Updated: Mar 9, 2022
A woman in our community wrote this letter to Council, but was, understandably, afraid to attach her name to it. She had also tried to submit this letter to the local newspapers today, but was told that it could not be published without including her name and municipality – an unsafe prospect for many women, especially with the current climate at City Hall.
Many of us Canadians believe that our institutions, especially our political ones, are inherently above the overt, vitriolic, and systemically empowered sexism that is wielded by many of the elected officials representing our Southern cousins. However, the atrocious mishandling and deliberate delegitimization of a workplace harassment allegation against one of our own elected municipal officials shows us that we are not immune to such misgivings. As we know, the allegation was made against a public servant, yet all of the proceedings, in fact, the entire decision-making process, has been private. Frankly, Council has deliberately withheld information from the citizens of Barrie - information that is highly pertinent as far as our capacity to engage in the democratic process is concerned. In doing so, they have intentionally blinded us to information that we need in order to exercise our inalienable right to enfranchisement by disabling our ability to choose officials who reflect our values, when their very job it is to represent us. Not only have they stripped us of this pertinent information, but they have also mechanically shrouded the ordeal in as much confidentiality as they can get away with. But, not to protect the victim. No. They haven’t even made a flaccid attempt at pretending like their actions are motivated by the victim’s wellbeing or safety. They are blatantly using their power to protect the accused, if only because the accused is their colleague. The accused is likely even a friend, a close confidante to some, or more of them. Although Council can’t exactly be labelled an Old Boy’s Club with two women-identifying individuals as sitting members, the power imbalance remains exponentially favoured towards the male point of view. For the sake of unbiased judgement, cases of this nature fundamentally require that all voting members have deep, if not first-hand knowledge (ie: lived experience) of what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Although, perhaps, that is too tall an order. Maybe if all voting members could reasonably be considered emotionally intelligent, empathetic and rational enough as to cast an unbiased vote, then proceedings could be “fairly” judged. But alas, that could not be further from the truth of this case. Not only does the accused get to be shielded from public scrutiny by his colleagues and friends behind closed doors, he also gets to sit there, sneering, imbuing his bias onto the minds of Council members through his sheer domineering presence (and, as I imagine he isn’t gagged, there is nothing truly stopping him from interjecting) while they discuss what repercussions he should or should not have to face! If it weren’t so institutionalized, so scathingly systematic, it would be scandalous, wouldn’t it? The lack of accountability is so laughable, the accused hasn’t even been asked to declare a conflict of interest. Furthermore, his behaviour is so audaciously devoid of any decency, that he not just abstains, but actually votes on matters of personal affairs – one has to ponder as to why conflict of interest has not been applied, as one cannot imagine a more flagrant example! What is happening in Barrie right now, and the matters that will be voted on the evening of Monday, December 7th, are a mere microcosm of the systemic inequality and sexism that undergirds patriarchal institutions. Their very history has been built on the subjugation and dehumanization of women if only a stone’s throw of generations ago. Citizens of Barrie, we need to be better. Remember, Council was planning to strike down the amendment that will save present and future municipal employees from harm they have endured at the expense of their employers and overseers. But, due to immense public pressure and proactive civil engagement in the democratic processes, we were able to remind them who they are accountable to. They are not working for other members of the council. Their job is not to protect their colleagues from penalties and repercussions or public outcry. Their job is to protect us. So, five minds were changed, and the amendment passed unanimously, allowing this case to move forward. We hoped that it would move forward into the light, but so far, they have pushed it as far back into the dark as they can. Such is the state of transparency in our political process. Hopefully, Council’s (mis)handlings of this case does not intimidate or discourage other women from coming forward. Because we know that even though the system is broken, the court of public opinion still wields tremendous power. Together, we can change policy. Together, we can show that Barrie can be better than this. That we are better than this. Better than him.