Security for the Canadian Senate is apologizing to a Calgary man who recently visited the political landmark and claimed security staff were “shaming” members of the country’s energy industry — all because of a T-shirt.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Senate and members of parliament, William Lacey outlines a fun experience he and his wife had touring various landmarks the nation’s capital last weekend “with one very notable exception.”
Lacey said when he and his wife went for a tour of the Senate, he was taken aside by a security guard and told his shirt — a black T-shirt with the slogan “I HEART CANADIAN OIL & GAS” on the front — may be offensive. He said he was given the option to either leave the building or turn his shirt inside-out to continue the tour, which he did.
“What was the offending shirt?” Lacey said in his letter, which he said he wrote on the plane ride home and also posted online. “Nowhere does the shirt say anything negative, insulting, defamatory or insulting to others.”
“The last time I checked, there was nothing illegal about the Canadian energy sector, and yet I was made to feel as though I should be embarrassed for what I was wearing,” he wrote.
Lacey, who is the CFO for Steelhead Petroleum, went on to say he noticed other guests at the Senate wearing shirts with graphics like a skull with a cross on the forehead, an anti-discrimination slogan, and a peace sign.
He said he and his wife later went to the House of Commons, expecting the same kind of treatment, but instead felt welcomed and said no one, including security guards he spoke to, raised concerns about his shirt.
“I would like an answer as to why I was treated in such a manner at the Senate and if it is the policy of the Government of Canada to shame members of the Canadian energy industry,” Lacey wrote in his letter.
‘There shouldn’t be interpretation’
In an interview with Global News on Thursday, Lacey said after posting the letter online he started getting many responses, including a phone call from Senator Doug Black, a conversation with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and a retweet from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Lacey said other senators reached out to say they were offended to learn about his experience.
“This morning there was a meeting of [the Standing Committee on] Internal Economy, one of the committees for the Senate, and at the opening of that meeting, one of the senators read out my letter and there was a fairly, not heated, but active conversation about the letter asking for some answers,” he said.
Lacey said he didn’t wear the shirt to make a statement on his day exploring Ottawa.
“I’m just part of the crowd. I’m not trying to go up to people and confront them, I’m just trying to advertise the fact that I think Canada does a good job,” he said.
“To me, I think, whenever you’re going to an institution like that, there shouldn’t be interpretation, it shouldn’t be personal.”
Lacey said the head of security of the Senate reached out to him on Wednesday, asking for his ticket information.
In a statement to Global News on Thursday, Parliamentary Protective Services Chief of Staff Guillaume Vandal said the department apologizes to Lacey.
“In this case, the personnel misinterpreted a message on the visitor’s article of clothing,” Vandal said.
“The staff involved will be receiving operational guidance and training with respect to visitors to the Hill.”
After receiving the apology, Lacey said he “will give credit where it is due.”
“I am appreciative of the fact that the Senate and the associated parliamentary staff are sensitive to these sort of issues and address them in an expeditious manner,” he told Global News later Thursday afternoon.
“I am happy with this outcome, and I have greater confidence that this won’t happen again to others who visit Ottawa and take in all the amazing things that city has to offer.”
According to the Parliament of Canada website, items such as cameras, recording devices, binoculars, umbrellas, overcoats, bags and parcels are not permitted in the Senate.
Visitors are also asked not to speak, write or read during debates, and are asked not to enter or leave galleries if a vote is happening.
“Participating in any form of demonstration inside the buildings is prohibited, including wearing items or clothing with visible political messages,” the guidelines read. “At a minimum, visitors are required to wear casual dress and footwear. Hats must be removed in the Senate galleries, though traditional and religious headwear is permitted.”