How the city banned the Gazette publisher from city hall.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

October 11th, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

Part 3 of a series

It was September 8th of 2016. There was an email from City Manager James Ridge asking for a meeting in room 307 at City Hall.

That struck me as odd – that room is quite large and is seldom used for interviews.

There was some back and forth email about the purpose of the meeting which ended in Mr. Ridge sending me a letter attached to an email.

The letter was stunning. In part it said:

Your attendance at all meetings of Council and its Standing Committees is banned. You are able to access the broadcasting of these meetings in real time from another location.

Before attending at City Hall or Sims Square for any other reason, you need to contact by telephone or e-mail either myself, the Director of Human Resources Laura Boyd, or the City Solicitor Nancy Shea Nicol. One of us will arrange for an appointment between yourself and the staff member or member of Council and so advise you of the meeting time and place.

We will pre-arrange in advance to have security available to escort you to and from your meeting and you should report directly to security upon your arrival at City hall or Sims Square.

My first question after reading the letter the once was: can they do this?

The second question was – why are they doing this.

I re-read the letter a few times and then talked it over with legal counsel. As it turned out the lawyer was attending a meeting of the Hamilton-Burlington Bar Association. She asked if she could show the letter to some of her trusted colleagues.

All had one response: Where is the due process?

One of the several people I pulled together into a support group said: “The point is you have been discriminated against and are being harassed by the city – banned so that you can’t continue providing in-depth coverage – and they are hiding behind some unknown accusation by some unknown people and some unknown investigation into unknown allegations – it’s what they do in Russia.”

At the time I was going through a divorce from the woman I moved to Burlington to marry. It was a painful process for me and it took a few years to work through it. Vows and covenants were real to me.

I was referred to a lawyer whose practice was in Oakville. She wrote the city a letter on my behalf; Ridge said his position would not be changed.

It became clear to me that I didn’t have the legal representation I needed and began to work with a lawyer in Toronto who understood the issue and the Trespass Act quite well.

Unfortunately there were health issues and he had to withdraw.

I was now at the point where the one year ban was to be reviewed.

I did not go into city hall or Sims Square. I continued to do what I’ve always done as a journalist: call people and ask questions. I didn’t believe Ridge had the right to do what he was doing. I knew nothing about the behaviour. The city had held an investigation that I wasn’t involved in

The issues my legal counsel has was one of my Charter rights, the total lack of due process and the city inserting itself into media matters.

I know who I am; I know how I behave and I know what is right and what is wrong.

My difficulty was this: What is it that the city says I have done?

There was an investigation.

Why didn’t anyone interview me ?

Who am I supposed to have offended or have been vexatious with? I have never touched anyone inappropriately.

When did these events take place? Where did they take place?

The first letter from the city was in 2016 – before the #Metoo movement.

There is language that is now toxic if used irresponsibly. If I did something the city believed harassment of a sexual nature the city should have immediately called the police.

That didn’t happen. They brought in an investigator.

I asked for the name of the investigator – not going to give it to you was Ridge’s response.

The year ended and there was nothing from the city on reviewing the ban.

Instead the city issued a second ban – this time I had some evidence.

I will share that with you in the next installment.

The content of the September 8th, 2016 letter is set out below.

It has been brought to the attention of senior management at the City of Burlington, that there has been a series of incidents involving women working at City Hall and yourself that have given us cause for concern. Several women have come forward and provided information documenting interactions between themselves and you that require the City administration to take further action.

As a result of the concerns raised, the City undertook a workplace investigation with the assistance of an external investigator. The investigation was conducted with the framework of the City’s Respect in the Workplace policy (a copy of which is attached), as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). As an employer, the City of Burlington has an obligation under the OHSA to ensure that it provides a workplace that is free from harassment. The Act provides the following definition of “workplace harassment”:

“engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is know or ought reasonably be known to be unwelcome”.

Sexual harassment can take the form of harassment based on sex or gender. The Ontario Human Rights Commission provides that sexual harassment can take on a number of different forms such as:

• Invading a person’s personal space
• Making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching
• Making gender related comments about someone’s physical appearance or mannerisms.

The findings of the workplace investigation conclude that the behaviours that you have exhibited towards certain women working at City Hall constitute sexual and gender based harassment in the workplace. As a result of this finding, as the City Manager, I must take action under the Trespass to Property Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. T.21 to limit your access to and interactions with city staff. In order to address the concerns that have been raised, the findings of the investigation, and to meet our commitment to provide a harassment free workplace, the following restrictions on your access to the city’s workplaces are being implemented immediately:

1. Your attendance at all meetings of Council and its Standing Committees is banned. You are able to access the broadcasting of these meetings in real time from another location.

2. Before attending at City Hall or Sims Square for any other reason, you need to contact by telephone or e-mail either myself, the Director of Human Resources Laura Boyd, or the City Solicitor Nancy Shea Nicol. One of us will arrange for an appointment between yourself and the staff member or member of Council and so advise you of the meeting time and place.

3. We will pre-arrange in advance to have security available to escort you to and from your meeting and you should report directly to security upon your arrival at City hall or Sims Square.

4. If when you arrive, security is not present in the lobby, please have the receptionist locate them, and have a seat in the lobby until such time as security is available to escort you to your meeting. Also have the person you are meeting with notify security when your meeting is finished so that you can be escorted from the building.

5. If you have a need to contact staff either by email or by telephone, please direct your inquiries through that individual’s Director.

6. When attending City sponsored events such as public meetings, open houses, social events located at places other than City Hall or Sims Square, you are to refrain from interacting with city staff, its representatives or councillors. If you have questions you would like to follow up with, please follow the protocol in #5 above.

7. Finally, if a member of staff has expressed a desire not to have their photograph taken, you are to refrain from doing so.

The restrictions on your access to people working at or for the City of Burlington will be reviewed in 1 year’s time. If there have not been any further complaints respecting interactions with you, these restrictions may be lifted. If however, any further complaints are received the City will effect your complete ban from all city workplaces under the Trespass to Property Act.

Pepper - Gazette shirt - no smileSalt with Pepper are the opinions, reflections, observations and musings of the Gazette publisher.

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Next: Part 4 of a series.

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11 comments to How the city banned the Gazette publisher from city hall.

  • Maggie

    It is good that you did seek legal representation and unfortunate that didn’t work out. Your rights have clearly been violated. The fact that Mr. Ridge and the city are refusing to give you any information on the accusations or the investigator makes me wonder if they are not pure fiction. A made up excuse to keep you out of city hall. I seem to recall you have had issues with Mayor Goldring in the past. Please correct me if I am wrong on that. What I am not wrong on is at the mayoral debate at Central High School the mayor was talking about news sources. He did not mention you at all as if you didn’t even exist. Perhaps he wished you didn’t. Perhaps your next recourse would be to contact the police. If these complaints and investigator are fiction then charges could be laid. Another course could be to take them to court yourself. You would then be able to subpoena their records. No matter which path you follow, hopefully the new council will have the common sense to re-instate you.

  • Lucy

    I do research when I need greater information…the sites I visited reinforce what others here have already stated and very, very clearly point to a serious problem as to how Mr. Ridge dealt with this situation. Visit the sites for yourself. I have copied some significant sections below. This entire situation is very disturbing and reflects very badly on Mr. Ridge and City Hall in general.

    https://www.ontario.ca/page/understand-law-workplace-violence-and-harassment (Government site)

    Stages in a more complex investigation could include:

    · a review of details of the incident or complaint, including any relevant documents;

    · an interview or interviews with the worker alleging harassment;

    · an interview or interviews with the alleged harasser, if he or she works for the same employer;

    · an interview or interviews with the alleged harasser, if he or she is not a worker and if it is possible and appropriate;

    · separate interviews with relevant witnesses;

    · examination of relevant documents or other evidence that pertains to the investigation (such as emails, notes, photographs, or videos);

    · a decision about whether a complaint or incident is workplace harassment; and

    · preparation of a report summarizing the incident or complaint, the steps taken during the investigation, the evidence gathered, and findings (such as whether workplace harassment occurred, did not occur, or that it was not possible to make a determination).

    http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-primer-guide-developing-human-rights-policies-and-procedures/6-procedures-resolving-complaints (Human Rights Commission)

    10. Investigation processes
    The investigation of the complainant must be impartial, timely, fair, and address all relevant issues.

    The investigator should thoroughly interview both the complainant and the person(s) alleged to have engaged in harassment or discrimination against the complainant. The respondents should be given the opportunity to respond to each of the specific allegations raised by the complainant. The investigator should also interview any relevant witnesses identified by either the complainant or the respondent(s), and gather any relevant documents. Proper notes should be taken during interviews.

    The investigator should prepare a report summarizing the allegations, the steps taken during the investigation, and the evidence gathered. The report may make findings of fact and recommendations for further action, or these functions may be assigned elsewhere.

    In most cases, investigations should start immediately after an investigator is chosen, and finish within a fixed time frame (for example, 90 days).

    The investigator is responsible for ensuring a thorough, fair and impartial investigation of the allegations in the complaint. The investigator will interview the complainant, the respondent(s), and relevant witnesses suggested by the complainant or respondent(s), as well as gather documents relevant to the matters in the complaint.

    All staff of the organization are required to cooperate with the investigator.

    The investigator will, wherever possible, complete the investigation within 90 days of receiving the assignment.

    At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator will prepare a written report summarizing the allegations and the investigation results, and will forward the report to the Human Resources Manager.

    https://pinklarkin.com/workplace-sexual-harassment-complainants-accused-persons-need-know/ (Canadian Law Firm site)

    3. What the accused person needs to know.
    The accused person has a right to procedural fairness. This means that:

    · The person in charge of the investigation has to have an open mind.

    · The accused person has a right to know who made the complaint and the nature of the complaint.

    · They should be given sufficient time to consider the complaint.

    · They should be allowed to have someone with them when they are interviewed as long as that person doesn’t interfere with the investigation.

    · They should be given reasonable time to respond to the complaint.

  • Susie

    Thank you for sharing, and all I can say is “how sad”, and my sympathies to you. A real 360 degrees from my past experiences in the public world, and can’t say the “new changing world thinking” has/is heading in any positive direction.

  • Stephen White

    Over and above the very egregious deficiencies in the way this situation was handled (e.g. failure to conduct a proper investigation; the failure of the City to follow their own polices on Workplace Harassment; a failure to provide the accused with an opportunity to explain their side of the story; a failure to provide a copy of the investigator’s report to the accused; the imposition of a penalty that is so severe it severely limits an individual’s capacity to do their job) here is what I find particularly troubling: the City Manager, a former RCMP officer and an experienced senior administrator, doesn’t comprehend how fundamental legal concepts such as due diligence, procedural justice, the freedom of the press, the presumption of innocence, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, get applied in a work setting.

    If the most senior official in the City administration can’t ensure procedural fairness, not just for public servants but for ordinary citizens, then it speaks volumes about the paucity of civic leadership and the need for substantive change. And with apologies to Mr. Mulkewich who, in his inimitable style, will probably intercede here and accuse me of overreacting, we really do need to change the senior leadership team at City Hall after October 22nd.

  • Penny

    My question as well is how does a Human Resource person go along with this type of behaviour and support it? I would have to think that when council was notified of this decision it would have been “in camera”, why was it made public the way it was? Is there any recourse to this action?

  • Hans

    Pepper,
    You have my sympathy.
    Mr. Ridge seems to be deficient in his ability to communicate and he has made it impossible for you to defend yourself or challenge the nebulous and serious accusations.

    I hope that a new council will do some major house cleaning including banning Ridge from city hall.

  • Fred Crockett

    If there was an issue, why didn’t Mr. Ridge defer to the proper authorities, and let hem deal with matters in an orderly and responsible manner? Despite his fantasies
    , he does not run the Court of the Star Chamber. Allegedly, Mr. Ridge spent many years in the Canadian Armed Forces defending Canadian values in a noble and responsible manner. How did he miss the course on Due Process? How does this self-righteous clown hold a job?

  • joe gaetan

    So let’s review what is missing here, the duty of procedural fairness states that whenever a public body makes a decision that affects a person’s interest more directly or substantially than it affects the general public, the body has two obligations:
    1. the duty to notify the person of the intended decision and the reasons for it, and to provide the person with an opportunity to challenge that decision if it is unfavorable.
    2. an obligation to provide an impartial decision maker.
    Source: Administrative Law Principles and Advocacy

  • D Walker

    Thank you for being forthcoming about the issue, Mr. Parr. I am trying to view this issue from an objective standpoint, which is somewhat difficult when I hate seeing your journalistic access hindered by City Staff.

    From a Human Resources perspective, I suppose my first issue with the City is whether or not any staff member spoke to you regarding these concerns before it resulted in an out-right ban. Was Mr. Ridge’s invitation to come in and meet intended to do this, and then he perceived your questions as a refusal to attend and discuss it? I don’t know. I’m doubtful, since the letter was prepared and sent that same day.

    As a woman, I am entirely sympathetic to claims of sexual harassment, and I do agree that workplaces need to be free from it. Having had to react, as an employer, to claims of harassment (not sexual) in the past, I can appreciate that it creates a difficult situation for employers. There is a desire to protect your employees, but also provide a fair outcome. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to handle this issue when you work in a very public customer service position and especially the government.

    With that said, I do have a problem if you were not ever warned against specific behaviour and provided examples of instances where it occurred. Unless the behaviour was so especially egregious as to warrant a ban on attending City Hall, a warning should be issued prior to a ban being instituted. Along with the warning, I think it should have set out the parameters on which behaviour is to be avoided (e.g. did you take someone’s picture despite their protests? did you use rude, gender-specific vocabulary in an email with a staff member? etc.). At that point, if the behaviour persisted, then fine – issue the ban.

  • Phillip Wooster

    From what we’ve seen out of JIm Ridge in the past two years, I am not surprised by his actions.
    Totally who he is!

  • Steve D

    This is truly the stuff or totalitarian countries. It’s what happens when a country allows “feelings” courts to exist. These kangaroo courts are the end of actual due process in a “real” court of law. It’s a travesty that needs to be corrected.

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