The first meeting of Salt Spring Island’s Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) since April was cancelled with little warning last week, after ferry officials reported they faced abuse and threats at similar meetings elsewhere.
BC Ferries issued a notice cancelling — technically “postponing” — the typically biannual meeting abruptly on Thursday, Sept. 28, saying the move had been made on advice of the company’s corporate security personnel.
“This change is due to aggressive comments made, and behaviours exhibited, at some recent public events,” read the notice. “These instances have raised security concerns for our team and contravene BC Ferries’ zero tolerance policy for abusive behaviour.”
BC Ferries added: “Over the past several months, our team members have noted a rise in aggressive, threatening and abusive behaviour while out in the community, including the keying of vehicles, shouting, foul language and a disrespect for personal space.”
The company said it would “be back in-person as soon as possible with fulsome safety and security plans to support our staff at these events,” although BC Ferries did not respond to questions about what measures, if any, would be needed on Salt Spring Island before FAC meetings could resume.
Salt Spring FAC chair Harold Swierenga said simmering tensions came to a head at the Southern Sunshine Coast FAC meeting the previous week, where one member of the public said they would “take a gun to everyone” if changes weren’t made by BC Ferries.
“There’s no reference whatsoever to Salt Spring, or any issues we’ve had,” said Swierenga. “None of it happened here, but we’re caught under the same response.”
Swierenga said he believed BC Ferries would have “some kind of protocol” within the coming weeks, and that the company was consulting with all the regional FAC chairs to find a way forward. Salt Spring’s FAC decided as a group not to switch to an online format at the last minute, as other FACs had considered, believing that an in-person meeting within a week or two was a better option. As well, said Swierenga, matters on their agenda weren’t “immediately critical,” although he regretted having to put off several people who wanted to appear before the committee.
“It’s too bad that this has even come up,” said Swierenga. “I mean, we’ve had some meetings here where there have been strong words, but nothing like this. I’ve never run across this kind of thing before.”