Sent to: Mayor and Council
Human Resources Director
Office of the CAO
Integrity Commission Copied to: Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie
Barrie Women’s Advocacy Council
The day I am writing this is Sunday, December 6 — the National Day of Remembrance and Action of Violence Against Women. The first year I have not been able to physically attend a vigil for to commemorate the victims of the Montreal Massacre, and remember the other victims of femicide since. I have been involved in these ceremonies every year, including a hastily-put-together one at my university on December 7, 1989, when a group of (mostly female engineering) students came together to mourn, express our own fears, and speak of our hope that this would be a turning point — that this tragedy would be the wake-up call for changes to be made to ensure that women would no longer have to worry about being murdered in this country, simply for being women.
I spoke at last year’s National Day of Remembrance ceremony, held by the Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie, in the rotunda of City Hall. To my dismay, there was only one City Councillor who attended that ceremony — Councillor Keenan Aylwin. (I was later told by a friend that another member of Council had walked through with his girlfriend for the photo op, but did not stay for the service — in her words, “if you sneezed, you would have missed the appearance.”) A National Day of Remembrance, conveniently located in the lobby of their own workplace, yet only one out of eleven of our city representatives could be bothered to show up and participate.
Their absence said a great deal about the importance this Council places in keeping half the population of this city safe, or alive. Which should probably not have been a surprise, since 2019 was the year the City of Barrie climbed its way to the top of the CCPA’s “Worst City To Be A Woman In Canada” annual list.
In today’s “virtual” vigil, the Barrie Shelter’s Executive Director, Teresa MacLennan, stated that in previous years, they have shared that every six days in Canada a woman was killed because she was a woman. Now that figure is closer to every 2.5 days.
The day you will be receiving this letter, Monday, December 7, is the 50th Anniversary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women Report. And yet, women are less safe in this country, and city, than they’ve ever been. The hopes of December 7, 1970, and the hopes of December 7, 1989 have not become reality. The progress has been depressingly slow, and this pandemic has pushed back many of the advancements that have been made. Whether that be the skyrocketing rate of femicide, the economic losses of the “shecession”, or the dismissal and exploitation of the traditionally-female caring professions.
Monday, December 7 is also a day in which both General Committee and City Council will once again be dealing with the recent workplace harassment case — the one in which a sitting Councillor has a number of substantiated allegations against him, by a member of City Staff. The handling of this case, the words and (in-)actions of our representatives has also said a great deal about the importance this Council places in the safety of women, including their own staff — who they are obliged to protect, under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
We saw, on October 20, five Barrie City Councillors vote AGAINST calling upon the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the allegations. Those same five Councillors voted against referring the matter to external legal council, to find alternative actions that could be taken. Five City Councillors voted against investigating a staff member’s substantiated allegations against one of their peers — who was allowed to remain in the meeting during both the vote and the discussions.
Our City Councillors essentially voted to sweep the abusive behaviour of one of their own under the carpet, and block any possible reparative action on behalf of the victim.
Not only did their votes send out a message — the words they used when they took to the media to spin their story (an access and platform not granted the victim) involved the same rhetoric parroted any time a man in power is accused of disgraceful behaviour towards someone with less power. The softening of language in minutes, agendas, and other communications from City Hall that refer to it as a “workplace investigation”, the hiding of any mention of harassment allegations, or that the accused is a sitting City Councillor. Signalling not just to this complainant, but to any others who may be wanting to come forward now or in the future, that their voices will never be heard, because only the powerful can control the narrative. The victim is silenced, abused, and harassed once more — this time by a whole team.
Thereby not just doing a disservice to the complainant, and any other potential victims, but to the women of this city as a whole.
City Council is in a highly visible leadership position — the messages it sends out seep through every aspect of Barrie’s community. The messages it sends out are heard by women; are heard by young girls who absorb that a woman’s health and safety is not as important as a man’s reputation or his right to power over; heard by young boys who grow up to open fire in a classroom, or drive vans down busy sidewalks, targeting the people that society has taught them don’t matter as much as others, and do not have the right to defend themselves or to have their voices heard.
You talk a great deal about what a safe city Barrie is, but your actions are showing us that it is NOT a safe city for women
Those mass murderers of women aren’t wild aberrations from the norm. They are just a little further down the spectrum from the man who killed his wife because he could find no other way to direct his rage… the man who punched his girlfriend because she just wouldn’t stop nattering on at him… the man who screams and rolls his eyes at “those damned women” (I can hear some of your eyeballs now)… the man who flirts and slaps his co-worker’s ass and doesn’t understand why she won’t take it as a compliment… the man who jokes “hey, don’t forget I control your salary” while leaning a little too close… the man who has a few too many drinks with his buddies and corners a young woman in the bar, but they’re just trying to have a little fun…
Or the powerful man who has several substantiated allegations against him, who knows that his also-powerful peers will have his back. Because he — and they — have the control, so righteousness and justice are irrelevant.
Yes, City Council, you have shown the women of Barrie exactly where we stand, according to our city’s leadership. The women of Barrie have, of course, seen this from our “leadership” before. And we are very disappointed that you have still learned nothing from previous experience(s), and that there has been such push-back on the advances that could have, should have been made by now.
Agreeing — only after hearing the uproar from Barrie residents — to consult external legal counsel (but still not allow the Integrity Commissioner to investigate) is not enough to undo the damage caused. “Encouraging” members of City Council to participate in a national survey on workplace harassment and violence is not enough. Allowing the respondent to be present in discussions of this case, and even allowed to vote on related motions is completely unacceptable. The power imbalance exerted, and the attempts to maintain that power imbalance is unconscionable.
The women of Barrie have received the message, loud and clear, of what value our wellness and safety holds to Barrie City Council.
Now it is time for you to receive our message, loud and clear. We will not be satisfied with empty words or declarations, we will not be satisfied with task forces or advisory councils whose recommendations inevitably get ignored.
We will not be satisfied with lofty statements that aren’t backed up by solid policies and actions
Here are a few concrete examples of how you can demonstrate that Barrie City Council is willing to protect the wellness and safety of women at City Hall, and in the population at large:
make a Public Call upon the Respondent to resign immediately
join Ottawa City Council in pressuring the Minister of Municipal Affairs to allow a Councillor found to have committed serious misconduct to be removed from office
if the Respondent refuses to resign, to put measures in place such that no Councillor or Staff member need risk their health, wellness and safety in his presence again
make a Formal and Public Apology to the Complainant (while respecting her anonymity, if desired), to others who may have been harassed but were unable to come forward, and to the Residents of Barrie for the way the Complainant was treated, and the messages that her treatment sent to the rest of us
make a Formal and Public Apology to the entire City Staff for failing to uphold the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace), or the City’s Code of Conduct
have the Respondent and any other Councillors or Staff who tried to obstruct or deny justice to the victim take extensive Anti-Harassment and Human Rights training, before they are allowed to interact with, or oversee any Staff members
make Anti-Harassment and Human Rights training **mandatory** for all Management and Council, as part of an initial orientation, and annually throughout their term
investigate and amend City code, policies and procedures so that substantiated allegations of harassment are dealt with in a manner consistent with Federal and Provincial Human Rights Law, and never again left to a popular vote among the Respondent’s peers
make the health, wellness and safety of women key pillars of Barrie’s Community Safety & Well-Being Plan, as well as of the Healthy Barrie Accord
On December 7, 1970, and December 7, 1989, we had hope that the rights, wellness and safety of women would be improving going forward. Today is December 7, 2020 — I implore you to not take us back to the 1950s.
This is your chance to change the message, Council, to change your treatment of the women of Barrie, and to change this city for the better. Do not disappoint us.
Also signed by: Su Cadogan, Daniela Chase, Cathy Colebatch, Victoria Fenner-Moll, Loretta Fullerton, Trudee Romanek (and several Barrie women who are too terrified to add their name, for fear of retribution)
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.