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Letter to the Editor: Where's the line between accountability and harassment?

Contributing member Michael Speers's letter to the editor, concerning the recent accusations against Engage Barrie Organization and its former Chair.


Just when I thought Barrie politics couldn't get more ridiculous, out come the accusations and mudslinging regarding a certain satire Twitter account and the person accused of being behind it.

Now, harassment of any kind is wrong. Always! But when said "harassment" is actually accountability, then we need to stop and really take a close look at what is going on.

I watched in astonishment during the council meeting on Sept. 21 as a motion to support provincial legislation that would protect municipal workers from harassment and abuse by members of council became a vehicle for our politicians to turn themselves into victims. Coun. Sergio Morales even tried to tack on an amendment that took a lot of the focus away from the true victims and placed it on himself and his colleagues.

It seemed to be a clear example of centring the interests of the powerful.

Do politicians deserve abuse more than others? Of course not. Do they deserve to be held accountable as our democratic standards demand? Definitely. And I believe that's the issue here. Politicians in this city aren't used to the increased level of scrutiny we've seen over the past few years.

Crying "harassment" is how many of them have chosen to respond to what they perceive as a threat to the way democracy has been practised here for too long.

Even Mayor Jeff Lehman chimed in this week. I was troubled to see a sitting mayor call out and name a resident on Twitter the way he did. I can't help but notice that he's book-ending his last term as mayor with defining political expression issues. Remember when he failed to support Coun. Keenan Aylwin when he spoke out about racism and his personal view that other political representatives weren't doing enough to name and shame white nationalists? The mayor's approach to this current issue about a citizen's right to use a social media platform to express criticism is unmistakably similar.

The latest in the salvo of accusations comes from Coun. Robert Thomson, who is refusing to attend a local debate because of the organizer's alleged connection to The Biased Scribe Twitter account. He, too, says he was harassed and ridiculed when the way he pronounced "library" was mentioned in a tweet. I would never make fun of a person's habit of speaking — someone's odious political views and bad decisions speak the loudest.

But there is an argument to be made that since the discussion was about cuts to the library budget, this "harassment" could be viewed as valid political commentary. Maybe it wasn't funny, but it doesn't have to be if the reason behind it was to make a point.

The same goes for a lot of the criticism Councillor Natalie Harris has faced. I was blocked on social media by her a few years ago when I questioned why she was making greeting cards for people addicted to drugs after voting against a life-saving supervised consumption site (SCS). I know more than a few people who experienced the same treatment.

Is it any wonder someone would choose to remain anonymous on social media? Personal protection concerns and fear of retribution are just two of many other legitimate reasons.

We are finally beginning to see some true democracy in Barrie. Politicians may only want us to express our democratic rights once every four years, but I'll be damned if I let them get away with it. I'm glad to see there are many other people in the community who feel the same way.


Engage Barrie Organization encourages our members and guests to contribute blog posts on a variety of topics that fall under our "equitable, empowered, engaged" umbrella, in the hopes of sharing a variety of perspectives and experiences. Please be aware that the views and opinions expressed by our blog contributors do not necessarily reflect any official position of Engage Barrie Organization.



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