Former Vancouver city councillor Tim Louis is facing criticisms of stacking meetings of his municipal party with members of alleged cultlike groups.
It’s the latest twist in bickering that’s tearing apart the Coalition of Progressive Electors. The squabbles have led to resignations from the party’s executive, and COPE’s only elected civic official, school trustee Allan Wong, has left the left-wing party.
Now Louis, the internal chair, is being accused of using members of the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice and the Mobilization Against War and Occupation to influence votes during COPE membership meetings.
“Fire This Time now comprises the majority of Tim Louis’s voting bloc in general meetings,” Stuart Parker complained in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight when he announced his resignation from the COPE executive last November.
Parker attributed the defeat of his proposal that COPE adopt proportional representation as its internal voting system to the presence of Fire This Time members at a September meeting.
In 2008, Vancouver activist Ivan Drury released an open letter about why he quit Fire This Time. He claimed that this collective of MAWO and other related organizations is “like a cult”. Drury also stated that Fire This Time is the “production of the vision of one man: Ali Yerevani”.
Fire This Time was born out of a split within the Anti-Poverty Committee. It was also expelled from the peace coalition StopWar.ca in 2003.
In interviews this month, COPE corresponding secretary Kim Hearty also criticized the involvement of Fire This Time and MAWO in the party’s affairs.
“It’s just really hard to do anything, like, with Tim Louis, like, keeping such tight control over…general members’ meetings using MAWO,” Hearty told the Straight by phone. “It’s really frustrating.”
Both Parker and Hearty alleged that the Fire This Time and MAWO network is just like a “cult” controlled by Yerevani.
Louis pointed out that anyone who is a member of COPE is welcome to attend the party’s meetings.
“I think it’s very important for all of us on the left to do everything we can to not be sectarian,” Louis told the Straight by phone. “One of the reasons that the left has had difficulties in the past is because of a pattern, an unhealthy and unfortunate pattern, of sectarianism.”
The Fire This Time and MAWO circle includes the Vancouver Communities in Solidarity With Cuba. Louis is an admirer of socialist Cuba. “I’m not going to be critical of any organization that supports the positive achievements that have occurred in other countries around the world,” Louis said.
Yerevani dismissed as an “ongoing slander” persistent claims that the groups he has identified with operate like a cult around him.
“They have to prove it. The proof is on their side, not on my side,” Yerevani told the Straight by phone.
An activist of Iranian heritage, Yerevani also goes by the name Ali Izadi-Kharrazi. Yerevani said he has been a COPE member for “more than a decade”.
MAWO chair Janine Solanki said she participates in COPE meetings as a member of the municipal party. She asserted that MAWO as an organization doesn’t have anything to do with COPE.
“I really wonder why these kind of baseless accusations are being made against Tim Louis when, instead, Kim Hearty and her allies could be putting forward their own platform,” Solanki told the Straight in a phone interview.
COPE member Nicholas Ellan recalled in a phone interview with the Straight that “some people confronted Tim Louis” about Fire This Time and MAWO people at the party’s general membership meeting in September.
Although Drury claimed in his public letter in 2008 that Fire This Time functions “like a cult”, he also said that dismissing it simply as a cult is problematic.
“This designation denies the role of the young people who are the activist workers of the group,” Drury wrote. “Regardless of the negative impact of this group, it is not a universally negative group. The members of this group have committed themselves completely to work that they believe to be revolutionary and have done important work in forcing discussions on campuses and in some communities about issues of war, social and class struggle, and internationalist solidarity.”