She slayed plans for a big new casino in downtown Vancouver – now Sandy Garossino is on her way to Toronto.
Ms. Garossino, who is a business owner, community advocate, and former Crown prosecutor, founded Vancouver Not Vegas, a group that in 2011 led the charge against a proposed $500-million casino near BC Place Stadium.
She will be in Toronto next week, where she will join Councillor Adam Vaughan at an event examining the case against a downtown casino.
The Vancouver casino had been announced by the province and stopping it seemed like a long shot. But Vancouver Not Vegas rallied opposition and hundreds of people signed up to speak at public hearings, which stretched for seven days. Vancouver city council went on to unanimously vote against the casino, with Mayor Gregor Robertson saying it didn’t fit the city’s image.
Ms. Garossino spoke with The Globe and Mail by telephone on Tuesday.
What will your message be at next week’s event?
There are so many aspects to this, but fundamentally I think this comes down to a governance question. What are the guideposts, what are the signifiers of good governance? I think one of the key elements of good governance is that government is not in conflict of interest with its weakest and most vulnerable members. And that’s what the casino industry really represents because of the proximity to addiction, to criminal activity, to a variety of other social ills.
How did this event come about?
A number of people who have been anxious about the casino proposal in Toronto have been in touch with me to find out how Vancouver Not Vegas achieved its objectives.
What do you tell them?
Basically, I tell them I see the Toronto situation as being much better in terms of opposing the casino than Vancouver was. They have so many more influential people. More people from the business community are now stepping forward. I think that the opposition is in a much stronger position than Vancouver. The debate in Vancouver, in a way, took the public by surprise. The casino was announced essentially as a done deal and the people didn’t even realize they had the opportunity to stop it until very late in the game. The conversation had a chance to mature in Toronto. Many voices have had an opportunity to be heard.
Was there a turning point in the Vancouver casino debate?
I think the real turning point was when the public became aware that they had the opportunity to stop it. In my experience, whenever a community has an opportunity to fight it, they will fight it, and they will make it known to councillors that there will be a political price to pay for approving a casino. You don’t really lose votes by saying no to a casino but you can lose votes by saying yes.
When you started Vancouver Not Vegas, did you really expect to stop the casino from going forward?
Because I had been reading polling data, I knew how strongly the public would oppose a casino once it became a public issue. For the longest time, it was quiet. The public didn’t know. The biggest hurdle for any casino opposition is to actually get the message out. Once you’re there, you’re on third base. The criminal issue is always present. In Vancouver, it was extremely important that the British Columbia health officer and all of the Vancouver-area public health officers unanimously took a position opposing the casino. It was very significant that we had a letter from 18 senior policing veterans with experience in organized crime. Those were really key benchmarks and milestones for us to hit.
Are you worried Torontonians will tell you to mind your own business?
This is a decision for Torontonians to make. This is their city. I can only inform Toronto about what we learned. I knew nothing about the casino industry before we got involved with this. I would never pretend to advise Toronto about what their decision should be, but perhaps about what facts it’s important for them to know.
Do you expect Toronto to reject a new casino?
I don’t know what Toronto will do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.