MidlandToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected] or via our website. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to an article about vendors withdrawing from the Orillia Fairgrounds Farmers’ Market, published Sept. 1.
I respectfully submit this letter to defend the Orillia Fairgrounds Farmers’ Market (OFFM), of which I have been a founding member since its inception over 10 years ago.
OFFM is being falsely accused of vendors using “hate speech” and being “a hostile organization that refuses to support progress and inclusivity.”
Two vendors have decided to withdraw from OFFM following experiences described as “discrimination” and “hate speech” against the LGBTQ+ community at the market, stated a post in OrilliaMatters on Sept. 1.
Alyssa La Plume, who owns Cap & Stalk Gourmet Mushrooms and identifies as a queer person, said she overheard discriminatory comments from a fellow vendor at the market in Severn Township on July 15. She stated that what she overheard from this private conversation held at the neighbouring vendor’s stall was an “act of violence” and “hate speech.”
Ms. La Plume confronted the vendor (and customer) about the statements made. The vendor apologized to Ms. La Plume and said that he was sorry to have offended her and that it was not his intention. She then sought out the market manager, who offered to move their booths. Ms. La Plume said that this was not enough. She further demanded that the board expel the offending farmer from the market because he had committed a “crime.”
Ms. La Plume states, “The problem is not me hearing it; the problem is (him) committing hate speech at the market.”
Ms. La Plume has every right to be offended. I would think that any market vendor would take offence. Overhearing comments that are insensitive and discriminatory — in this particular instance, to sexual orientation, gender identity or expression — need to be addressed. But by calling this “hate speech,” Ms. La Plume is incorrect.
New Section 13(10) (Canadian Human Rights Act) explains that communication does not constitute hate speech “solely because it expresses mere dislike or disdain or it discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.”
Moreover, the offending vendor was having a private conversation and expressing his opinions, not directing his bias to a public audience or posting on social media. The freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression are protected as a fundamental constitutional guarantee in Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
Every vendor at OFFM (and at most farmers’ markets) signs a code of conduct agreement with their application. This is considered a progressive disciplinary policy that, in effect, seeks to warn, inform (what the vendor did and how it impacts the market) and promote change. It is part of the policy of the market. The first violation of this code receives a verbal warning. The second infraction is a written warning. The third, the vendor is automatically expelled from the market. In this particular case, the vendor was given a verbal warning, but Ms. La Plume did not agree with that and threatened that he be removed from the market or she would report the market to the Human Rights Tribunal, which is her right.
Instead, the board felt pressured and removed the vendor. This created a palpable ripple throughout the vendorship. The board also voiced that it was going to start preparing a new policy on anti-discrimination. Ms. La Plume stated, “They (the vendors) were mad that this market was going ‘woke.’ They were worried that all of this was going to get shoved down their throats.”
The vendors were not mad with the proposed zero-tolerance policy, but rather that a vendor was removed from the market contrary to existing policy procedures and had no chance to defend the accusation of “hate speech” launched at him.
Unfortunately, a number of the directors of the OFFM board have resigned for various reasons since February, leaving only three board members. We require a working board of five to seven directors. To fill these positions, it is the board’s duty to canvass the market membership for people to stand for the open positions.
In a letter that Ms. La Plume included with her mushroom orders on Aug. 22, she wrote, “a number of heritage market vendors and past board members have taken it upon themselves to campaign for the election of ‘like-minded vendors/farmers’ to ensure progressive and strong protections for 2SLGTBTQIA+ and other minority groups are purposefully excluded in policy making.”
In reading Ms. La Plume’s above-mentioned “Mush Love” letter, I am of the understanding that she thinks the prospective board members are being grilled as to their political stances as well as views on gender equity. I can only assure her that they are not. And as my husband, Tom Morrisey, was the canvasser trying to rustle up people to stand on the board, I can attest that this certainly wasn’t the case. It never has been.
Believe me, as a past chair/director for many years at the downtown Orillia market as well as OFFM, it is extremely difficult to enlist farmer/vendors to commit to the two years of thankless work and grinding machinations of market administration that being on a market board involves, added to the time and seasonal demands of planting, growing, harvesting and selling their produce.
Further, Ms. La Plume asserts in her letter that OFFM “will continue to be a hostile organization that refuses to support progress and inclusivity.”
Perhaps Ms. La Plume might consider reading up about defamation law in Ontario. In simpler terms, defamation refers to a false statement about an individual, business, or organization that harms their reputation and is communicated to a third party. This can happen through spoken words (slander) or written content (libel) that is distributed to either the public or specific individuals. In Ontario, if the statement is proven to be untrue and has caused damage to a person or organization’s reputation, it can be considered a civil offence that can lead to legal consequences. To qualify as libel in Ontario, the statement must be false, communicated to at least one other person either intentionally or carelessly, and caused harm to the person’s reputation, financial status, or job opportunities.
The very fact that Ms. La Plume names the accusing vendor in her letter causes concern. By removing this vendor from the market, his revenue has been compromised, not to mention reputation. In addition, another vendor, whose company name is similar to the expelled vendor, is now receiving emails with regard to this public accusation.
Accusing OFFM of “being a hostile organization that doesn’t support inclusivity” and enlisting “like-minded board members” who don’t support human rights legislation is, at the very least, disturbing and, taking it further, could be construed as defamation.
When vendors resign and/or potential vendors reconsider applying because of Ms. La Plume’s actions and written communications, the market and existing vendors will lose revenue.
OFFM was thrilled to have a new mushroom-selling vendor. It’s always exciting to have vendors who offer new foods and products. Cap & Stalk are local producers — their mushrooms, fresh and varied. I believe that their brief time at the market was successful judging from their empty tables at the end of the day. Their letter states that Sept. 2 would be their last day at the market. I wish them every success in their future endeavours.
Lavender Hills Farm