Our statement on the new information brought forward re: the City's Workplace Investigation.
(a PDF version available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jR4UjUda5Legk52cWIlJFnzYJZ0A09cM/view?usp=sharing)
As an organization that strives to encourage public involvement in Barrie politics, and advocates for accountability and transparency in local government, the recent article by Chris Simon at Simcoe.com – outlining alleged harassment, battery, and sexual assault by a Barrie City Councillor – has raised concerns about the integrity of governance at the local level.
While it is not Engage Barrie Organization’s place to comment on the harassment case itself, the information now made public has raised concerns regarding the handling of the workplace investigation case at City Hall. Engage Barrie Organization followed the investigation closely as it was occurring and has since followed up on the status of decisions made during that investigation. We feel it is of utmost importance that City Hall be a safe place, to encourage public engagement along with the growth of a diverse council. Any decisions or actions that may jeopardize that environment should be questioned and investigated by the Integrity Commission, if appropriate, to hold all members of City Hall accountable for their actions.
From the new information brought forward by Ms. Kelly’s Statement of Claim filed with the court, it is now clear why this situation was one of three cases specified by Stephen Blais, when he initially announced his intention to create his Private Members Bill, now Bill 10 – Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act, 2022 (Barrie’s case is also mentioned several times in his recent news conference). This claim has also made public the identity of the respondent in the 2020-21 Council meetings concerning this case – and this fact supports a re-examination of the process that took place during the original investigation.
When an issue is brought forward within an institution, it is important that the integrity and processes of that institution allow for a fair and equitable assessment of the issue. This is important to allow both parties to present their side of the issue and for the larger body to objectively assess the claim. Reading through Ms. Kelly’s Statement of Claim, along with our understanding of Council’s handling of the original workplace investigation, it appears there may have been numerous violations of the Council and Committee Member Code of Conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by McCann and other Council members.
First of all, that Councillor McCann was allowed to not only attend but to participate in the closed-session meetings and deliberations regarding these charges – and the potential consequences to himself – is an egregious violation of conflict of interest, and calls into question the integrity of any and all subsequent decisions made and votes cast.
This concern of integrity is furthered by the many quotes attributed to Councillor McCann in the Statement of Claim, such as “I don’t give a f— what’s going on at City Hall. I don’t give a f— what anyone over there says. I go in there and do whatever the f— I want” (Section 36), plus “Do you know how much time I actually spend doing Council stuff? Like one percent, and then I can walk into places like this and do whatever I want” (Section 38) – as well as other statements of power and control in the City, and intimidation of staff. Section 5 of the City’s Code of Conduct is very clear about the boundaries of influence of office, as well as Section 14 “Improper Use of Influence” – it has now been made clear that this section has been, and continues to be violated.
Such quotes also bring into question what influence Councillor McCann continues to have over staff members? The City’s press release about the workplace harassment case had indicated that the respondent would not be allowed direct contact with staff, other than through “appropriate management” – yet many of the City Managers are female, and Councillor McCann speaks regularly in Council about his conversations with them when bringing forward his motions (for example, Feb.14 discussing the Official Plan). This raises into question what protection is actually being offered to staff (including management), and what possible pressures or intimidation they may have been placed under in bringing recommendations forward (and the resultant decisions made). It appears the spirit of Council’s initial direction has not been properly followed, and Mr. McCann is still able to exert undue influence at City Hall. Staff (and the public) need to know that actions decided upon are also acted upon, in order to make everyone feel safe in their working environment.
Engage Barrie Organization previously made an enquiry into whether the respondent had attended the directed training on workplace violence – another directive that was a result of the workplace harassment case – and the City answered in the negative. The current status of this requirement needs to be updated to ensure there has been responsible action taken on the decisions to date.
The current state of Mr. McCann’s actions support the premise that the Code of Conduct’s Section 19 “Conduct Respecting Staff” and 20 “Discreditable Conduct (Interpersonal Behaviours)” has not been enforced in this case, nor has Council’s direction on remedial measures – which leaves us to wonder what measures stated in the City’s press release have ever been enforced?
According to Sections 52-54 of Ms. Kelly’s claim, her allegations now are the same ones that were presented first to the Mayor in 2019, then investigated by an independent third-party investigator, before Council’s in-camera meetings concerning the case in 2020 – it had also been reported to the public at the time that her claims being presented to Council had already been substantiated. And yet, Councillors Robert Thomson, Natalie Harris, Gary Harvey, Jim Harris, and Sergio Morales each voted against allowing the Integrity Commissioner to properly investigate the case.
Allowing the Integrity Commissioner to investigate was the only mechanism by which Councillor McCann could have faced any repercussions under the Municipal Act.
If they were, in fact, aware of all the allegations, and that they had been substantiated by an independent third party, then Councillors Thomson, N.Harris, Harvey, J.Harris & Morales’s votes to block that investigation now appear to be in violation of the Council and Committee Member Code of Conduct – particularly Sections 5.2 through 5.8, including “Members will conduct their dealings with each other in ways that maintain public confidence in the office to which they have been elected”, and “should be committed to performing their functions with integrity”.
While Accountability and Transparency are two important pillars of Engage Barrie Organization, this case also touches upon our founding principles of Diversity, Empowerment, Equity, and Inclusivity – as well as Creating Safe Spaces. To achieve diverse and inclusive representation, it is paramount that the actions of Council demonstrate that our local government is a safe place to both work and conduct dealings with City Hall. Council and City Management need to ensure that women and all people are safe within its walls, by operating with accountability and transparency.
The office of the Integrity Commissioner serves a vital role in the establishment of accountability and transparency, and in ensuring that Councillors and Committee Members act in accordance with regulations to which they are bound within the City’s Code of Conduct, the Municipal Act, and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. It is therefore a concern when there appears to be conduct within City Hall that circumvents the proper execution of the responsibilities of the Integrity Commissioner.
It is also important for members of the public to know that anyone who has a concern about a violation of any of these regulations may file a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner – Engage Barrie Organization can offer support and help the community when it comes to making these kinds of complaints.
These processes are all important tools in democracy, and in ensuring that our elected officials “perform official duties and arrange their public affairs in a temperate and abstemious manner that promotes public confidence and respect and will bear close public scrutiny”, and “at all times serve and be seen to serve their constituents in a conscientious and diligent manner”, as the City’s Code of Conduct requires.
Engage Barrie Organization appreciates the courage and strength required to bring forward accounts of harassment. Only by ensuring a safe environment for individuals can we be sure that these investigations are properly conducted, and appropriate actions taken. In the past few days since Amanda Kelly stepped forward, we have been hearing from other women about how her bravery is helping them to find theirs – we hope Ms. Kelly is aware of how much appreciation and gratitude there is for her in the community.