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Silent protest against violence, harassment coming to city hall

Demonstration organizer says it's 'absolutely shocking' that elected officials aren't held to the same rules as members of the private sector

A silent demonstration set for city council on Wednesday, Sept. 21 is aimed at drawing attention to Bill 5, legislation which would hold publicly elected officials to the same violence and harassment in the workplace as other sectors already do. 

In March, a bill was put forward by Orleans 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.

The bill reads that, “codes of conduct for municipal councillors and members of local boards include requirements for those councillors and members to comply with workplace violence and harassment policies, and creates an integrity commissioner and judicial process to remove them from office for egregious acts of sexual, emotional and psychological misconduct.”

Despite the bill being on the table in the last provincial session, it was dropped when the Ontario election was called. Re-introduced in August of this year, the 'Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act' is still waiting to be passed. 

With municipal elections being held throughout the province on Oct. 24, including in Barrie, CONTACT Community Services executive director Emily McIntosh hopes to have the province hear her and the many others who want it passed. 

McIntosh said Wednesday's demonstration is to ask every council to send a letter of support to Blais, Premier Doug Ford and their local MPPs.

“This initiative came about as we started approaching the upcoming election, and knowing how closely, particularly in the not-for-profit sector, we’re working with municipally elected officials and other elements of workplace safety,” McIntosh said. “Municipally elected officials are not held accountable for violence and harassment in the workplace. This was, and is, a massive gap when it comes to protection of basic human rights, not only in the workplace, but also with a lens on community safety as well.”

McIntosh called it “absolutely shocking” that councillors are not held to the same rules most people are held to in the private sector.

“That's why this event on Wednesday is so important, because most people assume the rule is in place when it is not,” McIntosh said. “Unless you had a particular situation that would shine some light on the fact that it's not, then it goes relatively unnoticed.”

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 was involved was not part of the motion passed by council. City officials have declined to release any further details, including who was involved and what the settlement entailed.

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.”

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

McCann has denied the allegations and filed a statement of defence with the courts.

None of the allegations against McCann have been tested in court.

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

In addition to the demonstration at Barrie council, a number of deputations are planned to various councils throughout Simcoe County to ask locally elected officials to take a greater role in advocating for accountability within their own workplaces.

McIntosh also pointed out that municipally employed integrity commissioners, who have the job of investigating claims of harassment, do not have access to the judicial process to seek the removal of elected officials from office for substantiated claims of acts of sexual, emotional and psychological misconduct.

McIntosh said the demonstration is family-friendly and open to members of the public.

“Everyone should be concerned about this. The fact that our elected officials aren’t being dealt with on the issue of violence and harassment in the workplace is just unbelievable, but actually happening,” McIntosh said. 

The Women of Simcoe Say No demonstration is planned for the City of Barrie’s next council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. Council meetings normally fall on Monday nights, but it has been pushed back next week due to the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II on Monday.