit again to take on Chuck Strahl in the ’97 federal election but, as a nod to the sensitivities of the Chilliwack riding, changed his name to Sa Tan.

“I got more death threats than I got votes. As has almost always been the case in any sort of Rhino election campaign that I run, there’s always an element of social experiment involved.”

– – –

“Where the lefties don’t have any sense of business,” Salmi says, sitting at a booth in the Bourbon Street Pub, “the righties don’t have any sense of social responsibility. There’s no noblesse oblige.”

Salmi sees himself as falling somewhere in the middle.

He supports the Four-Pillars plan to combat the drug problem in the Downtown Eastside. He wants to help fund it, and revitalize the neighborhood, by getting a Walmart’s into the old Woodward’s building.

Salmi is running this time around for Vancouver City Council — but with a radical twist. No costume.

“The Rhino horn’s coming off for this election. This one I’m dead serious about.”

Salmi wants to bring back the Sea Festival, start a Ministry of Sound to promote local music, build a skateboarder park on Burrard Inlet, and put water slides in English Bay.

Also, there is a festival Salmi proposes called Pie Face, which would be like Pamplona’s running of the bulls, only instead of bulls — pies.

And that’s only for starters.

And where does he stand on the 2010 Winter Olympics?

“I’m not willing to wait eight years to have a good party for two weeks,” Salmi says.

“That’s just pure NPA Victoria-Liberal logic.

“Let’s get the party started now.”

Globe and Mail
November 6, 2002
Page unknown
Getting a buzz in Vancouver
Paul Sullivan

Most British Columbians are content to stand back and marvel — or gape in horror — at local politics. Yet there is no shortage of ready candidates. The Nov. 16 Vancouver civic election features 118 people on the ballot for various posts; this doesn’t include the 20-odd municipalities in the Lower Mainland. Add them up, and you have as many people running as you usually have voting.

This is the most interesting civic election in years, and not just because the last surviving Rhino in captivity — a goof named Brian Salmi — is running. He’s back in town after fleeing the country in 1997 “after the cops kicked in the doors of my East Van marijuana mine.”

Don’t laugh. Drugs are a big factor in this campaign. The leading candidate for mayor appears convinced that Vancouver voters want safe injection sites for heroin addicts, and they want them now. If elected — which looks likely — he promises we’ll have them by Jan. 1.

Into this bad trip walks city council candidate Peter Ladner, who has his own drug flashback: He was fired from The Vancouver Sun in 1969 for admitting he knew 20 co-workers who had smoked marijuana. “I never exhaled,” he says.

In some ways, however, he’s the antidote in this drug-induced campaign. As the founder of the influential weekly newspaper Business in Vancouver, the 53-year-old has established a reputation as the sober voice for business. His politics are also sober: He’s for strong but “sustainable” economic development.

And he likes to run. He holds the age record for the Knee Knacker, a 30-mile ultra-marathon across the North Shore mountains. Last May, he and some friends ran across Wales in a day.

Stamina is necessary if you’re going to survive in this political climate. Mr. Ladner would rather talk about making Vancouver the world’s No. 1 green city, a showcase for sustainable transport and infrastructure. But he’s learned he can’t control the issues, and safe injection sites have become theissue.

Crime is rampant in Vancouver; according to some estimates, we have more property crime than any other North American city except Miami. One reason is the heavy concentration of drug addicts, who fuel their habits through crime. You look for answers, and the safe injection strategy, which aims to free the addict from the pusher, may be a start.

At any rate, Mr. Ladner and his Non-Partisan Association colleagues support safe injection sites, but the NPA fumbled the issue out of the gate when it turned its back on the incumbent mayor, Philip Owen, who courageously championed safe injection sites when it wasn’t cool.

Now the ruling NPA is in a mortal struggle with the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors. Thanks to Larry Campbell, its candidate for mayor, COPE owns the high ground on drugs — he’s the model for the crusading coroner on Da Vinci’s Inquest. The CBC drama just won a Gemini and, by all reports, life will imitate art on Nov. 16.

Mr. Ladner, who enjoys crossover support thanks to his general sustainability, may be one of the last NPA candidates standing after the vote, as anecdotal evidence indicates that voters will make the NPA pay for turning its back on Mayor Owen. It looks as though the main beneficiary will be Mr. Campbell, who nevertheless may find civic politics tough to handle. After all, most of his previous experience is with dead people.

Mr. Ladner, however, has learned to endure pain and keep on running. And that could be a handy skill.

Globe and Mail
November 11, 2002
A12 (letter to the editor)
Angry Rhino

An individual who lives at the end of a leash does not understand the concept of freedom, so Paul Sullivan can be forgiven for referring to my humble self as “the last surviving Rhino in captivity,” (Getting A Buzz In Vancouver — Nov. 6). As for being a “goof”: Why, my old friend, would you want to pick a fight with an 80-foot lizard with radioactive breath, who writes better than you do? That’s worse than goofy — that’s stupid. You may want to track down former Vancouver Province columnist Brian Kieran and ask him about such folly. Fortunately for you, Mr. Sullivan, I have become fairly Zen over the years. I have, in this case, resisted the childish impulse to fight sparks with napalm.

But wait . . . am I wrong to assume that “goof” is a derogatory term? I was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ont., an isolated community, in the days before the dawning of the age of communication. Owing to our isolation from the rest of the world, we often incorrectly defined many terms.

If that is the case, please accept my apology, Mr. Sullivan and carry on with your fine work. As Bob Dylan once told Barry Manilow, “You’re an inspiration to us all.”

Brian Godzilla Salmi
Leader-schmeader
Rhino Party

The Province (Vancouver)
November 19, 2002
Page A6
SORRY, NO RHINOS
Michael Smyth

Brian “Godzilla” Salmi, the Rhino Party activist and gonzo columnist with Vancouver’s Terminal City magazine, showed up at the legislature yesterday dressed in black-and-white striped tights and a “Hello, My Name Is Satan” lapel sticker.

He asked for a hallway press pass and was turned down by the sergeant-at-arms office.

Vancouver Sun
November 26, 2002
A21
Ruckus at legislature over letting reporter in
Barbara McLintock

A failed Vancouver city council candidate is to appear in Victoria Provincial Court today after being arrested at the legislature yesterday.

Brian Salmi — a reporter for Vancouver’s Terminal City Weekly alternative newspaper and former Rhino party candidate with a long record of political theatrics — was arrested along with editor Darren Atwater for obstructing a peace officer after refusing to leave the office of legislative Speaker Claude Richmond.

Police let Atwater go after he signed an undertaking not to return to the legislative buildings. But Salmi refused to sign and was to spend the night in jail.

Salmi, who ran as an independent in the Nov. 16 city election, and Atwater were protesting Richmond’s reluctance to allow Salmi to be accredited to cover the legislature as a reporter.

Richmond said he told the pair he wanted to “mull over” the issue for a few days before deciding.

Vancouver Sun
November 27, 2002
Page A1
Reporter ban an issue of respect, not censorship, Speaker says
Jim Beatty

VICTORIA — The Speaker of the B.C. legislature says he doesn’t want to censor the media, but is demanding that a media outlet treat parliament and its officers with respect and decency.

After a controversial incident Monday caused the arrest of two journalists and riled others who believe the freedom of the press is at stake, Claude Richmond said Tuesday he will allow a reporter from an alternative Vancouver newspaper into the press gallery only if he agrees not to denigrate parliament.

“I want to see this place treated with some reverence and respect, but the last thing I’d want to do is curtail freedom of the press,” Richmond said in an interview.

The controversy began when two journalists from Vancouver’s TerminalCity weekly were jailed after a meeting with Richmond to discuss parliamentary respect soured. The men were arrested when they refused to leave Richmond’s office.

In a letter Richmond drafted Tuesday, he asks that TerminalCity be respectful of parliament, a requirement not demanded of other media.

“We are only interested in respect for the institution, which includes a minimal dress code and reporting that does not denigrate parliament or bring its officers into disrepute,” says Richmond’s letter to Terminal City editor Darren Atwater.

The Speaker’s job is to maintain order and decorum in the legislature and ensure the rules are enforced.

Atwater and gonzo columnist Brian (Godzilla) Salmi were arrested Monday, charged with obstruction of a peace officer, and jailed for failing to leave Richmond’s office.

Atwater was released from jail Monday afternoon, but Salmi, a self-described anarchist and former Rhino party candidate, spent the night in jail after refusing to sign a waiver saying he wouldn’t return to the legislature.

But Tuesday, Salmi was released from the cell and the charges were put in limbo. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Crown prosecutor Jonathan Ratel said the entire matter is being reviewed.

“All I can say is that the Crown is considering the entire matter,” Ratel said. The charges, he said, “are under review.”

Richmond and other legislature officers are annoyed about a satirical article Salmi wrote in 1994. In particular, the fictional article made references to deviant sexual acts made late at night by an officer of the legislature.

“All I’m getting at is that even reporters should have some respect for this institution, and decency,” Richmond said, acknowledging he may not have the legal power to ban specific reporters based on their writings. “I might seek legal advice.”

Donna Logan, of the University of B.C. School of Journalism, said it is inappropriate for the Speaker to insist the writings of journalists are respectful of parliament.

“It’s ridiculous. The speaker has gone overboard,” she said.

“For the speaker to set himself as judge and jury of which journalists can come in [to the legislature] is contrary to the democratic principles we believe in.”

While the freedom of the press is a basic principle in a free society, there are limits established by the courts, she said.

John Waterfield, manager of the National Press Gallery in Ottawa, was shocked that any parliament would attempt to direct what a journalist writes.

“What happened to freedom of the press?,” Waterfield asked. “I can’t believe any Speaker would say that.

“That’s never happened in the 25 years I have been here.”

New Democratic Party leader Joy MacPhail said Richmond has clearly overstepped his bounds.

“I’m unaware of any Speaker ever in the Commonwealth having the power to make a decision like that,” she said.

“I expect legislators and the media to be respectful of the rules and regulations that apply when we are in this legislature but we’re still allowed in Canada to have freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”

Salmi, 39, is well known in Vancouver’s alternative press. He often goes by the nickname Godzilla and may have legally changed his name to Satan.

Salmi, a self-described anarchist, has repeatedly sought office at all three levels of government. He ran in the 1996 federal election under the name Satan and spent 20 days in jail following the 1988 protest against logging at Clayoquot Sound.

In particular, he created numerous controversies in 1994: He caused a furore in Quebec when he launched a board game called Pin the Leg on the Separatist, referring to former premier Lucien Bouchard, who lost a leg to flesh-eating disease.

He encouraged hockey fans to “booze up and riot” following the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals in 1994, which they did.

He created a stir in the legislative press gallery in Victoria when he wrote a fictitious account of drinking and snorting drugs with members of the press gallery.

Times Colonist (Victoria)
November 28, 2002
A4
Speaker defends arrest of journalists

Speaker of the B.C. legislature Claude Richmond said Wednesday he has no interest in muzzling reporters, but he wants to see respect for the institution of parliament.

Two journalists from Terminal City Weekly, an alternative Vancouver newspaper, were arrested this week after an unusual meeting with Richmond.

Brian Salmi, also known as Godzilla, was around the outside of the legislature last week dressed in striped tights and wearing a badge saying “Hello, my name is Satan.”

In 1994, Salmi, a former Rhino Party candidate, wrote a column with a fictional account of an officer of the legislature engaging in sex at night while sitting in the Speaker’s chair.

He also created controversy in Quebec when he introduced a board game called Pin The Leg On The Separatist after former premier Lucien Bouchard lost a leg to flesh-eating disease.

Salmi and his editor, Darren Atwater, met Richmond in his office on Monday to discuss Salmi’s application for membership in the legislative press gallery.

In a statement Wednesday, Richmond said freedom of the press was not the issue. “I have no interest in attempting to influence comments and opinions expressed about the politics, politicians and events which occur in the legislature,” he said.

The two men were asked about the column “that contained outrageous and derogatory statements of a deviant sexual nature regarding officers of the legislature,” Richmond said in the statement.

“My question to them was simply were they prepared to show some respect for the institution of parliament?”

They were also asked if they were prepared to meet the dress code observed by press gallery members, he said.

Their answer was no to both, and when Salmi and Atwater refused to leave the office, it was treated as a sit-in and sergeant-at- arms staff were asked to remove them, Richmond said.

Both were charged with obstruction of a police officer.

The press gallery decides on membership, but the Speaker is responsible for “dress and decorum,” in the house and the Speaker’s corridor.

**** in the same edition

A14
Les Leyne’s column

Considering they are the first journalists the Speaker of the Legislature has clapped in irons in 110 years, I suppose the visit of the Terminal City duo to the legislature this week is worthy of note.

But keep in mind that what’s at issue is a self-serving publicity stunt by a mischievous anarcho-clown that went off like clockwork.

A cheeky bit of guerrilla theatre was successfully turned into a freedom of the press issue, which makes a one-day hero out of Brian “Godzilla” Salmi.

Also known as Sa Tan, he’s a columnist with the alternative weekly, whose work is, to put it mildly, way, way out there.

The last time he dropped by he came up with a lurid column about reporters sniffing cocaine from toilet seats and a legislature officer engaging in bizarre sexual practices in the chamber.

It was like Hunter S. Thompson’s work, only without any of the genius. Thompson, the doctor of “gonzo journalism,” invented the concept of stream of consciousness ravings.

A lot of his best reporting covered strictly his imagination, but he still somehow occasionally captured the essential truth.

People try to imitate Thompson, but they shouldn’t bother. Nobody can come close.

Nonetheless, the gonzo wannabe dropped in again this week with an editor in tow and was refused entry.

They were granted a meeting with the Speaker to discuss the matter and it didn’t go their way.

So they refused to leave, winding up in handcuffs and en route to the city lockup, where Salmi spent the night.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s an undeniable bit of history. The last time something like this happened was in 1892, when two New Westminster journalists did one day’s time on a contempt of parliament beef.

But they weren’t wearing striped leotards and a badge that said: “Hi, My Name is Satan.”

CKNW’s Rafe Mair got so exercised about the freedom of the press issue Wednesday that Speaker Claude Richmond was prompted to issue a statement. He says he just asked them to show some respect for Parliament, they refused and then staged a “sit-in,” so he had them removed.

The Terminal City editor then seized on “freedom of the press” as the issue. That had the potential to go places, as the idea of a Speaker getting an undertaking from columnists to write more respectfully is absurd.

But Richmond wisely backed down Wednesday, acknowledging he has no interest or authority over what is reported. He’s on much more solid ground to just keep this a dress code issue.

But it’s still a publicity stunt and we’ve all fallen for it now.

Vancouver Sun 
November 30, 2002
Page A26
‘Deviant sexual nature’? Aw, c’mon, Mr. Speaker</
Vaughn Palmer

VICTORIA – The speakers of the legislature, when they speak at all, tend to do so in sombre tones on the minutiae of parliamentary practice, none of which is the stuff of lively news coverage.

Still, when Speaker Claude Richmond put out a rare press release this week, it was clear from the opening paragraph that this pronouncement might generate a headline or two.

“I wish to comment briefly on the events which took place in my office Monday,” it began, then went on to provide a first-hand account of a confrontation involving himself, his staff, a newspaper editor and journalist Brian Salmi, “also known variously as Godzilla and Satan.”

Godzilla? Satan? Straightaway, you knew that, once again, the B.C. legislature was breaking new ground.

The meeting originated with a request from the editor of the Terminal City Weekly, a Vancouver newspaper, that Mr. Salmi be issued press credentials to cover the legislature.

But as Speaker Richmond recounted it, the meeting quickly bogged down over two issues.

Mr. Salmi, who does indeed use the monikers “Godzilla” and “Satan,” refused to respect the minimum requirements (jacket, tie, no blue jeans) of the legislative dress code.

Plus the Speaker was concerned because some years earlier Mr. Salmi had written a column that described an act of “a deviant sexual nature regarding officers of the legislature.”

Deviant sexual nature? I’m thinking it may be the first time that combination words has appeared in a press release from a Speaker anywhere in the British Commonwealth.

Perhaps it might prompt a revision to the next edition of Sir Erskine May’s venerable guide to parliamentary procedure: “Deviant sexual natures. See rulings of the Speaker of the Legislature of British Columbia.”

The Speaker asked Mr. Salmi, and his editor, if in providing any future coverage, “were they prepared to show some respect for the institution of parliament?”

The answer was “in the negative” and at that point talks broke down. But Mr. Salmi and his editor refused to leave the Speaker’s office, whereupon security staff were summoned, the two were handcuffed, arrested and escorted from the building.

The editor was later released, but Mr. Salmi did not fare as well. He was charged and jailed overnight, though charges were dropped the next day.

“To suggest the above events amount to an attack on the freedom of the press,” wrote Mr. Richmond, “is, in my view, to distort what happened.”

He says the offending article was “outrageous and derogatory.” The dress code is intended to preserve parliamentary “decorum.” The arrest had nothing to do with either concern– it was a response to a “sit-in.”

I’ll take those points in reverse order.

The arrest was a gross over-reaction. As one Liberal cabinet minister remarked: “Someone is sitting in your office? Go to lunch and see if they’re still there when you get back.”

If that doesn’t work, have them escorted out. Jail should be the last resort, not the first.

The dress code is a pettifogging relic of another era and its rigorous enforcement mainly serves to demonstrate that the Speaker’s vast security staff have not nearly enough important things to do with their time.

No one should be denied access to parliament because of a niggling rule against blue jeans. But it happens regularly, when unsuspecting out-of-town journalists show up in Victoria.

As for the article that generated all of the furore, Mr. Richmond has not seen a copy. He relied on the description provided by his staff, none of whom were able to supply the evidence for his perusal.

I have a copy in my files and can tell you a bit about it.

Mr. Salmi writes in the over-the-top, gonzo style of Hunter S. Thompson, where readers have to distinguish passages of fact from likely exaggerations and undoubted fictions.

The offending article was published in 1994. The bulk of it refers to a member of the press gallery, since departed.

The reference that provoked Speaker Richmond occupied a single sentence of perhaps 40 words and may well be defamatory — though that is a matter for a court of law, not a newspaper column or the office of the Speaker.

But to deny access to the legislature on the basis of a single sentence in an eight-year-old article that almost no one has ever seen? Wacko, even by B.C. standards.

The Speaker says “show some respect for the institution of parliament.” It is Mr. Richmond and his staff, with their nitwit overreaction, who have brought the institution into disrepute.

 

The Province (Vancouver)
December 2, 2002
A14
It’s time Legislature’s dress code got a dressing down
Russ Francis

In the early 1970s, the much-loved, late MLA Emery Barnes broke legislature rules. His crime was to wear a dashiki, a traditional Nigerian tunic, into the House.

It’s a sin.

For according to the legislature’s Standing Orders — based on outdated British tradition — “jackets and ties [are] required for male members.”

Barnes got away with his transgression, perhaps because the former B.C. Lions football player stood no less than six feet six inches tall.

Nobody wanted to take him on.

According to one account, a member of the Sergeant-at-Arms staff charged with enforcing the dress code, approached then-Speaker Gordon Dowding: “That man’s improperly dressed,” he observed disgustedly

Dowding took one look at the towering Barnes and said to the official: “Are YOU going to tell him?”

That ended the debate.

But the legislature’s antiquated dress code remains.

As well as MLAs it applies to reporters who seek to enter the press section of the legislature gallery or the Speaker’s Corridor, the passage running past the entrance to legislative chambers.

Without access to the Speaker’s Corridor, reporters miss out on the numerous scrums going on as MLAs enter and leave the house, making it tough to do their jobs properly.

In case you didn’t know, the rules are sexist.

Men are ordered to stick to the jacket-and-tie rule, but for women the only requirement is for “appropriate dress.”

Whatever that means. Not much, apparently. Last summer a female TV anchor was hanging out with reporters in the Speaker’s Corridor wearing skin-tight jeans.

Nobody complained.

But if a male reporter tried that, he’d be turfed out quicker than you could yell “double standard.”

Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Humphreys refused a long-time member of the press gallery admission to the corridor a few years ago because of his attire.

Oh, he was nattily dressed in a dress shirt and tie, but had inadvertently left his jacket at home.

So he was forced to stand in the stairwell. I asked Humphreys at the time what dress code applied to transsexual reporters.

“That question has never arisen,” he retorted, visibly not savouring the possibility.

But other jurisdictions seem to manage without B.C.’s silly rules.

The Minnesota House of Representatives began relaxing its dress code in the later 1960′s. The House opened up the floor to turtlenecks. These days, it’s not uncommon for state representatives to show up tieless. And yet no one has observed a state of unfettered anarchy in Minnesota as a result.

According to the present Speaker, Claude Richmond, one of the reasons Vancouver columnist Brian Salmi was told last week he couldn’t join the Victoria Press Gallery was his dress. Richmond said at a meeting Salmi wore “the rattiest pair of running shoes you ever saw. You’ve got to have a jacket and tie,” he added.

The rules dictate that Richmond is correct.

Time to change the rules.

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