A women’s advocate and political expert are slamming a London city politician’s comparison of a longtime public health practice to convicted sexual offender Bill Cosby, calling his comments “inappropriate” and “irresponsible.”

Coun. Michael van Holst made reference to Cosby — who was sentenced to prison last year after being found guilty of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and molesting a woman in 2004 — during a lengthy debate about water fluoridation at Tuesday’s meeting of city council’s civic works committee.

The councillor, who was elected to his second term in October, said he believes the practice of adding fluoride to water – heralded by health organizations across the continent as one of the greatest public health advancements of the 20th century – may soon be seen as “the Bill Cosby of water treatment processes, because it’s something that we have thought was irreproachable, but maybe behind the scenes, it’s actually doing great harm.”

Megan Walker, head of the London Abused Women’s Centre, called van Holst’s comments at Tuesday’s debate “really irresponsible, offensive, inappropriate.”

“Being elected to city council comes with a lot of responsibility, and you’re being watched all the time. People expect that if you’re in a position of authority and power, you won’t use a very serious issue to make a very insignificant point, and I feel that’s what’s happened,” she said.

Van Holst should apologize for the remarks, Walker said.

“To make light of 50 allegations of sexual violence against an individual by naming him as an object – as a comparison – really minimizes the impact sexual violence has on women and girls,” she said. “He owes women in this city an apology, that’s for certain.”

In addition to his 2018 conviction, dozens of women have made additional allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against Cosby, for years a beloved figure on television and in comedy.

Contacted Wednesday, van Holst said his comparison was meant “to educate and not offend.”

“The point I tried to make was that things we think are great may actually be causing us harm,” he said in an e-mailed response, citing the impacts of fluoride sensitivities.

“My goal was to be certain that attention would be brought to this issue. For those who do not consider the parallels sufficient, I do extend an apology.”

Political scientist Andrew Sancton – the former head of Western University’s local government program – said the reference doesn’t belong in council chambers.

“I think it’s inappropriate to use that metaphor,” he said. “It’s highly charged, it’s something that has been extremely disappointing to so many people, and it just doesn’t seem to, in my view, fit with a debate that should be about the straight science of whether fluoride helps or not.”

City politicians on the civic works committee voted in favour of investigating a reduction in fluoride levels in the public water supply, from 0.7 parts per million to 0.6 parts per million – a recommendation council will debate next week.

The motion fuelled some theatrical debate Tuesday.

Before making his Cosby comparison, van Holst wheeled out a half-dozen plastic bins filled with 100,000 cinnamon hearts to make a point about the level of fluoride in toothpaste compared to the amount absorbed from drinking water.

*Original article online at https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/van-holsts-cosby-analogy-slammed-as-inappropriate