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Recall campaign not allowed at Hats Off Day

Volunteers behind the campaign to recall Burnaby MLA Richard Lee are feeling more than excluded from Hats Off Day.

Volunteers behind the campaign to recall Burnaby MLA Richard Lee are feeling more than excluded from Hats Off Day.

The Heights Merchants Association, which hosts the festival this Saturday, is not allowing the recall volunteers to canvass inside the event and asked they refrain from collecting signatures on the side streets.

“We felt that was infringing on our democratic rights, and it was overstepping their bounds in terms of what they can tell us to do and not do,” said Jennifer Heighton, one of the key organizers with B.C. Citizens for Recall.

The recall group has until June 15 to collect 16,494 signatures to oust Lee, the Liberal MLA for Burnaby North.

Hats Off Day draws tens of thousands of people, and the recall volunteers were planning to collect signatures on the side streets after they were initially rejected from the festival.

When the Heights Merchants Association heard about the plan, executive director Isabel Kolic emailed the campaigners explaining Hats Off Day is “strictly non-partisan” and “non-political.”

“Hats Off Day’s purpose is not to create a venue for political campaigning of any kind, whether election campaigns or political causes. Our board of directors has asked me to remind (B.C. Citizens for Recall) that while you certainly have a democratic right to collect signatures if you choose, we believe this activity is not in keeping with the spirit of that day,” Kolic wrote.

In an interview with the NOW, Kolic explained that the association has received past complaints about people aggressively handing out pamphlets, and that elected officials are asked to stay at their tables.

“Obviously this is a democracy, and that’s an important aspect to protect in our country, but we also wanted them to understand the spirit of Hats Off Day,” Kolic said. “We don’t want to be condoning anything that’s viewed as partisan. … It just puts us in a really awkward position.”

That said, Heighton pointed out that politicians, including Lee, and advocacy groups like the Dogwood Initiative, are allowed to set up inside the festival, and some will be collecting signatures for their own petitions.

The recall volunteers are still planning to collect signatures on several side streets on north and south sides of Hastings Street, between Alpha and MacDonald avenues, about half a block from the festival barricades.