News / Calgary

UPDATE: Outrage boils over Ward Sutherland's apparent 'Johnny Jew' comment

A video circulating shows the incumbent councillor making reference to Johnny Jew from New York in a Calgary Ward 1 all-candidates forum

Ward Sutherland

Elizabeth Cameron / for Metro

Ward Sutherland

Public art comments are again causing public outrage – but this time it's a politician's comment landing him in hot water.

On Wednesday evening, Ward 1 candidates were asked to talk about issues they are passionate about. Whether that's the Calgary Flames, secondary suites, bike lanes, the removal of fluoridation from our water and art projects on city infrastructure.

The incumbent, Ward Sutherland, jumped right on on the city's public art program and what he found when he dove into the weeds back in 2013. Ward Sutherland said when he was elected and found that 10 out of the 10 panellists in charge of choosing the artists for projects were artists themselves.

"And when they were looking at it, they're going well 'Johnny Jew from New York he's the best artist so we're going to use him and not even look at it.'"

In looking up the term Johnny Jew, Metro found an urban dictionary post about the phrase which likens the term to someone who is stingy, cheap or tries to get items for free. The phrase doesn't appear in the Oxford Dictionary or the Merriam Webster.

There's also a guy named Johnny Jewel who is an American record producer, composer, and visual artist – but he's not from New York, he was born in Texas.

A Deviant Art page that belongs from a Jonny Jew from the United States is also active.

Thursday afternoon, Sutherland released a statement noting that he was referring to a famous New York designer, last name Choo (perhaps, Jimmy Choo).

"I encourage anyone with questions to watch the video of the forum, that is now online, or talk to your community members that were at the forum and heard for themselves," wrote Ward in a statement.

"As you can see in the video no one made any reaction after my comment - no one at the forum, including the journalist who was present at the debate seated in the front row, has made accusations over my comments - if I would have said something racist there would have been an immediate response."

Ward 1 candidate Cam Khan, who was sitting next to Sutherland during the debate, said he didn't clue into what the candidate was saying because he was concentrating on how he would answer the question.

But Khan said if Sutherland made these comments he should resign.

"Firstly, I didn't understand what he said, but if he said racist comments that's unacceptable," said Khan. "If he said racist comments he should immediately resign ... he's not representing all communities."

Martin Sampson, director of communications for CIJA, the advocacy agent of Calgary Jewish Federation, said the comment was unbecoming of an elected official or any perso of good will.

"Whatever the intent of the comment, it was an inappropriate use of language that perpetuates antisemitic stereotypes and as such is unacceptable," he said. "Mr. Sutherland should apologize and be more mindful of his language in future."

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