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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dawn Sloane calls Bill Karsten out for repeated interruptions

Halifax councillors deal with alleged sexism.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 5:14 PM

click to enlarge sloane.jpg
Halifax councillors Dawn Sloane and Bill Karsten came tete-to-tete at Tuesday’s council meeting. Sloane had been recognized to speak by mayor Peter Kelly, and was explaining her views on a relatively mundane issue, sidewalk sweepers, when Karsten, as he often does, interrupted her with asides and mumblings.

“Do you mind? I am talking; I’m sick and tired of you doing that,” said Sloane angrily. When Kelly tried to get the discussion back on track, Sloane explained further: “Your Worship, every time you turn around, councillor Karsten has something to say, and he does it only when women stand up---I’m sick and tired of it.”

click to enlarge karsten.jpg
Karsten in turn objected to that characterization. “Your Worship, I would kindly ask the councillor [Sloane] to retract that, because that’s three times, Your Worship---I’m 61 years of age, OK? I have never in my life had disrespect for women, and this is three times that the councillor and another councillor have propagated that and so help me God, I will not tolerate that, because it’s my reputation at stake, my good name at stake, and I will not have councillors belittling my good name in front of myself, the viewing audience and the public.”

Sloane refused to retract the statement, and Karsten insisted he wouldn’t let the issue die, but by the end of the meeting neither mentioned it again.

Readers can find a recording of the conflict up above the headline of this post, and a transcript of the entire exchange after the jump, and my observations after that.

The transcript follows:

Sloane: Do you mind? I am talking. I’m sick and tired of you doing that.
Your worship, everytime you turn around, councillor Karsten has something to say, and he does it only when women stand up---I’m sick and tired of it.

Karsten: Point of personal privilege. Your worship, I was whispering to you, that I believe the councillor was mistaken with the sidewalk sweeping machines that we’ve purchased over the last few years. My pooint of privilege, Your Worship, I would kindly ask the councillor to retract that, because that’s three times, Your Worship---I’m 61 years of age, OK? I have never in my life had disrespect for women, and this is three times that the councillor and another councillor have propagated that and so help me God, I will not tolerate that, because it’s my reputation at stake, my good name at stake, and I will not have councillors belittling my good name in front of myself, the viewing audience and the public. So, Your Worship, if the councillor has a particular thing---because, when it comes to misstatements, yes, there’s no doubt, Your Worship, that I am one that likes to follow detail. My only point of whispering to you, not to the councillor, was to clarify that issue. Whether the councillor standing was a male or a female has no issue on my comment.

Sloane: I’m not going to apologize, because he does it constantly. Until he stops mumbling and distracting people when we’re actually trying to do work here, I can not apologize. I will not apologize....
Unfortunately, this happens constantly at every meeting, and it’s not just me, it’s other individuals---I can hear him again, so Your Worship---when people are at the mic, people are supposed to be able to speak, and we’re not supposed to be disrupted, or interrupted, or have someone distracting them. That’s making it very difficult to get your point across, when you have that going on.

Peter Kelly: On this issue of gender is his point on privilege. On the other issue, he does admit he did speak out, so I guess

Sloane: No he doesn’t. He does it constantly, Your Worship, and until he’s chastised for doing it, I am not apologizing.

Kartsten: Your Worship, my final thought would be, it’s not up to this councillor to chastise me. Your Worship, I will speak to you in chambers and I’d ask the councillor to be there, but I will, at the end of the day, get my apology.

Sloane: No you won’t.

My thoughts: I've been attending council meetings for over three years. I go to council meetings, as opposed to watching them on TV, because you can see and hear things in person that the television doesn't convey. I can say without hesitation that Karsten is indeed the most disruptive of councillors, by far, offering up a barrage of secondary commentary, asides, interruptions, sighs and the like, speaking over and under the councillor recognized to speak by the chair. And yes, this behaviour is most noticeable when councillors Sue Uteck and Dawn Sloane speak. Uteck and Sloane are the most outspoken and most vocal of the female councillors, and both have objected, in open meeting, to Karsten's interruptions.

Is Karsten sexist? Well, it's impossible to read someone else's soul, but I'd argue that this is exactly the kind of situation that feminists allude to when talking about sexism. Karsten's counter to the sexism charge is, essentially, "I don't interrupt you because you're a woman; I interrupt you because you're an idiot." It's this total disregard, the discounting, the refusal to give an honest and respectful hearing to, which riles women, and rightly so, in my view. It calls for deep reflection on the part of men, an openness to criticism, rather than an immediate demand for apology for an affront that men can't even see they've committed.

I should add that Karsten's claim that he was merely "whispering" to Kelly is laughable. Karsten sits clear across the room from Kelly, with Sloane a closer distance to both; it's impossible for Kelly to be able to hear anything Karsten says without Sloane being able to hear it more clearly. Any "whispering" to Kelly is necessarily disruptive to Sloane.

Well, the soiled laundry is aired. We can only hope that this is a learning experience.

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