The City of Hamilton is pursuing a partnership with Cardus, despite concerns from some residents regarding the organization’s allegedly anti-LGBTQ and islamophobic views.
According to their website, Cardus is a non-partisan, Christian-based think tank and registered charity that provides independent research and commentary on a wide range of topics. These topics include education, health, law, work, economics and spirited citizenship. The organization has recently directed its attention towards the Balfour House, a heritage site currently owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust and managed by the City of Hamilton, with the possibility of using it as their home base.
The historic stone mansion on the Mountain Brow currently requires renovations and is not accessible to the public. However, Cardus has proposed to restore and re-open the Balfour House for their own use and to make it available to the community.
“Allowing Cardus to cover the costs of restoring and re-opening Balfour House to serve as our head office is a major part of keeping this city’s historical and architectural legacy alive,” said Michael Van Pelt, Cardus president and CEO, in a news release.
According to Van Pelt, the proposal would restore the Balfour House and save taxpayers $1.5 million in repairs and operating costs over the next 20 years. Moreover, Cardus claims to have the support of David Balfour, whose grandparents once lived in the house during the 20th century.
While the apparent financial benefit of Cardus’ proposal has captivated several city councillors, many Hamiltonians believe that the negotiations have given public space to anti-LGBTQ views.
“There is little doubt in my mind that some of Cardus’ publications could be interpreted by many as homophobic, Islamaphobic and transphobic. However, there [were] also many other publications that demonstrated acceptance of Canada’s pluralistic, multicultural and religious diverse society,” said Brad Clark, Ward 9 (Upper Stoney Creek) city councillor, in an interview with CBC news.
The possibility of a partnership between the city and Cardus may allow for other recent discussions about hate in Hamilton to resurface. This past year, Hamilton’s city and police were criticized for how they handled violence at Hamilton’s Pride festival in June. More recently, yellow vesters, members of a xenophobic far-right hate group, are gathering weekly to protest in front of city hall.
I couldn't sleep so I looked into Cardus, a Right Wing Think Tank that Council at @cityofhamilton in #HamOnt debated giving public space to (as brought up by Graham Crawford @HHHamilton). Issue will come back up to Council Sept 25th.
Cardus has a LOT to say about Muslims.. 1/6 pic.twitter.com/8HRcjczY2M
— Sarah Jama (@SarahJama_) September 20, 2019
“I’m no expert, but it seems like if Cardus were to exist in #HamOnt it would scale up, build upon a foundation of, and add a false sense of sophistication to the levels of white supremacist organizing in our city,” tweeted McMaster alumni and community organizer Sarah Jama.
However, explicit evidence of Cardus’ alleged anti-LGBTQ and islamophobic views is hard to find. It is difficult to identify any overtly hateful content in the numerous articles the organization has published, instead appearing to focus on the freedom of religious expression.
While some articles are critical of these communities, others such as The Positive Difference of Islam and Enriched by Difference suggest the opposite.
Van Pelt recently sent a letter to city councillors, stating that Cardus complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario Employment Act and the City of Hamilton Equity and Inclusion Policy.
“I would like to add that Cardus has an impressive record in terms of building an open and tolerant society in Canada . . . [Cardus leads] some of the most respectful and thoughtful discussions on faith and public life in the country, ” said Van Pelt in the letter.
Hamilton’s City Council voted 13-2 to continue negotiations with Cardus. The majority of city councillors seem to agree that a partnership with Cardus may be in the city’s best interest as it will save on public expenditure, regardless of the potential impact on community groups.