Ward’s words scrutinized after candidate says choice of Choo confused for Jew

Ward Sutherland, seeking re-election as Ward 1 Councillor, is taking one of his opponents to task over what he says are false accusations he used the term ‘Jew’.

On the evening of October 11, a Ward 1 candidate forum was held at the Tuscany Club in northwest Calgary. During a discussion of public art, Sutherland stated his concerns with the committee that selects artists for municipal projects.

“One of the biggest issues was the fact that the people, the committee that was picking the art, first of all, 10 of the 10 people were artists,” said Sutherland. “When they were looking at it, they were going, well, Johnny (disputed word) from New York, he’s the best artist so we’re going to use him and not even look at it.”

On Thursday, Sutherland claimed he said ‘Johnny Choo’ while critics heard ‘Johnny Jew’. “There were over 300 people in the room,” Sutherland told CTV Calgary.  “I was going on about how we should do local artists, et cetera. When I made the comment to Choo, there was no reaction from the candidates, there was no reaction from anybody in the audience.”

“If I was referring to something else, it would have been a controversy right away.”

The forum was posted live to Facebook on the 2017 Ward 1 – All Candidates Forum. Sutherland’s contentious comment appears at the 54:50 mark (Video: 2017 Ward 1 – All Candidates Forum)

Sutherland releasing the following statement on Thursday afternoon.

“During our discussion about public art at the forum I referenced a famous New York designer with the last name of Choo,” said Sutherland in a statement. “The point I was hoping to drive home was the importance of utilizing local artists rather than those from abroad.”

Sutherland later confirmed to CTV Calgary that he was referring to Jimmy Choo, a shoe designer who he assumed was from New York because of references to the designer on the television show Sex and the City. Choo was born in Malaysia and his operations are based in the United Kingdom

The Ward 1 candidate says he condemns racism and pointed a finger at an opponent for ‘creating a media story out of something that is simply not true’.

“One of the opponents was Chris Blatch,” said Sutherland. “He’s run a negative campaign from Day 1. He’s said some very outrageous stuff and, if you watch the forum, he was very negative against other candidates too.”

“It’s three days before the election,” added Sutherland. “Let’s not fool ourselves, there’s a purpose behind doing this whole story.”

Chris Blatch remains steadfast in his belief that Sutherland made an antisemitic comment during the forum. “It’s completely inappropriate for anyone to make a comment like that, let alone a councillor,” Blatch told CTV. “I don’t think there was any chance it was misheard.”

Ward 1 candidate Coral Bliss Taylor confirmed to CTV that she heard Sutherland’s use of the word Jew. “Yes I heard the comment, and I agree it is not the language we expect or deserve from our leadership,” said Taylor in an email statement. “Unfortunately this is not Ward’s first insensitivity. Many remember the miming incident in council. I keep hearing a strong desire for change among the people I speak to in Ward 1, and this type of incident is part of the reason.”

Early Thursday evening, the University of Calgary’s Graduate Students’ Association announced it was revoking the Political Leadership Award it had awarded Sutherland in April of this year.

“The Graduate Students’ Association Political Leadership Award was created to recognize leaders in the political field who championed graduate student issues and demonstrated a high level of conduct while doing so,” said Willem Klumpenhouwer, the association’s vice-president external, in a statement. “Mr. Sutherland’s recent comments have demonstrated that he is not capable of the conduct we expect in our leaders.”

With files from CTV’s Jordan Kanygin