North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring has expressed his frustration with harassment of people who have made racist comments online about Cowichan Tribes in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in the First Nation. (Citizen file)

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring has expressed his frustration with harassment of people who have made racist comments online about Cowichan Tribes in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in the First Nation. (Citizen file)

Island mayor calls for de-escalation as social media gets uglier in racism fight

“Racism is wrong. But so is this kind of reaction”:

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring is calling for civility on social media, even in response to racist comments he himself decried earlier this week.

According to the mayor, threats of violence in response to racist comments resulted in credible threats of suicide by the initial commenter, as well as RCMP involvement.

On Jan. 10, Siebring put a post on his public Facebook page condemning racism that has been directed toward members of Cowichan Tribes following a COVID-19 outbreak in the First Nations community. That post went viral, with more than 200,000 views and extensive media coverage. Many other provincial and even federal leaders have joined Siebring in his call for this racism to cease.

On Jan. 14, Siebring posted again about the harassment some of the posters of racist comments have since received.

According to Siebring’s post, the harassment has included messages such as “You are a disgusting human being,” “Pathetic racist,” “I hope your children catch [COVID-19] and choke,” and “I am white. You are a vile excuse for a human being and I will do everything in my power to make sure your children are removed from you.”

The individual who was targeted with those messages has reached out to Siebring to “apologize unreservedly,” the mayor said.

“This person — and to be clear, there were lots of people posting [objectionable] stuff, not just this individual — initially wrote me a private message saying: ‘I was very wrong. I feel like [expletive]… I did put up an apology which was deleted… (But) there were many remarks on that apology. Some people were going to come to my home and cut me a new [expletive]. As well, I need a huge beating. I was told I should just kill myself.”

That person wrote to the mayor again the next day, saying, “I am ready to kill myself just to save my family from being harrassed.” They have since deleted their Facebook account, and Siebring said he hasn’t been able to respond to the messages.

“But the threats of violence have precipitated RCMP involvement. And the suicidal iterations were real enough to precipitate multiple hours of people sitting with this individual to ensure they didn’t self-harm.”

“Folks, THIS HAS TO STOP,” Siebring wrote. “Racism is wrong. But so is this kind of reaction. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. And we all need to learn to apply grace and forgiveness. Please, please… let’s tone things down.”

Cowichan Tribes councillor Stephanie Atleo said she fully agrees with Siebring.

“I know in seeing some of the messages, a lot of the anger is coming from non-First Nations citizens, and I do appreciate that they’re speaking up and letting individuals know this is not OK, but there are also ways to do that that are OK and not OK. I don’t want anyone to be on suicide watch because they are being harassed.

“I think it goes both ways: whether you are spreading racist remarks or challenging them, how you challenge them says a lot about yourself, too.”

There is sometimes a tendency to “overcompensate,” Atleo said.

“People know they have to do something, and they want to do it boldly,” she noted. “But they can go over the edge and be as cruel as the original act.”

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READ MORE: Cowichan Valley leaders condemn COVID-related racism

READ MORE: Racism towards Cowichan Tribes in COVID-19 fight is denounced by federal minister

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