Abbotsford Coun. Brenda Falk created controversy online again this week, but the questionable content she shared has raised issues about the lack of clarity in the city’s code of responsible conduct for council members.
On Tuesday morning (May 18), Falk shared a meme of German student and anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl. The image included text stating, “Since all this started, I have barely worn a swastika at all. Only when I have to, to shop, work, or make others more comfortable.”
Scholl was convicted of high treason after it was discovered that she had been found distributing anti-war leaflets at her university. She was executed by guillotine for her crimes in 1943.
Falk originally included “Wise words for us all” with the photo. She then later edited her comment to include more context, stating, “She lived a quiet and peaceful life of strong conviction and was willing to pay the ultimate price for her convictions. How many of us are willing to do the same for our faith.”
The post sparked anger online, with many believing that she was using the message as a way to compare today’s current COVID-19 restrictions to life in Nazi Germany. Others supported her for speaking out “in defence of freedom.”
Falk is a member of the “End the Lockdowns” caucus and recently stated that she believes current lockdowns and restrictions are worse than the COVID-19 virus.
When asked by media about which restrictions she disagreed with, she was unable to offer an answer. B.C. has had less severe restrictions than other provinces, but restaurants have been unable to offer indoor dining since March 29. Falk is the owner of Tanglebank Gardens and Brambles Bistro in Abbotsford.
The News attempted for several days to get comments from Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, and he responded with a statement on Thursday evening.
“I understand the post made on social media by Brenda Falk is upsetting to some people,” he stated in an email. “These were comments made on a personal Facebook account and not shared on behalf of the City of Abbotsford. In this particular circumstance, a person’s personal comments and views remain outside of the City’s Code of Responsible Conduct for Council Members. As a result, how a situation like this is addressed is ultimately up to the elected official in question and residents of Abbotsford through the municipal election process.”
Falk has a personal Facebook page and an official City of Abbotsford councillor Facebook page. The last post on her official city account occurred on June 30, 2020.
The City of Abbotsford Code of Responsible Conduct for Council Members, which was created in 2019, can be found at abbotsford.civicweb.net/document/55288.
A section of the policy states that examples of “unacceptable conduct” include “use of disrespectful, derogatory, demeaning, defamatory, discriminatory, intolerant or offensive language at any time, and on any communication platform, including social media as a representative of the City.”
On Falk’s personal Facebook page, she is identified as a councillor for the city of Abbotsford and also has the city of Abbotsford tagged as one of her employers.
The News asked Braun and the city for clarification on why personal Facebook accounts do not fall under the code of conduct, but they have not yet replied to The News.
A B.C. councillor did face a review in March after posting a sexist meme on his personal Facebook page.
North Cowichan’s Tek Manhas posted a photo of an old man holding a cigarette and can of beer saying, “When your woman is acting up, just tell her ‘less bitchen’ more kitchen. Women love it when you rhyme.”
Manhas later apologized for posting the meme and deleted it. The review later determined that Manhas did not violate the code of conduct, and city staff concluded that his apology and removal of the post was sufficient.
Pouce Coupe, B.C. Mayor Lorraine Michetti also faced criticism after she shared posts that many felt were racist and anti-Semitic. She had made a comment online comparing gun owners to Holocaust victims and also posted photos of a garbage-strewn lawn on Facebook and stated, “Don’t want Pipeline’s (sic)? They want to protect our land. Yeah ok”.
Many believed this was a racist reference to Indigenous pipeline opponents.
Michetti later apologized for her social media activity, but refused to step down from her role.
Earlier this month, Abbotsford school trustee Phil Anderson temporarily stepped down from his position after he faced criticism for sharing a photo comparing wearing a mask to slavery on his Facebook page.
Anderson later deleted the post and apologized. He is now undergoing training to build a better understanding of the issues he posted about. Abbotsford board of education chair Stan Peterson stated they wanted to act swiftly.
“The Abbotsford board of education is fundamentally committed to providing a safe, equitable and inclusive environment for all our students, staff and families,” he said. “The board is strongly committed to anti-racism, and opposes hate in any form.”
Abbotsford School District communications manager Kayla Stuckart said the district does have an administrative procedure on social media, but it was Anderson’s decision to step down. Trustees are guided by their own policy - Board Policy 6 - Trustee Code of Conduct.
Falk also received backlash last summer when the Tanglebank Instagram account commented on a Black Lives Matter post by the Downtown Abbotsford Instagram account. Tanglebank stated that “All lives matter” and recommended that “people be treated the way you want to be treated and stop the BS.”
It was later revealed that it was Falk’s husband Arnold who made the comments. He was initially upset that his comments were deleted by Downtown Abbotsford, but then later apologized for his words.
Shortly after the controversy, a petition was launched calling for the resignation of Coun. Falk. The petition, which is still active, has collected 855 signatures.
It was announced Friday (May 21) that Falk offered her resignation May 12 from her role on the AbbotsfordFirst slate. She had been a member of the slate since 2014.