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Diversity debate leaves Vernon politician threatened with legal action

A discussion around bullying has left a Vernon elected official threatened by legal action.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal is accused of defamation, in a letter received from the lawyer of Juliette Cunningham, a previous city councillor.

In response to an April 26, 2021 public council meeting, the letter claims Nahal defamed Cunningham, and she is seeking a public apology, $3,000 in legal fees and a $1,000 donation in her name.

While Cunningham wasn’t named at the council meeting, the letter from Harper Grey LLP alleges some comments were made in reference to Cunningham and she could be easily identified by some.

“There’s a previous sitting councillor that I felt intimidated and bullied me for four years and I didn’t say anything,” Nahal said during a council discussion on April 26.

Nahal went on to say that during recent business consultations, others said they were treated similarly by this councillor.

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Council was debating whether diversity training would be effective, following concerns raised by Nahal, who was brought to tears during the discussion.

“I’m very disheartened by many events that have taken place,” Nahal said at the meeting, noting racist incidents targeted at recently elected MLA Harwinder Sandhu.

Nahal was sent a letter from Cunningham’s lawyer on May 6, which was immediately followed by two more May 7.

The letter says Cunningham seeks legal fee reimbursements, a $1,000 donation to the North Okanagan Friendship Centre Society in her name and a public apology to be read aloud at the May 10, 2021, council meeting — one Nahal wasn’t present for as she was undergoing treatments in hospital.

“I’ve asked for my name to be cleared and I asked for the apology to be made in public which is the same domain where the accusations were made,” Cunningham told the Morning Star.

“We’re still waiting for a response from Dalvir’s legal counsel.”

In the meantime, Nahal has been left wondering how a topic of bullying can be responded to with more bullying tactics.

“People are missing the point of what I was trying to say,” she said.

Nahal said she’s concerned about how people are treating others, not just women or people of ethnic background.

There are several complaints she’s heard about people feeling condescended to and treated with little respect.

A document obtained by the Morning Star says a member of the Regional District of North Okanagan launched a complaint against a City of Vernon director and staff member after feeling they were condescending and intimidating.

Nahal worries this type of behaviour is why several employees have left the city.

“We are losing staff left and right, why?” she said. “It’s sad that’s what’s happening.”

During the discussion around diversity training, Nahal’s concerns were called “justified” by Coun. Scott Anderson.

“We’ve got two accomplished women here who have been excluded from appointments.

“They’ve been excluded from what’s been developing as an old boys’ club in council.”

With a daughter of his own, Anderson said all councillors, no matter their gender, deserve respect. But he voted against a council decision to look at diversity training.

The only other woman on council, Kari Gares, spoke in support of Nahal.

“I have thick skin but the fundamental problem is it’s hard after a while not to take it personally,” Gares said.

Coun. Akbal Mund also brought up the level of disrespect all politicians receive on an ongoing basis.

“We are constantly barraged by people who do this to council members. We don’t need to respond to it. I don’t take it personally. Maybe a little training about how to not get overworked about it might help,” Mund said.

“We get yelled at for making decisions. We don’t do it to piss people off.”

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jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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Jennifer Smith

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