Integrity Commissioner quashes conduct charge against Orangeville councillor

July 5, 2024   ·   0 Comments


Orangeville’s integrity commissioner has ruled the municipal code of conduct was not violated by social media comments made by a councillor about a transgendered swimmer.

Charles Harnick, a mediator and arbitrator with ADR Chambers in Toronto and Orangeville’s integrity commissioner, ruled in May that an unnamed town councillor did nothing outside the municipal code of conduct through comments on the Facebook page “Orangeville Bitch and Complain.”

The council member remains anonymous because Harnick’s investigation didn’t find anything that contravened the municipal code of conduct.

The allegation was regarding comments made in January that the complainant was racist and hateful and the complainant was told not to use Orangeville public facilities.

In his report, Harnick, a former Attorney General of Ontario, said the comment didn’t amount to harassment or bullying.

“It was but a single, albeit pointed, remark,” he wrote in his report.

Members of the social media page debated a transgendered individual’s use of change room facilities at a local swimming pool. The complainant makes it clear in her various posts that she is vehemently opposed to the town’s policy regarding transgender use of change room facilities.

In his final ruling, Harnick wrote that she clearly states her position as follows, “I’m just not okay with a 50 year old born male changing with minor girls.”

The respondent replied to the complainant’s post by stating, “Your comments are hateful and disgusting. My Orangeville is inclusive to all races and sexual orientation. I am glad to hear that you will not be using our Orangeville facilities. Your racist comments are not welcome in our town.”

And Harnick said that is the sum total of relevant commentary included in his review and investigation.

“This has been confirmed by the complainant and the respondent as the only important interaction between them,” Harnick wrote. “The complainant and the respondent acknowledge that they each have their respective opinions regarding the town’s policy regarding transgender use of change room facilities and that their opinions are diametrically opposed to one another.”

The complainant believed she was entitled to her opinion as expressed and that the respondent had no right to call her “a racist hateful person.”

The respondent countered that there’s a long-time transgendered resident of Orangeville who has been an active swimmer for quite some time and there have been no issues with that individual using the pool and its facilities. Nor have there been any complaints from other users of the pool facilities.

The respondent said, “I truly do not understand why the complainant would take it upon herself to call out another person in a public forum based simply on gender identity. As a leader in our community, I believe it is my duty to defend those who are being chastised. So yes, I support the rights of the individual to use our public pool and other facilities.”

The respondent went on to say, “As a local leader it is my duty to make sure all residents are included, feel protected and welcome.”

Harnick said the written exchange took place on a social media page entitled “Orangeville Bitch and Complain.” Everybody involved in the exchange did so voluntarily.

“It would be disingenuous to engage on a platform designed for bitching and complaining and to then feign being harassed and bullied,” he wrote in his findings.

Further, Harnick wrote that “the comments made reflect the opinion of the respondent in response to the opinion of the complainant. It is not for the Integrity Commissioner to determine the validity of one person’s opinion versus another person’s opinion nor to determine whether an opinion is true or false.”

It could be argued that the mic-drop in the integrity commissioner’s ruling came when Harnick corrected what was offered to have been the offending statement that was the chassis of the complaint.

Harnick wrote: The complainant alleges that, “[The respondent] publicly called me a racist, hateful person.” This is not accurate. The respondent, in their only comment, stated, “Your comments are hateful and disgusting. My Orangeville is inclusive to all races and sexual orientation. … Your racist comments are not welcome in our town.”

In dismissing the complaint, Harnick wrote that the fact such a complaint was brought forward at all should be noted.

“While I have dismissed this complaint, the fact that it has been brought forward is important,” he wrote. “I hope these reasons are an educational moment for elected members with respect to their use of social media and their need to ensure that comments they make stay within bounds as set by their Code of Conduct.”

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