J. David Popescu (born c. 1948) is a perennial candidate for public office in the city of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Popescu has run in several federal, provincial and municipal elections. He was convicted of willfully promoting hatred against homosexuals in August 2009, and was charged of advocating or promoting genocide and willful promotion of hatred against homosexuals in his February 2015 by-election campaign before the charges were dropped in December 2015.
PRIVATE LIFE AND EARLY CAMPAIGNS
Popescu worked at Inco in his twenties, but quit in 1972 after converting to fundamentalist Christianity. He has said that he does not campaign to win votes, but rather to warn citizens of the judgment he believes will be visited upon them by the Christian God if they do not live their lives in accordance with Biblical commands.
Popescu believes that the decisions of elected officials have made it difficult for citizens to avoid what he considers to be sinful activity. “The casino, pornography and undoing the Lord’s Day are opening the door for sin that destroys,” he said in the 2000 municipal election. “If we violate (God’s) standards, we’re doomed from the start.” On other occasions, he said that popular music stores should be closed because they “promote Satanic music”, and that Sudbury’s annual Dragon Boat races should be canceled because the boat designs invoke the devil. Popescu has also said that natural disasters and other catastrophes are divine judgment for earthly sins.
He has used his political campaigns to distribute a self-produced video, in which he delivers a series of sermons. In 2003, the Sudbury Star noted that this recording contained messages directed against homosexuals. In one sermon, Popescu says, “God burnt five homosexual cities alive, including women and children, as an example of what we are supposed to do to them. Instead, our evil government gives them rights.”
Popescu was charged with assault against his elderly mother in 2003, after a family member reported seeing a large bruise on her arm. Testifying at a bail court hearing, Popescu said that he had given his mother a “small swat and a light shake” to get her attention during a dispute over the placement of towels in their home. He expressed remorse for his action, but argued that it was not serious and did not constitute assault. He also testified that he had been violent toward his mother in the past, but said that this abuse had ended more than 25 years earlier. Acting as his own representative at trial, Popescu said that he had committed “unintentional assault” while “disciplining” his mother. Under cross examination from the assistant crown attorney, he also testified that he had lived with his mother his entire life, had not worked in the community since 1972, and survived off his mother’s small pension.
Popescu, who lived at a Salvation Army men’s shelter after being granted bail, was found guilty of assault following a day-long trial. The presiding judge expressed “very grave concerns” about the effect of Popescu’s controlling behaviour over his mother. He was sentenced to three years probation, and required to report for a psychological assessment. He subsequently received part-time work at the Salvation Army, and continued to protest his innocence.
During the 2007 provincial election, he distributed a DVD entitled Bible Science vs. Evolution Myth.
2008 ELECTION CONTROVERSY
Statement on Homosexuals at Debate
At a candidates’ debate staged for Sudbury Secondary School students on September 29, 2008, Popescu stated in response to a question on same-sex marriage that “homosexuals should be executed”. Following these statements, the Greater Sudbury Police Service announced that he was under investigation for violating Canada’s hate speech laws. Popescu repeated his previous statements one day after the debate, arguing that they were based on Biblical passages. He said, “I said I believe homosexuals should be executed . . . when I say homosexuals should be executed, I am speaking in terms of government actions. That is the way the Bible puts it.”
Response and Criticism
Many students who attended the debate expressed their disapproval of Popescu’s remarks, and demanded that his microphone be cut off. At the end of the debate, the school principal personally disavowed Popescu’s statement. The Sudbury Star subsequently printed an editorial entitled “That’s enough of Popescu’s bile”, describing him as “a religious extremist beyond any measured debate” who “contributes nothing to the democratic process”, and calling for him to be banned from future debates.
Gary Kinsman, an advocate for the Sudbury gay and lesbian community, sharply criticized Popescu and his remarks, stating that “He’s not simply saying that lesbians or gay men are mentally ill or somehow deviant or criminals. He’s saying we should be subject to the death penalty. I think sometimes violence and hatred towards gays and lesbians gets dressed up in sort of a religious guise and is somehow tolerated. I just don’t think it should be tolerated at all.”
On October 1, the four major party candidates in the riding — Liberal Party incumbent Diane Marleau, Conservative Party candidate Gerry Labelle, New Democratic Party candidate Glenn Thibeault and Green Party candidate Gordon Harris — announced in a joint statement that they would not participate in any further debates in which Popescu was included.
The Rainbow District School Board later announced that it would not invite Popescu to any further debates. Jean Hanson, the board’s director of education, was quoted as saying, “We do not tolerate statements that promote hatred or violence in our schools. Such comments are contrary to what is expected in a civil society. There is no justification for this.” Regarding the decision to invite Popescu to the debate in the first place, Hanson stated “We cannot predict what candidates will say in public forums but we can certainly take measures to ensure that what happened at Sudbury Secondary School with this particular candidate never happens again.”
Sudbury police stated on October 7 that they had completed their investigation, and were referring the matter to the Ministry of the Attorney General.
John Oakley, a talk radio host on Toronto’s CFMJ, subsequently interviewed Popescu and Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy regarding Popescu’s comments. During the interview, Popescu directly stated that Kennedy herself should be executed, leading to a second hate crimes investigation by the Toronto Police.
Popescu later said that said he stood by all the comments that were attributed to him, and that he was not concerned about facing possible criminal charges.
Trial and Conviction
On March 5, 2009, the Ministry of the Attorney General announced that they had concluded their investigation, and officially charged Popescu with two counts of willful promotion of hatred under section 319(2) of the Criminal Code. Contacted by the Sudbury Star, he again said that he would not retract any of his previous statements. His trial took place on August 7, 2009. Popescu represented himself, and said that he was “repeating what was in the Bible when he made the comments”. The presiding judge disagreed, saying that he was “not at all satisfied with the explanation by Mr. Popescu that his statements are based on his religious beliefs”. He said that Popescu “basically picks and chooses what is in his best interest, according to his interpretation of the Bible,” and “has clothed his disgraceful attitude to this community of people (gays and lesbians) in a religious context”. Popescu was convicted of willfully promoting hatred against homosexuals, and was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation for 18 months.
Popescu subsequently stood for office again in the 2010 municipal election, and a brief controversy resulted when he was invited to participate in a debate sponsored by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. Mayoral candidate Marianne Matichuk publicly criticized the Chamber of Commerce for not excluding Popescu from the debate, while candidate Derek Young called Matichuk’s move a populist ploy that would both undermine the democratic process and distract from other issues in the debate, and the Chamber of Commerce reiterated that its standing policy when sponsoring political debates was to invite all registered candidates regardless of their personal views. Popescu had already participated in other mayoral debates during the 2010 election campaign without incident, and none of the candidates for mayor, including Matichuk, opted to boycott the Chamber of Commerce debate over Popescu’s inclusion.
He ran for mayor again in the 2014 municipal election, although no major incidents involving him were reported during that campaign.
2015 BY-ELECTION INCIDENT
During the 2015 by-election in the provincial Sudbury electoral district, Popescu was nearly ejected from a candidates’ debate for making offensive anti-gay comments attacking provincial premier Kathleen Wynne, who is an openly gay woman. Several complaints were later filed with the Greater Sudbury Police Service alleging that Popescu was distributing literature advocating genocide of gay people, leading to a police investigation. The literature was distributed in the form of homemade compact discs and pamphlets left on the windshields of parked cars in various locations across the city.
On September 2, 2015, Popescu was arrested on charges of advocating or promoting genocide and willful promotion of hatred as a result of the police investigation. Police later confirmed that the hate speech in the documents again related to LGBT people. The charges were dropped in December 2015.