Open Letter to Council re: Integrity Commissioner's Report on the BIA Chair
April 26, 2021
Dear Mayor and Council
Supervised Consumption Saves Lives - Barrie is a sub-group of Engage Barrie, with 63 active core members, and almost 800 followers across our social media platforms.
We are writing in support of the Integrity Commissioner’s report on Rob Hamilton’s racist and derogatory language against the potential clients of a Supervised Consumption Site, un-housed people, and those with mental health and/or substance use challenges. We trust that you will respect Ms. Craig’s findings and her recommendations, and vote to accept her recommended reprimand and remedial actions.
We further request that not only Mr. Hamilton, but all BIA Board members and staff receive the recommended training on addiction as a mental illness and human rights training, as well as ongoing anti-oppression training. One class has shown to have little effect on changing deep-seated attitudes – evidence makes it clear that regular training is required to make any significant impact.
While Mr. Hamilton’s language and attitudes in the referenced September BIA meeting were reprehensible, it has been made clear to us (from that meeting and others) that there is a culture within the BIA that is both tolerant of anti-science rhetoric, and intolerant of many of the people in our downtown core. The following are just a few examples:
In the full recording of the September meeting, Vice Chair Jason Ing and several other directors can be heard uttering similarly derogatory things about drug users, even if their language wasn’t as abhorrent as his – attitudes and language they’ve since chosen to hide from the public by going in camera (without valid reason) whenever they’ve wished to discuss the SCS.
Not one of the Board members spoke up against the language use in the meeting (although Secretary Michelle Huggins appeared distressed).
As far as we are aware, the only Board member (including the two Council representatives, Morales and Harris, who should have a full understanding of the City’s Code of Conduct) to make a complaint after the meeting was Randy Aylwin – whose concerns were dismissed.
Once the story and video was reported on by the CBC earlier this year, there were several of our members, as well as Engage Barrie and BIA members, who called the BIA office to express their concerns – these complaints were met with comments such as “oh, that’s just how he is”, and their complaints were also ignored.
Apart from the SCS issue, in the September video, and every meeting since, you can clearly see that several Board members are sitting in an office together, without using masks or proper social distancing, thus contravening all COVID safety guidelines issued by the Province and our local Health Unit.
Despite several downtown businesses having to shut down to protect staff from the anti-mask “freedom rallies” at Meridian Place, and many calls for the BIA to make a statement, they instead sent out a press release this Friday about the “both positive and negative” effects of these gatherings. This despite the fact that confirmed speakers for this weekend included MP Derek Sloan (expelled from caucus after accepting a donation from a known white nationalist), and Dave Bjorkman (who has ties to neo-Nazi / white nationalist organization The Soldiers of Odin). This essentially “good people on both sides” press release makes it difficult to believe the sincerity of Hamilton’s apology for racist comments, but also makes us question why nobody on the Board or staff thought twice before releasing it three days before his racist comments went before Council.
As one of the City of Barrie’s local boards, it is imperative that all of the BIA’s staff and Directors are able to uphold not just the City’s Code of Conduct and Human Rights Law, but also the Strategic Priorities of “fostering a safe and healthy city”, and “supporting a vibrant and safe downtown”. The way the BIA is currently operating, we don’t see how that is possible without insisting on ongoing anti-oppression training, as well as a retraining in the Code of Conduct and Strategic Priorities.
Yes, Mr. Hamilton’s words, attitudes and behaviour in that September meeting were indeed offensive. But the way that they have shaped the current Board and staff decisions have also been damaging. It is these attitudes, as well as willfully ignoring evidence-based science and practise that has fuelled the BIA’s response to the CMHA & SMDHU’s application for an SCS in the downtown core, where it is needed the most.
The way the BIA Board is currently acting is becoming a distraction from their role in advocating for the downtown businesses. That advocacy is needed, with the pressures faced on them from the lockdowns. They need to return to their mandate, and allow the Health Unit to continue with theirs.
A gateway to a healthy, vibrant community in Barrie is built not on hate and fear, but on the pillars of inclusivity and diversity, science and compassion.
Supervised Consumption Saves Lives - Barrie