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City hall protest calls for end to workplace harassment

'We are not asking for something special — this is fundamental,' says organizer; Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act reintroduced at Queen's Park
The Women of Simcoe Say No demonstration was held outside Barrie City Hall on Wednesday night.

A silent demonstration was held Wednesday evening at Barrie City Hall in support of the Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act.

The provincial bill would create a process for municipal councils to remove their members who violate workplace violence and harassment policies.

"We are not asking for something special — this is fundamental," Emily McIntosh said of the Act. "We ask that the province prioritize the legislation.

"If we don't say something we have a lot of silence, and no change," McIntosh added. 

The Act is a private member’s bill from Liberal Orleans MPP Stephen Blais, which passed second reading in the legislature March 9, but did not pass third reading to become law before the provincial election writ dropped May 4. It was reintroduced by Blais in August.

The bill would amend the Municipal Act of 2001 to require the code of conduct for municipal councillors and members of local boards to include a requirement for those councillors and members to comply with workplace violence and harassment policies. 

It would permit municipalities and local boards to direct the integrity commissioner to apply to the court to vacate a member’s seat if the commissioner’s inquiry determines that the member has contravened the code of conduct by failing to comply with the workplace violence or harassment policies. The bill proposes that a final decision be made by a Superior Court judge. These applications may not be made during regular elections.

Barrie city council approved a motion supporting Blais’ bill last April. 

In late 2020, a settlement was reached relating to an investigation into workplace harassment involving a Barrie councillor and a city employee. What the settlement was and who is involved was not part of the motion council passed. The councillor and employee have not been formally identified. 

BarrieToday made a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request for the finalized minutes of settlement and other associated documentation. In its response, the city ruled ‘the records associated with your request are being withheld completely.’

Barrie Coun. Mike McCann, who is running for mayor in the Oct. 24 election, faces a $200,000 lawsuit by Amanda Kelly, 32, a senior business innovation and entrepreneurship officer with the city, citing three alleged instances of sexual assault and harassment in the statement of claim filed Jan. 17 in Ontario Superior Court.

McCann has denied the allegations.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Some of the men and women who were part of tonight's silent demonstration stood up when McCann spoke during the council meeting.

Council passed a direct motion Wednesday on the Act, that the city reissue its letter of support for the act, to local MPPs, Blais, Premier Doug Ford, the minister of municipal affairs and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

"With social media, there are just too many avenues for harassment," said Coun. Natalie Harris.

"This is a non-partisan issue," said Coun. Ann-Marie Kungl. "This allows us to have the tools on hand."

"The government needs to move on this," said Mayor Jeff Lehman. "All parties support this."

Coun. Sergio Morales tried to amend Harris's direct motion with an amendment -- that the province explore ways for municipalities to deal with members of the public who are vexatious harassers, that is in compliance with the Municipal Act.

But Morales withdrew the amendment when it became clear it would not pass.

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Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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