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Report re: Harassment Allegations against Alyssa Wright and Engage Barrie Organization

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

This is a public version of the internal report presented to EBO's membership at its Annual Members Meeting on November 27, 2022.

An investigation had been conducted into the allegations of abuse and harassment that certain members of City Council had made against Engage Barrie Organization’s then-Chair Alyssa Wright on September 27 and in the coming weeks, as well as the way in which these allegations were subsequently used to call upon candidates to boycott the all-candidates meetings hosted by Engage Barrie Organization.

The members in attendance at the Annual Members Meeting were in agreement with the decisions made in the investigation, and Ms. Wright was elected to the Board of Directors for a three-year term.


Summary of Accusation and Investigation

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, Councillor Natalie Harris released a statement to the media calling out Alyssa Wright for alleged “social media harassment and verbal abuse.” Specifically identified was Ms. Wright’s association with an online account, The Biased Scribe, which is active on Twitter and via a website, and posts commentary on the activities of Barrie city council and committee meetings. Allegations were made of direct ties between Engage Barrie Organization (EBO) and The Biased Scribe and that The Biased Scribe account functioned as an extension of EBO.

This statement was followed by communication from other members of Barrie’s city council (then-Mayor, Jeff Lehman, Councillors Morales and Thomson), either directly with EBO and the municipal election candidates, or via the media, with claims of harassment.

The Board and EBO as a whole take allegations of harassment and abuse seriously. EBO unequivocally denounces abuse or harassment of anyone, including elected officials.

As a result of these allegations the Board conducted several meetings to review the allegations and determine how to proceed. During that time Ms. Wright stepped down as Chair of the Board, took a leave of absence from the Board, and removed herself from involvement in the all-candidates meetings that were taking place from October 1st to 13th.

The Board carried out investigations into the allegations through the months of October and November, reviewing all the claims that had been presented either directly to EBO or via the media. Because this is a serious and complicated matter, the Board wanted to take the time to explore the claims fully.

Our investigation included:

  • A full review of the correspondence sent to us by the accusing council members, as well as the accusations printed in local media and their social media accounts.

  • A full review of the Biased Scribe Twitter account and website.

  • Invitations to the accusing councillors and the election candidates who had been included in email conversations from the accusers to provide any additional “substantive, specific examples of threats, abuse or harassment” to forward them to our interim Chair. No such submissions were received.

  • Review by independent third parties to get their opinions on the material/claims that had been presented, both in the media and through direct communication. This included legal experts in the field of defamation, slander, and libel.

Conclusions from the Investigation

Through this investigation, neither the Board nor any of the independent third parties were able to substantiate the claims of harassment based on the examples provided. In fact, some of the examples demonstrated the opposite of their claims. (See Addendum [below] for additional details on the definition of harassment used for the purposes of this investigation.)

Also, the legal experts each referenced the content from The Biased Scribe as “fair comment as public interest”, and cited Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada’s upholding of the essential connection between freedom of expression and the political process.

During the investigation the Board also concluded that, although Ms. Wright is active with both EBO and The Biased Scribe, those activities are conducted independently and all actions by Ms. Wright on behalf of EBO have been conducted under the principals of EBO.

As a result of this investigation no further action will be taken on Ms. Wright in this matter. The Board will continue to count Ms. Wright as an active member of EBO and extend to her full rights as such a member, including the opportunity to run for, and sit on, the Board.

As a Board we place utmost value and importance in our accountability to our members and encourage members to raise any concerns they have so we may address them in a timely manner.

Sincerely, on behalf of the EBO Board,

Rob Romanek, Chair


The Definition of Harassment for the Purposes of this Investigation

  • Harassment is a form of discrimination. It includes any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time. Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.

  • Harassment occurs when someone:

    • makes unwelcome remarks or jokes about your race, religion, sex, age, disability or any other of the grounds of discrimination;

    • threatens or intimidates you because of your race, religion, sex, age, disability or any other of the grounds of discrimination;

    • makes unwelcome physical contact with you, such as touching, patting, or pinching.

According to the Government of Canada’s “Is It Harassment?” tool, each of the following must be demonstrated (this is workplace-specific, not the case in this situation, so just used as guideline):

  • The respondent displayed an improper and offensive conduct including objectionable acts, comments or displays, or acts of intimidation or threats, or acts, comments or displays in relation to a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act;

  • The behaviour was directed at the complainant;

  • The complainant was offended or harmed, including the feeling of being demeaned, belittled, personally humiliated or embarrassed, intimidated or threatened;

  • The respondent knew or reasonably ought to have known that such behaviour would cause offence or harm;

  • The behaviour occurred in the workplace or at any location or any event related to work, including while on travel status, at a conference where attendance is sponsored by the employer, at employer sponsored training activities/information sessions and at employer sponsored events, including social events; and

  • There was a series of incidents or one severe incident which had a lasting impact on the individual. Note that in the case of sexual harassment particularly, a single incident may be viewed to be more significant in circumstances when your relationship at work is one where the respondent has influence or power over you with regard to career advancement, performance review, absenteeism, day to day management of activities, work assignments and the carrying out of progressive disciplinary measures.

Additional Considerations and Actions Resulting from the Investigation

  • Prior to these allegations being raised with a letter to the media and public, none of the councillors who made allegations had previously addressed their concerns directly with either Ms. Wright or Engage Barrie Organization.

  • No other action by the allegers has been taken against Ms. Wright.

    • If the claims could be substantiated, then pursuing other avenues of action – e.g., a criminal investigation or having the Biased Scribe’s Twitter account shut down – would have been expected.

  • Along with the timing of the allegations, one of the primary directives associated with the allegations was to discredit and disrupt the all-candidates meetings that had been organized by EBO.

    • Demands from the accusing councillors to boycott the meetings continued even after Ms. Wright had stepped down from her position as Chair and away from involvement with the meetings themselves.

  • Demands were also made for EBO and CARP Barrie (co-organizers of the mayoral all-candidates meeting) to publicly denounce Ms. Wright as a harasser, and threats were made in the media about “consequences” if they refused.

  • Since the accusations against Ms. Wright first broke, we have heard from our own members and the public in general that they are afraid to speak up in case they are similarly targeted.

  • Holding elected representatives accountable for their votes and actions – including being critical or even harsh in that criticism – is a protected fundamental right of every Canadian citizen, including every citizen of Barrie.

  • As stated by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association:

    • When government actors are allowed to decide which opinions can be expressed and which cannot, an open, vibrant and diverse society quickly breaks down. …Informed political debate requires that [freedom of expression] be strongly protected, and it is only through free expression that individuals can take action to ensure that our governing institutions are held accountable.

The people who formed Engage Barrie Organization originally came together out of frustration for their voices not only being ignored by local government but being actively suppressed by certain members of Council.

This defamation of our Organization and our former Chair reinforces the need for us to continue our work to help create an equitable community, empowered people, and engaged local democracy.

The process of this investigation has raised serious concerns that politicians can suppress debate by vaguely accusing a private citizen of harassment without providing substantive examples. The Board has concerns on the impact these types of actions will have on future elections and open political discussion within Barrie. Additionally, these spurious allegations of harassment are, in themselves, harassment and defamation of Ms. Wright and EBO.

A public official using their position to harass a private citizen and non-profit organization is a breach of the City’s Code of Conduct.

Considering the information discovered during this investigation, the Board is now preparing a formal complaint to the Integrity Commissioner.


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