A veteran city councillor from Pitt Meadows is being criticized for a post on Facebook with the word “retard.”
Unaware that her newsfeed could be seen by the public, Coun. Gwen O’Connell shared a meme on Sunday. It featured a pair of gorillas in repose having an imagined conversation.
One asks: “Why did you unfriend me?”
The other replies: “Because you’re a [expletive] r–ard.”
The captioned photograph was originally posted by Australian comedian Kevin Bloody Wilson and has been shared more than 100,000 times.
O’Connell, who has served on city council for 15 years, was shocked that people were offended with what she sees as an innocuous Facebook post.
“Are you kidding?” she exclaimed Tuesday. “You know what, I have no comment. But I will put a personal apology to anyone I offended on Facebook … that’s my personal account.”
O’Connell’s Facebook page notes she is the marketing manager of Wesbrooke and includes multiple posts of city-related events.
She posted an apology shortly after being contacted, which reads in part:
“Please be assured it meant nothing to point at anyone and it certainly did not mean anything by the use of the word retard. I would not and never will refer to anyone as a retard. I happen to have a very dear cousin who is mentally handicapped and that word is never used. It was a joke and before you start sending messages to the newspaper, call or send me a message. Starting things up in the newspaper is not the way to go.”
When they were originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation. However, the pejorative forms, “retard” and “retarded,” are now used widely in society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities.
According to R-Word.org, the word only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.
Mayor Deb Walters was one of three people to comment on the meme, writing, “oh my god, that’s so you…too funny.”
Walters was “disgusted” that people are trolling personal Facebook pages for fodder to criticize politicians.
“Anyone who knows Gwen and I know that we work so hard for the people in our community,” said Walters, noting that O’Connell just organized a record-breaking drive for the Friends in Need Food Bank.
“She finds the humour in everything and I don’t think that’s a bad way to be. I find it sad that this has become a story.”
Walters stressed her comment was a personal response back to a friend.
“I agree that it might hurt somebody to read it, I don’t know why it would,” said Walters.
“Some of the people who have written letters [to the editor] have done and said pretty horrible things, too. It’s just a comment on a cartoon basically. I am devastated over it and apologize if anybody is offended over it…I’ll think twice about everything I post now.”
Last August, Summer and Tori Brack asked students at Garibaldi secondary to stop using the ‘R’ word. Their brother Colton has Down syndrome and they find the use of the word hurtful.
“As a family, we always try to encourage people to be mindful of how words can really hurt people,” said Tori Brack, a social worker at Fraser Health’s acquired brain injury centre.
“This is definitely a word that really affects our family and probably always will.”
The Bracks encourage people to visit R-word.org and view their video titled “Spread the word to end the word: For Coly.”
Images like the one shared by O’Connell are even more hurtful.
“No one uses the R word as a good thing,” said Brack. “It is always used to describe something stupid, wrong or dumb. It is definitely a very negative word. Unfortunately, it’s a common trend in society. The R word is thought of as acceptable to use. But for our family, it’s a derogatory term and it hurts just as much as any other term. We’re hopeful one day it will be seen for what it is.”