Updated: Oct 2, 2021
So, many have been asking “what happened?” with the workplace harassment case Monday night. And… well, for the longest time, none of us really had a clue. And now that the video of the 5pm General Committee meeting has finally been posted… well, it answers the question “what did they actually vote on at Council?”, but it sure as heck raises A LOT MORE questions!
The first concern, as we noted in our weekly Council Preview, was that there had been no public video link provided for the General Committee meeting. As it was listed as “Presentation re: Confidential personal information and solicitor-client privilege matter - Workplace Investigation” (note how the harassment claim has been minimized in the wording?), it’s understandable that the public would not be able to view the in camera portion of the meeting, but they should have been able to see the vote to go in camera, and the vote on the motion after coming out. You will note that a link to the video is still not available on the city’s Legistar site, but can only be found at https://youtu.be/tlxmGNl1qew, if you know what to look for. The video wasn’t available on Youtube until Tuesday afternoon (long after the City Council meeting at which the vote was ratified).
Score F for transparency.
So, by the time of the 7pm City Council meeting, nobody in the public knew anything about the 5pm General Committee meeting (as they should have). Which made it very frustrating and confusing when Council voted on the General Committee Report – but it was not stated what the GC motion (that they were now adopting) had been, nor was it available in the Legistar meeting notes or agenda. Even the mover, Deputy Mayor Ward, seemed confused what the motion was at first, confirming with the clerk whether it was to receive or adopt the report. The vote was to adopt the report, although no mention of what that was. And then the motion passed unanimously. Yes. Unanimously – as in, everyone voted yes.
Which is where the frustrating and confusing part comes in, because this report was dealing with the workplace harassment matter, and the only item on that General Committee agenda had been a presentation on the case.
Keep in mind what we DO know:
1. The case is about the alleged harassment by a Councillor upon a staff member.
2. On all previous votes regarding this case, Councillor McCann withheld his vote (follow the bouncing ball).
3. Amendment #1 to the motion regarding this item specifically included “…that this information on alternative action and related risks only be circulated to members not directly associated with the matter.”
So even if the natural assumption from #2 were incorrect, and it is another Councillor who is the respondent, there was a very obvious conflict taking place. As far as anyone was aware at that point, whichever Councillor WAS directly associated with this matter was nevertheless allowed to vote on the matter – so had either been privy to the confidential information they should not have received, or were voting “blind”, or had forgotten and voted in error. Either way, the Chair/Mayor should have reminded said member of the conflict, and that person should not have been allowed to vote. Why did the Mayor not follow this standard procedure?
Another interesting piece of information did get revealed shortly after this vote, during discussion over Councillor Harvey’s direct motion to change the reporting deadline in the Code of Conduct from 6 weeks to 6 months after an incident. If you watch https://youtu.be/tlxmGNl1qew, at 27:00 Deputy Mayor Ward mentions that he’s never heard of a case where the 6 week deadline had proven to be a problem. “Have we had any case where somebody waited more than the required time to put a request in for an Integrity Commissioner investigation?” Staff confirms they are unaware of any such case existing, although would defer to Ms. Craig for her confirmation.
ERGO: The reason for the Integrity Commissioner not investigating this complaint is NOT due to the complainant being late to file it. (As some had been previously implying.)
Score F for accountability.
But, back to all Councillors voting on the GC report on the presentation about the confidential matter. If you were having a Pollyanna evening and hoping it was just an oversight, that illusion would last until Tuesday afternoon, when the General Committee video was released. And you can see that in the GC meeting as well, ALL COUNCILLORS voted. Not only that, but ALL COUNCILLORS were in attendance, despite the motion that the information only be shared with those not directly associated with the matter.
So it appears the Councillor who was NOT supposed to receive information regarding this case attended the presentation on the case, and was allowed to vote on the motion after the committee returned from their in camera session.
If you take a look at the GC meeting (https://youtu.be/r6wd3pyT86E), you see that all ten Councillors plus Mayor are present at the opening of the meeting, as they take a vote to move in camera. Consistent with his previous voting patterns on this matter, McCann withholds his vote (although the Clerk claims all are in favour, for some reason). And then, when the committee comes back from in camera, ALL Councillors, including McCann, are present – which seems to indicate that all Councillors were present for the confidential presentation (!). Which seems to go directly against the previous motion and instruction regarding this case, as well as indicates a SERIOUS conflict of interest – which neither the Chair/Mayor nor any other person on screen mentions.
We do, at least, finally learn what the motion was that was adopted later that evening at City Council: “That the personal information matter and solicitor/client privilege matter on the November 9 General Committee meeting be deferred to a General Committee meeting on November 23.” And then EVERYONE votes yes. (Including a very quick-off-the-mark Thomson and a GRINNING Jim Harris.)
While we know very little about the case, we do know that a Councillor allegedly assaulted a staff member (and that the union investigation into the matter found many of the complaints to be substantiated). Judging by J.Harris’s amendment that Councillors be encouraged to take part in the National Survey being conducted by the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, it is safe to assume that the complainant is a female. We do know that, up until last night, only one Councillor (McCann) had withheld his vote on all matters pertaining to that case. We do know that Councillors Thomson, N.Harris, Harvey, J.Harris and Morales voted AGAINST the Integrity Commissioner investigating the allegations. We do know that Councillors Thomson, N.Harris, Harvey, J.Harris and Morales initially voted AGAINST the matter being referred to external legal council to discuss possible actions. We can now surmise that the reason the Integrity Commissioner has not investigated this complaint is NOT because the complainant failed to meet the deadline to report. We do know that the member of Council directly associated with the case was not supposed to receive information on the legal advice, yet was present at the meeting for which the presentation had been scheduled, appears to have been participating in the in camera session, and was allowed to vote on the resulting motion. We do know that ALL COUNCILLORS voted to defer this matter for another two weeks.
Which begs several questions. Including why such an obvious conflict of interest in attendance and voting was allowed? Including why this matter is being delayed again – and what sort of special hell the complainant must be going through right now, as a result of all these stall tactics? Why did five Councillors vote against investigating the matter? Why did those five Councillors essentially throw a city staff member under the bus in order to keep SUBSTANTIATED FACTS about one of their own silenced? Why did all Councillors vote to delay any action towards justice for this (presumably female) staff member yet again. (Why did the result of this vote make J.Harris so grin with delight?) And why did the Mayor (who previously proudly trumpeted the creation of the Women’s Advocacy Council) not step in with, at the very least, a guiding preamble, a reminder about workplace safety and the City’s responsibility to uphold it, or a reminder/caution about conflict of interest?
Score F for transparency. Score F for accountability. Score F for creating an equitable workplace environment. Score F for empowering those Council is hired to serve.
Is it any wonder that Barrie has CONSISTENTLY been rated as one of the CCPA’s “Worst Places to Be A Woman In Canada” over the last few years, and was THE WORST PLACE TO BE A WOMAN IN CANADA in 2019??? The Women’s Advocacy Council has their work cut out for them. If only we had faith that Council would listen…
We’re watching you, City Hall. DO BETTER.