A dispute over a Victoria byelection candidate campaigning at a popular farmer’s market escalated to the point where police were called, according to the parties involved.
The incident occurred at the Moss Street Market, a near 30-year-old weekly farmer’s market currently held in a large area around Sir James Douglas School, Robert J. Porter Park, and Brooke St. Park.
Byelection candidate Stephen Andrew had gone to the market on Saturday, October 31 with a group of volunteers to hand out flyers and speak to voters.
“Stephen showed up on the market grounds and our marketing manager spotted him,” Kyle Goulet, Executive Director with Moss Street Market, told Victoria Buzz.
“She said that we were operating a market and he was not allowed on market grounds.”
Goulet says that Andrew became belligerent and insisted that he was on public property and would not leave.
“An aggressively toxic attitude,” was how Goulet described Andrew’s reaction. “He was very caustic, very insistent, just an aggressive behaviour, being very confrontational, even when presented with a permit.”
Moss Street Market says that they are granted City and community permits to use the areas during their event, and they have rules and guidelines around political candidates promoting themselves at the market.
Their policy handbook states that “political parties running candidates in municipal, provincial or federal elections are welcome to have a table one week during the Market season, close to election time.”
However, Goulet says candidates are not allowed to freely range the market, and flyering, hawking, or approaching people is not permitted for the comfort of customers.
Andrew says that’s not reason enough to kick him out.
“I think we’re well within our rights to be on the public boulevard to encourage voter engagement and other things that are important in the election,” he said in an interview with Victoria Buzz.
The former journalist says he believes the incident was a biased political attack. On Facebook, he accused a Moss Street Market staffer of being associated with Together Victoria, a left-leaning municipal candidate slate.
Goulet denies that charge, saying that the Market has encountered these types of disputes in the past with candidates who have a range of affiliations. He says that in the recent provincial election, Green Party candidate Jenn Neilson also tried to campaign at the market and was asked to leave.
A spokesperson for the Green Party confirmed this, saying they had intended to ask the market for permission but had gotten communication lines crossed. They also say that the market’s boundaries were not terribly clear, but they left without further incident.
On October 31, the dispute between Andrew and Moss Street Market ended differently.
“Only once before have we had to call the police,” said Goulet. “That’s in 9 years of my managing the Market.”
A constable attended the scene, and after a short conversation, Andrew and his campaign team left. No charges or fines were laid in the incident, according to the parties involved.
Andrew added that his campaign team left of their own volition as they were scheduled to be elsewhere.
“After discussions with bylaw, I think we’re well within our rights here,” he said.
In an emailed statement, the City of Victoria told Victoria Buzz that they regulate outdoor public markets through a permit system.
“Because market operators are required to manage and maintain the market area, they have some control which businesses can set up within the market area,” the City said.
“However, they do not have exclusive use of those public spaces and, generally speaking, are not permitted to exclude members of the public from the area.”
They added that market operators operate independently from the City and do not act on behalf of or under the authority of the City.
A follow-up question on what constitutes a business vs. a member of the public was not answered in time for publication.
Andrew says he was entirely in the right and that he simply wants to move on.
“I disagree with [the Market] completely,” he said. “No matter what they say, they have produced no evidence that their statements are correct.”
For Goulet, however, the issue rests in Andrew’s reaction to the market’s request.
“Even common decency didn’t prevail,” he said. “I don’t know that I have anything to say to him directly, other than what I would ask of any candidate, and that is to be respectful of market policies.”