SURREY – Use of the word “retarded” during a Surrey Board of Trade-hosted allcandidates meeting on Oct. 29 brought Surrey First’s Mike Starchuk a lot of heat.
The first-time council candidate was speaking about freezing taxes during the meeting at the time of the comment. Starchuk said when firefighters go into a building when everyone is running out, that’s pretty stupid, but running into a building with fewer people than needed is “retarded.”
During the meeting, TeamSurrey council candidate Stephen Gammer immediately called him out for the comment.
“When he made the comment, I did say afterward that I thought it was inappropriate because I personally have had people with mental illnesses and handicaps in my life,” Gammer said.
Starchuk apologized at the meeting, he added, which Gammer took as being sincere.
“I think it’s something he feels quite badly about saying. And it’s tragic that he did say it.”
Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition are taking issue with the “inappropriate slur” and are calling for the Surrey Fire Fighters to “justify” their endorsement of the candidate.
Starchuk is a co-founder of the Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society, which supports organizations such as the BC Special Olympics Society and the Down Syndrome Research Foundation.
SSC candidates Laurie Guerra and Beau Simpson have immediate family members with disabilities and say they were personally “disgusted” with the remark, said a press release.
“I have been an advocate for autism awareness since my son was diagnosed at the age of six,” Guerra said in a statement. “I was truly shocked to hear about Mr. Starchuk’s use of such a slur within a public forum.”
Simpson, whose sister has dealt with a physical and mental disability all her life, said “the use of that word is something that I find personally offensive.”
McCallum said Surrey Fire Fighters’ “silence” following the “outburst” is unacceptable.
“The obligation of the Surrey Fire Fighters to speak out rises above politics or an election campaign,” the mayoral hopeful said. “I call on the fire fighters to denounce such language publicly, as their current silence speaks volumes about the kind of commitment they have to the charitable causes they are involved with.”
Starchuk has since issued a public apology on his website and says the incident is no reflection on Surrey First or any organizations he’s involved with.
The former firefighter said Tuesday it was a “mistake” and an “error in judgment,” adding use of the word is out of his nature.
“If I could turn back time, I’d do so instantly,” he told the Now. “I’ve done everything I can in my power to right this.”
Starchuk said he’s received a lot of heat from people in the community, as well as on Twitter.
“I’ve replayed and replayed this over in my head, just like when you’re in a car accident,” he said.
Starchuk said he’s hopeful his background can speak for itself, which includes 32 years as a fire fighter, 20 years working with the Variety Club, as well as the Centre for Child Development during his time with the Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society.
“I understand the anger of those people that have friends or relatives in those positions and they’re probably sick and tired of hearing it that way. But at no time was it directed at that segment of the population,” Starchuk said.
Surrey Fire Fighters Association president Mike McNamara said, “Mike was the first person to acknowledge and apologize for using an inappropriate word to describe a situation. It is not a reflection of him or his views, and certainly doesn’t reflect his 18 years (working) with Variety Club, and as one of the founding directors of our Firefighter’s Charity.
“It was a poor choice of words from a great guy who is very deserving of our support. You will not meet a better guy in any of the political camps. I understand he has also placed a public apology on his website,” McNamara added.