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Workplace violence, harassment could lead to councillor dismissal under new legislation

'We need stronger accountability mechanisms in place to hold politicians who abuse their power to account,' says Coun. Keenan Aylwin
2020-08-18 Barrie City Hall RB
Barrie City Hall is shown in a file photo. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

Barrie councillors got behind a provincial bill Monday night to create a process for municipal councils to remove their members who violate workplace violence and harassment policies.

With no discussion, councillors endorsed the Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act.

“It’s important that we take a stronger stance against harassment and workplace violence,” Coun. Keenan Aylwin told BarrieToday. “These difficult but necessary conversations often get swept under the rug or avoided altogether.

“That silence is what perpetuates workplace violence and harassment,” he added. “We need to have the courage to confront these issues head-on and have an open, honest conversation about how to keep workers safe.”

The Act is a private member's bill from Liberal MPP Stephen Blais, which passed second reading in the legislature March 9.

Aylwin noted Blais cited Barrie, along with Brampton and Ottawa, as examples of why this legislation is needed. 

“We need stronger accountability mechanisms in place to hold politicians who abuse their power to account,” Aylwin said. “Any form of harassment or violence in the workplace should not be tolerated. I believe strongly that politicians should be held to a higher standard.

“If a politician is found to have violated workplace harassment and violence policies, they should resign or be removed through a transparent and accountable process,” the councillor added.

Bill 10 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 also 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.

The Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act would need to pass third reading before the provincial election writ drops May 4 to become law. A writ is the formal, legal document that starts a provincial election in Ontario. Once the writ is dropped, very little government business gets done until the election is held and the next government gets organized. That would likely be next fall following the June 2 provincial election.

City council will consider final approval of its support for the MPP's bill at its April 11 meeting.

In late 2020, a settlement was reached relating to an internal 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. 

Part of the settlement was that the unnamed Barrie councillor undertake training relative to workplace violence and harassment, to be funded by the city, and that training be approved by the city's chief administrative officer (CAO) and/or human resources (HR) director.

City of Barrie CAO Michael Prowse gave an update to councillors Monday night and said the courses had not yet been taken.

“I can advise that the courses were selected in conjunction with HR and were provided to the respondent (Barrie city councillor),” Prowse said. “The respondent indicated at the time their preference was to take the courses in person. And given the nature of the COVID pandemic at the time, (it) did not allow for that.

“I believe recently (city clerk Wendy Cooke) has followed up to find out the status of the courses and the intention is still to take the courses, however they are intending to take them in person, as previously stated," Prowse added. 

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."

Meanwhile, Coun. Mike McCann faces a $200,000 lawsuit by Amanda Kelly, a senior business innovation and entrepreneurship officer with the city, citing three alleged instances in the statement of claim filed Jan. 17 in Ontario Superior Court. None of the allegations have been tested or proven in court.