[UPDATE: On June 17, the NPA board voted in favour of the recent decision to expel school board trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo from the NPA caucus. The board has also announced it won't endorse them as NPA candidates in the upcoming civic election. “The Caucus has had ongoing issues with Ken and Sophia for a long time and the Board has been aware of this. The raucous news conference called by Ken and Sophia last week was just one issue among many that forced the Caucus to take action,” NPA president Peter Armstrong said in a press release.]
“We had clearly parted company with caucus over the way consultation on the policy and regulations on sexual orientation and gender identities was being orchestrated,” Denike wrote the Courier in an email June 15. “The majority of caucus required trustees to pass whatever version came to the board. We couldn't abandon parents.”
The pair hosted a press conference June 13 at a Chinese restaurant on Cambie Street to argue the school board passing a revised sexual orientation and gender identity policy could hurt real estate in Vancouver by deterring international buyers.
This is not the first time the pair has run into trouble by going against party policy.
In 2012, Denike and Woo were censured by a vote of 6-3 for controversial comments they made in two separate videos.
As reported in the Courier at the time, COPE trustee Allan Wong introduced the motion to censure his NPA counterparts due to their comments regarding their public misrepresentation of Vancouver Board of Educations anti-homophobia policy. His motion was supported by all Vision Vancouver trustees, including board chair Patti Bacchus, while Fraser Ballantyne joined his NPA colleagues in opposing it.
Denike and Woo both appeared in a video, shot in 2011 on school board property, asking for greater oversight of online school resources after it came to light that a gay-positive provincial teaching resource called Out in Schools included a link to a website that featured graphic sex scenes. (The link was later taken down.)
The interview footage ended up on the website for the National Organization for Marriage, an American anti-gay marriage lobbyist group, but was removed at the request of a lawyer hired by Denike and Woo.
Yet another video, this one shot in August 2011 at a private church group’s picnic, showed the pair on the campaign trail addressing a primarily Chinese-speaking audience and suggesting Vision Vancouver trustees were planning to bring in an anti-bullying policy offering special protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The district has had a specific anti-homophobia policy on the books since 2004, and Denike has previously apologized in an interview with the Courier if his comments had been misconstrued.
In an interview Monday morning, Ballantyne told the Courier as far as he knows the two politicians can’t be officially removed from the NPA party until the move is approved by the party’s board of directors.
“But I had already noticed that Ken didn’t recognize or say the NPA name during the [press conference],” said Ballantyne. “I do know they won’t be joining us during caucus discussions on macro issues in the city.”
Ballantyne said it’s been awkward sitting with the pair on school board considering he and they have different philosophies. He noted the party has agreements in place that see members discuss issues prior to any public announcements or press conferences.
“But we were blindsided,” said Ballantyne. “They have us on ignore now so it’s obvious they’ve gone rogue. These are sensitive issues and they’re not representative of the NPA’s views and especially not mine.”
Meanwhile on Friday, NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert wrote on a Facebook page, entitled Don’t Fly the Flag if You Don’t Stand with Us,” that he’d just returned from Denike and Woo’s press conference.
“At their press conference they had a man who shouted about ‘pretend girls’ in change rooms, they had a parent say she was considering taking her kids to private school if the policy passed, and through it all NPA trustee Denike, and Woo sat by saying ...nothing, just nodding their head,” Chandra Herbert wrote.
He said their press conference “seemed designed to provoke fear.”
And the NPA is still supporting these people as their voice on school board?” he wrote.
The NPA announced June 13 Denike and Woo had been formally expelled from caucus.
“The decision to expel Denike and Woo was necessary given that the two have chosen to follow their own course in various matters without consulting with the other members of caucus,” the announcement said. “The caucus has concluded that Denike and Woo do not share the same level of sensitivity and understanding of the LGBTQ+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning] community.”