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'No-brainer': Group pushes for change with harassment bill

Provincial bill would create process for municipal councils to remove members who violate workplace violence and harassment policies
Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square are pictured in this file photo. | Michael Purvis/Village Media

Bill 5 is picking up steam throughout the province and a group of Simcoe County residents behind it say they're optimistic the legislation will go through. 

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.

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

The movement, dubbed “The Women of Ontario Say No,” has attracted support throughout the province, from municipal councillors as far north as Kenora, to former premier Kathleen Wynne, who will be a delegate speaking to the motion at the Richmond Hill city council meeting on Wednesday. 

Emily McIntosh, one of the people behind the push, says she's optimistic about the attention the bill has been receiving.  

“We are connecting with every single person who we can think of that can help us elevate this conversation,” McIntosh told BarrieToday. “This is just too important to not make sure this bill gets passed. On top of all the deputations that are rolling out, it hits the agenda in Toronto (Tuesday) night, so we’re excited about the momentum and this is just the start.”

The bill has three primary components, with one being that municipally elected officials would be accountable to the violence and harassment policies of the respective municipality, in line with the chief administrative officer. 

The second is for "egregious" acts of harassment substantiated by the municipality's integrity commissioner (IC), councils could direct the IC to apply to the courts for removal and, finally, if removed, the person would be restricted from running again.

In March 2022, a bill was put forward by Ottawa-area MPP Stephen Blais to introduce legislation that would deter municipal councillors and board members from engaging in harassment by holding them accountable for their actions, including creating a process to remove them from office.

Despite the bill being on the table in the last provincial session, it was dropped when the Ontario election was called. Re-introduced last August, the Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act has yet to be passed.

In April 2022, Barrie city council endorsed the Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act.

McIntosh explained why the advocates haven’t approached this current council about the initiative. 

“We’re taking the former (Barrie) council’s word that they do endorse this. Because it is such a no-brainer piece of legislation, it was never meant to be controversial,” she said. “We almost have the full support of Simcoe County and we’re only waiting to deliver deputations in Tay and Innisfil.”

BarrieToday also asked McIntosh why she thinks the bill is taking so long to pass.

“I think that there is a level of protectionism happening, and it’s potentially under the guise of an argument of consistency,” she said. “One of the things we keep hearing from some politicians is the want to implement something very consistent and feeling like this might not be the answer, and that just isn't a strong enough argument. We know that businesses in the province have different harassment policies, but that the principles are the same. This model works.”

A public event entitled 'Flood the Floor' is also planned for the bill’s second reading in the provincial legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on May 16.

For more information on Bill 5, click here.