Carmine Perrelli is a member of York Regional Council representing the City of Richmond Hill.
Last Thursday the Regional Council heard a complaint from one of Perrelli’s constituents, Jason Cherniak, who said Perrelli had blocked him from accessing his Twitter account, freezing him out and preventing him from commenting on the big issue of the day – the covid pandemic.
Cherniak took issue with Perrelli’s stance on the pandemic and was blocked after dubbing Perrelli a #COVIDIOT.
York Region’s Integrity Commissioner, Jeffrey Abrams, upheld Cherniak’s complaint and recommended the Region revise and update its Code of Conduct to include matters such as blocking on social media which are not currently covered.
The Commissioner found that blocking Cherniak had the effect of silencing criticism of the councillor. Furthermore, the Commissioner did not consider #COVIDIOT to be offensive, abusive or defamatory. He said the arbitrary blocking of an Open Twitter account contravened the Code of Conduct principle that
“Members shall serve the public in a conscientious and diligent manner that promotes public confidence and will bear public scrutiny.”
The Commissioner proposes that elected officials should, in future, have to give reasons for blocking someone.
Perrelli emphatically disagrees his decision was arbitrary. On the contrary, it was considered. He tells councillors:
“… calling me a COVIDIOT is offensive and I cannot afford, and none of us can afford, for our constituents to think that I was opposed to safety protocols. A blanket statement like that needs to be challenged and/or stopped.
… The same complainant called me a shyster. A shyster. Now if you guys are OK with someone calling you an idiot and a shyster I can guarantee you that if I called one of you guys an idiot or a shyster there would be a code of conduct complaint being made and I would be found guilty of that.”
There is no reference to “shyster” in the Integrity Commissioner’s report. Perrelli goes on:
“This all hinged in my opinion, and in my lawyer’s opinion, all on the fact that the Integrity Commissioner found it to be arbitrary and I disagree. And moving forward we have to be very careful because if we're going to allow someone else retroactively to decide if we have the right to block someone and they call me an idiot or a stooge or a moron or a donkey - and then we're going to let an integrity commissioner decide whether that was offensive or not? We are opening a real Pandora’s Box here ladies and gentlemen.”
Cherniak was already known to Perrelli before the complaint went in. Cherniak told the the meeting he ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 Richmond Hill election for Regional Councillor coming fourth (with 8,878 votes) behind Joe DiPaolo (11,758 votes) and Perrelli (11,418 votes). Two Regional Councillors were elected.
Clearly, there is history to all this. The animosity - at least for Perrelli - goes back a long way. Perrelli does not disguise his contempt for Cherniak.
On Thursday, Joe DiPaolo branded Perrelli a bully who intimidates and threatens Richmond Hill staff. I could hear the stunned silence before Wayne Emmerson, the Regional Chair, stepped in. Whoa!
Without missing a beat, Cherniak tweets DiPaolo’s comments.
Outside his work as Regional Councillor, Perrelli is President of a for-profit foster care company, Expanding Horizons. It has been in the news recently following the murder of a 14 year old boy in Barrie. Perrelli is close to Ontario Premier Doug Ford who follows him on Twitter.
At the close of a wide-ranging debate councillors decide to “receive and accept” the Integrity Commissioner’s report and, on John Taylor’s recommendation, organise a Workshop, probably in the Fall, to look at the use of social media by elected officials and the guidance that may be required.
Following this, York Region staff would bring forward a report to Council on any changes which may be necessary to the Code of Conduct.
In breach but no sanction
In the meantime, we are in this curious situation where Perrelli remains in breach of the Code but without any sanctions being applied. The Integrity Commissioner says the Code provides little guidance on arbitrary blocking and, for that reason, no sanction is recommended. It all sounds a bit back to front to me but we are where we are.
In all the circumstances I cannot see Perrelli unblocking Cherniak. It is perfectly obvious Perrelli loathes the man.
One other point. I think John Taylor deserves a round of applause for getting the Council to stage a workshop which could be open to outside presentations. If it goes ahead on this basis, I hope Council invites former Newmarket Mayor and member of York Regional Council, Tony Van Bynen, to explain why, for years, he has blocked people from his Twitter account. He continues to do so as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Newmarket-Aurora.
He outlined some of his thinking to Newmarket Council in February 2016:
“… My page represents my views and anything that comes from my twitter feed is believed to be endorsed. So I don’t feel in the slightest way obligated to advance an argument that is contrary to my views. So I don’t apologise for blocking certain people."
"I do set standards in terms of what I permit on my site and again I don’t apologise for that. But if you have something to say, set up your own site. Set up your own contacts. Send out your own messages. So you still have that right.”
Was that a defensible position then? And is it now? Van Bynen is not alone with this view. So how realistic is it to expect elected officials' open Twitter accounts - from all levels of Government - to be regarded as part of the Town Square?
But if Twitter is indeed the Town Square can elected officials exclude people who are perfectly civil in that platform but less restrained in other social media sites or in other forms of communication such as blogs, newsletters, TV and radio?
Should Twitter and other social media platforms be ring-fenced? So “disrespect” (definition please) on Instagram would not, necessarily, mean blocking on Twitter.
And how do we define offensive or objectionable? Mockery could appear in the guise of wildly exaggerated civility. It all seems very subjective.
Should people who participate on social media – and who do not wish to be blocked – conscientiously follow the rules of Parliamentary language and decorum? Never attribute improper motives. Never accuse someone of lying (though it is OK to suggest someone may have been inadvertently economical with the truth). Is this the way forward?
And then there is the level playing field argument. Elected officials (or, rather, some elected officials) have very substantial communication and advertising budgets paid for out of public funds. What elected officials say on public policy issues is intrinsically newsworthy. Should they block critics without this firepower without giving reasons? Jason Cherniak complains he was blocked from the conversation in the on-line Town Square by Councillor Perrelli because of a re-tweet of a single sentence.
Counsel of Perfection
Is the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation a counsel of perfection that is, in practice, unrealistic? Shouldn’t decisions on blocking or not blocking be left to the common-sense of elected officials who, after all, face re-election and the scrutiny of the voters?
York Regional Council’s decision to tackle these and a thousand other related issues is laudable. It could be a damp squib.
Or it could be a watershed moment.
Update on 20 April 2021: Text corrected to show Cherniak came fourth - not third - in the election for Regional Councillor in 2018.
Who said what in the debate? Click the link "Read More" below and scroll...
Health Warning: This is an edited excerpt of the debate at York Regional Council on Thursday 15 April 2021. Check transcript against delivery here.
What the Complainant says:
Deputation from Jason Cherniak (the complainant): Thank you Mr. Chair, Mayors and Councillors. I am glad that I had an opportunity to hear Dr Kurji’s comments before making my own this morning.
It is not clear from the Integrity Commissioner's report but I am the person who made the complaint if you haven’t had the chance to read my written submission. It may seem to some of you that a councillor blocking a constituent on Twitter is barely worth discussing under the circumstances. However, the current public health crisis is actually the basis for this issue coming before you today.
In paragraph 26 of the decision, the Integrity Commissioner explains that this all started with Councillor Perrelli tweeting a CP 24 news story related to his press release regarding his motion to this council on January 14, 2021 asking the Premier to not extend the lockdown in York Region.
I retweeted Councillor Perrelli with the comment: as the number of COVID-19 deaths and infections increases exponentially Richmond Hill Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli is trying to stop public health measures in York region.
I also included some hashtags so that others would read what I wrote but obviously I disagreed with Councillor Perrelli. The Integrity Commissioner found in paragraph 79 and 81 that what I wrote was not offensive, abusive or defamatory. Nevertheless, Councillor Perrelli at the time blocked me on Twitter. He could have just muted me if he did not want to hear from me and I think he has every right to do that.
But blocking me stops me from seeing, quoting or responding to his tweets using my Twitter account. Meanwhile, councillors, you may remember that on January 14th you heard six deputations on the subject of Councillor Perrelli’s motion. On January 21 you received five more in writing. On February 4 you heard seven more deputations and received 35 more in writing.
I think it is reasonable to suspect that Councillor Perrelli had a hand in encouraging some of those deputations and there's nothing wrong with that. But because of my retweet of one sentence he tried to block me from the conversation in the online Town Square.
I think this was clearly a matter of public importance. It was clearly a matter of public debate and it was clearly a Regional issue. Just in case it is a question for any of you, in my complaint I did advise the Commissioner that I ran for regional councillor in the last election. The report did not raise that issue so it must not have been a concern to the Commissioner.
I did not quote this particular paragraph in my written letter but I draw your attention to paragraph 17 of the decision. What the Commissioner says is the effective blocking of a person on Twitter from accessing an open account is to deny the person the ability to see the user’s tweets unless they log out from their own account - effectively denying them the ability to participate in a discussion in the Town Square.
When a councillor blocks a constituent on Twitter I submit to you that it's no different than if he had me removed from a public event before speeches began because he knows that I disagree with him.
During these COVID times Twitter is the only place that constituents can engage with elected politicians other than, of course, at a council meeting. Twitter is far more important today than it was only 13 months ago. At a public event I'd be allowed to walk up to my councillor, say hello and express my opinion. The councillor could then ignore me and walk away if he wants to. Twitter should be no different.
As you all know, political disagreement is part of your job. You all signed up for it and I suspect many of you actually enjoy the debates with reasonable people who disagree. I'm not here because my feelings are hurt or because I can't handle a bit of disagreement. I'm not here to insult or bad mouth either. I'm here to talk about the effect of being blocked on Twitter by my regional councillor. I'm here because I want to ensure that I have the right to engage in the democratic process online and express my disagreement with the regional councillor in the virtual public square, particularly when it comes to public health.
I understand the commissioner's suggestion that no penalty be imposed and I do not object to that. I agree that council should ask staff to prepare a policy on how councillors use social media. Nobody needs to spend time monitoring you. Allow residents to complain if they think somebody has broken the rules. This is the first code of conduct complaint ever in York Region so I don't think you need to fear a flood of complaints.
The problem for today is that I'm still blocked by Councillor Perrelli on Twitter. This means that he remains in breach of the code of conduct in spite of the findings of the Commissioner. If you receive the report today and take no action the incentive for Councillor Perrelli to correct this breach disappears. I do not want to file a new complaint on the same topic. I don't think you want to hear about it again either or pay the commissioner to report on the same subject.
My recommendation is to defer this matter - I think it's for two weeks - to confirm that Councillor Perrelli has unblocked me on Twitter. I'll happily write to you before the next meeting and confirm that. If he unblocks me no sanction is necessary. However, if he sticks to his guns and refuses to end this breach of the code of conduct then I do think this council should take the opportunity to take appropriate action. I think it's a fair approach and I hope you'll agree with me that it is the right solution. Thank you.
(A motion to receive the deputant’s presentation is carried. Regional Councillor Perrelli now talks about the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. He says can participate in the debate but not vote. The Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson, now explains he wants to see the report is received with staff bringing back a report on blocking social media that can be debated.)
Newmarket’s John Taylor is concerned about a breach in the Code of Conduct remaining unremedied.
Mayor Taylor: The Integrity Commissioner has indicated that no action is required from Council but they encourage us to create a policy on social media. And that’s what we are doing. That makes perfect sense.
I think the real question we have before us was put to us by the deputant and I would like to hear from our Integrity Commissioner on this. I think we need some guidance on the fact that Councillor Perrelli has been found in breach of the Code of Conduct by the Integrity Commissioner. To this point we have been informed he has not unblocked the person. Therefore, he will be in breach of the Code of Conduct next week, the week after and three months from now.
… Is that how the Integrity Commissioner views it – that if he continues to do that he is still in breach of the Code? Typically, all of the Code of Conduct (cases) I’ve witnessed it is resolved somehow – even if action is not taken. Either an apology – and that is not being asked for - or some sort of action to remediate or change it. Right now this would be an ongoing situation.
And it was pointed out I don’t think we want this back in front of us. I guess the one option is to say, well, we are going to get a policy and we’ll find out what the policy says about this but that could be six months from now. And the breach would continue for six months.
I would like to ask – because they have a great deal of experience in this area in multiple jurisdictions – I’d like to ask our Integrity Commissioner to provide some thoughts on how his recommendations or thoughts on Council might address that situation that I hadn’t really given much thought to until it was presented.
Regional Chair Emmerson: OK. Mr Abrams.
Integrity Commissioner: (After pause) Thank you Mr Chairman. I had trouble finding my mute button. Thank you for the question Mayor Taylor…
Regional Councillor Perrelli (Richmond Hill): Point of Order Mr Chairman.
Regional Councillor Emmerson: Yes Sir.
Perrelli challenges the process
Regional Councillor Perrelli: Mr. Chairman this is not the proper protocol for following a code of conduct complaint. The proper protocol is for a complaint to be filed, an investigation to be made and a report to be filed to this council. And this council will make a determination.
Right now I am being grossly, grossly disadvantaged by this process going forward. I do not have the benefit of having my attorney present to contradict any statements made by Mr Abrams or Miss Atkwood.
This is highly irregular and highly prejudicial. I strongly urge you not to allow this Mr. Chairman. This is totally inappropriate. The decision, the investigation has been made. The decision has been rendered and that's where it ends Mr. Chairman.
I didn't want to speak about the deputation because that was also inappropriate but I let that go in the interest of democracy. But now my rights as an individual are being violated by these questions and the ability of my attorney not being present.
I caution you Mr. Chairman and I ask you to rule on this decision to not allow this. Thank you.
Regional Chair Emmerson: I understand and I guess if that’s the case you want your lawyer. You have every right to have that here. I don't see that… I'm not sure what the issue… I just thought we… Mr Abrams and his staff have made their report. Council has to decide whether they want to take any action going forward. Mayor Taylor do you still want this proceeded (with) then I'll have to come back at another time when Councillor Perrelli has his lawyer in place to go and have an actual debate on what's going to happen.
Mayor Taylor: I guess my response would be I don't know enough about what Councillor Perrelli is asserting - either potentially he has a point, potentially he doesn't. I don't know enough. We would have a legal opinion on that I guess from our…I'm sure they're not prepared to provide that. But Councillor Perrelli is not prepared to allow us to ask couple questions to try to clarify and understand this I guess we have to defer it and allow his legal representative to be present. I don't know.
It's up you Chairman Emmerson (interruption). In this format, and in every format I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen many, Council is allowed to ask the Integrity Commissioner questions. We are allowed to move a motion of sanction. (On) legal representation - I guess if someone told him he couldn’t have that that might be different. But, otherwise, I don't see how that limits us.
Regional Chair Emmerson: It's only fair. If he wants his solicitor here he can have that.
Mayor Taylor: Was he told he could not?
Regional Chair Emmerson: No he wasn’t.
Mayor Taylor: So how does that limit us? I guess… I’m sorry I'm really lost in this. I guess I’d like to hear from… It’s up to you. It is a point of order to you. You have to rule on it. But I would like at least to hear from our legal counsel on the point or order at this point.
Emmerson says Perrelli’s lawyer should be present
Regional Chair Emmerson: OK. I'm going to suggest that Councillor Perrelli has a point. If we're going to get into a major debate on this Integrity Commissioner and more questions I believe his lawyer should be present.
I think he felt that it would be received (indistinct) and that the report would come back regarding blocking and muting of social media accounts. But now you've gone into asking what happens if Councillor Perrelli does not unblock. I think this is the question. Unblock Mr Cherniak until the report comes back and he'll still be blocked. So I think you're asking that to (indistinct) so I think it's only fair that Councillor Perrelli has someone with him so he can then debate this whole issue.
So if you are gonna ask for deferral I’d ask you to put your motion on the floor to defer this for month’s time. And then it will come back at that time. With his (Councillor Perrelli) chance to bring his lawyer and you can ask questions for the Integrity Commissioner at that time.
Mayor Taylor: So. I will say three things. I am sure you don’t intend it this way but it sounds like the problem here is me asking a question.
Regional Chair Emmerson: No it’s not.
Mayor Taylor: And, secondly, I am not going to move a motion to defer because I don’t want to defer and I don’t have a reason to do so. And, thirdly, I would still like to hear from our solicitor on the point of order.
The Region’s Solicitor gives his opinion
Regional Chair Emmerson: OK. Mr Kuzmyk.
Region Solicitor Dan Kuzmyk: Thank you Chairman, Through you. At this point all that is before this Council to my understanding is the report of the Integrity Commissioner – and I am certainly looking for guidance and input from the Integrity Commissioners but, at this point, all that is before this Council is the presentation of their report – which does not seek any sanctions – and puts forward a recommendation that this Council adopt a policy with respect to social media use.
So I am a little bit at a loss as to why this Council will not be able to discuss or deal with this matter on those discrete issues that are before it at this time. At such time as there may be discussion with respect to a sanction, at that point I would respectfully suggest, again subject to the input of the Integrity Commissioner, if there is going to be legal representation or anything like that, that would impact the interests of a member of this council, at that point it would be appropriate to bring in legal counsel.
Until such time, all that is before Council at this time is to consider and/or receive a report and, subject to the Clerk’s input, I would suggest that discussion on that issue, questions with respect to that issue, could properly ensue.
But, again, I was not expecting a fulsome debate on this issue and am a little bit – I don’t want to say – unsure but I’d certainly like the perspective of the Integrity Commissioner and perhaps the Clerk if I have gone astray in my consideration of some of the issues that are before us at this time.
Richmond Hill’s Acting Mayor Joe DiPaolo says Perrelli is an “extremely problematic elected official” who has “threatened members of Richmond Hill staff”.
Regional Chair Emmerson: OK. Councillor DiPaolo please.
Acting Mayor DiPaola (Richmond Hill): OK. Thank you Mr. Chairman. I certainly… Two things are at work here. I sympathize with all elected officials in dealing with members of the public in social media forums. We all want to be open and transparent and we want to communicate with people but there are problematic users of those forums that that have to be dealt with and I see the need for the policy.
I think we always have to err on the side of caution. It's difficult. I think any elected official will understand that you do need to make decisions and use tools available on social media to prevent things from getting out of control although you want to promote healthy debate. So I think that's important. And I want members of council here to understand that I'm coming from that. And then I also think, with regards to codes of conduct complaints, it's important. An elected official merely by being accused and having a complaint against them suffers just for the complaint coming forward.
I hope and I expect that an Integrity Commissioner would have dismissed any complaint if there wasn't merit. But the fact is it has got to this stage where it has come to council. It has been investigated. It has been considered.
Regional Council has three options with regards to integrity complaints that come forward. We can accept the findings. We can receive and do nothing. Issue a reprimand or impose a penalty, that being a suspension of a pay.
I do agree that in this case we should support the finding that is recommending that nothing be done. But I really want to commend Mr Cherniak for coming forward to council today. For having the courage to put this complaint forward. The complaint would not be in front of Regional Council if there wasn’t some merit.
I also want to commend Mayor Taylor. It is very difficult to stand your ground and state your case against someone who is well informed and who is not afraid to use his position to intimidate and cause fear.
Regional Council members this is on the floor right now. Part of considering a complaint is to examine the conduct of the member in question and I will tell you that Regional Councillor Perrelli is an extremely problematic elected official.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Excuse me Acting Mayor DiPaulo. Sure that has to come in to play
Acting Mayor DiPaulo: Relevant to the subject on the floor.
Regional Chair Emmerson: I don't think that's really called for.
Acting Mayor DiPaulo: I think it's important because it takes it takes a lot of courage to deal with an individual…
Regional Chair Emmerson: Just stick to the complaint and go forward. Go ahead.
Acting Mayor DiPaulo: I think members of Regional Council need to be aware that we have an elected official who believes… misunderstands his role as councillor. He believes that he can act unilaterally and take… he has threatened members of Richmond Hill staff.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Hang on. Acting Mayor DiPaulo. Can we… I am not sure where you are going. But I am not sure it is relevant to what we are talking about – the Integrity Commissioner’s report. Would you stick to that Sir, please. I am not interested in what Richmond Hill Council does. Can you stick to that please.
Acting Mayor DiPaolo: OK. I agree with Mayor Taylor. I think we should hear from our Integrity Commissioner and I'll leave it at that. If this is deferred and this comes back I can address that at that time. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Taylor quizzes Integrity Commissioner on the implications of an ongoing breach of the Code of Conduct
Mayor Taylor to the Integrity Commissioner Jeffrey Abrams: …. You mean no sanctions to be imposed and therefore I'll try to put words in your mouth and tell me if I am wrong. You feel that council should, let’s call it, live with the ongoing breach or that is not an ongoing breach until the policy is developed. Is that what you are saying? But if you are I’m fine with that. I'm just trying to get clarity we've had a deputation that raised what appeared to be an interesting issue and I am trying to understand.
Integrity Commissioner: I think it is an interesting issue as well. We both do. And what I'm saying is that council should put a policy in place and it can put an interim policy in place quite rapidly if it wishes to remedy what the deputant was complaining about.
In other words to say to all of you, all members of Council, that if you are going to block, and this is an ongoing matter, you need to give notice and an explanation why and a time period during which the blocking would be in effect. For Open Twitter accounts. This is what the focus of the report is.
Mayor Taylor: I’ll ask one last question. I’ll be very frank. I would find it hard to develop an interim policy. I think there's varying levels of understanding of social media and how it works and the implications. And then it leads to another question and another question and another question. I think we would need time to dig into this and understand it.
And so what I would ask you very specifically is (this): do you think Council would be taking an incorrect position or stance to simply move on and develop the policy and not deal with the block. I mean we can ask and we can recommend that the person voluntarily works it out or removes the block but in the absence of that are we allowing something that should be addressed to go on? Or is it acceptable to allow it to go on until the policy is developed?
Integrity Commissioner: This is not a hearing today. This is not a trial nor is it really the adjudication of positions taken by one side or the other. We are not at court. This is about the public interest. And the higher order public interest we think is served by the council taking the time to develop a proper policy guiding its members on the use of social media and perhaps other forms of media.
Mayor Scarpitti referenced newsletters before - which are not before us - but it did draw (to) my mind a bit of a parallel. Right. So if a member of council chose to issue a newsletter but chose also to block out certain specific addresses from the receipt of that newsletter that would be more or less in parallel with the discussion that council is having today. Right?
That's why the code has been addressed despite the fact that it does not have a specific provision about either that case or the open social media/open Twitter account case.
But the public interest is best served, we think, by council taking a considered view of what the policy ought to be in these circumstances.
Mayor Taylor: And my final question to you would be: Would you agree that if members of Council, including councillor Perrelli, were to err on the side of best practice, that in the interim while we develop a policy, that members - if it applies to any and (to) Councillor Perrelli – (should) unblock all members (sic) as opposed to leaving them blocked until the policy is developed.
I think that's something we should consider. (And) that, as a council, we (should) reflect your recommendations, unblock people, because it is a public square, and develop the policy and then the policy might put some constraints or restraints into place that we could step into. But in the interim I think the better measure is to open the public square, voluntarily.
Integrity Commissioner: I do have a concern with that suggestion Mayor Taylor and that is this. We think the other end of the spectrum is the obligation a member of council might have to remove vile postings on their own site because they are re-publishing. So we do think, absolutely, members of council have the discretion to block people in appropriate circumstances to prevent the publication of vile and inappropriate offensive information on their social media accounts.
We considered this particular fact/situation. We did not think that the one hashtag amounted to that condition - that's our finding - but I would be careful about a position taken by council that says that nobody can block anyone. That is not what we are suggesting occur in all this.
Mayor Taylor. OK. Thank you. I guess we'll have to get into policy more because I thought that there are other ways to remove vile comments without blocking. Blocking just allows someone to at least read or access your information. You can remove posts that are vile or misleading. But we will leave that to the policy discussion – it confuses me a little. But I'll take your guidance and direction and I'm happy to support the recommendations now but I’d like clarity on that.
What was the specific contravention of the Code of Conduct?
Mayor Scarpitti (Markham): ...just so I am clear in my own mind. And I voted in support of the motion that was here. Can I just – more for the discussion when this report comes back - can I just be clear in one sentence from the Integrity Commissioner what the contravention of the Code was specifically?
I understand the principles that were considered… because I think it does help us – I could ask this three months from now whenever the report comes back – but, in a sentence or two, what was the actual contravention of our Code because I think it helps shape where policy might go in relation to social media or other forms that are used to communicate with constituents.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Mr Abrams
Integrity Commissioner: Thank you. The Mayor references the principles in the Code. That is the structure of the York Region Code of Conduct which has in Section D a number of principles; some are more policy oriented some are more specific. But, to answer the question directly, as we indicate in paragraph 89 of our report we find that the arbitrary blocking and open Twitter account contravenes the Code of Conduct principle that members shall serve the public in a conscientious and diligent manner that promotes public confidence and bear public scrutiny.
Now we also outline in paragraph 35, talk about the three code provisions that are in play that that particular guiding principle informs. So you are to some extent making our point which is that members have a significant obligation to treat their constituents with respect, to be open and transparent and do a number of things which, when you put them together, we think amounts to a breach of the code but we also say, we hasten to add, that the code doesn't provide sufficient guidance in these circumstances for us to recommend that there be a sanction imposed.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Thank you. Any comments?
Mayor Scarpitti: I think it will help shape the policy when it comes forward. What I want to get more information on doesn’t impact (indistinct) here.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Thank you. Councillor Perrelli.
Perrelli says decision to block Cherniak was not arbitrary but considered. He objects to the term COVIDIOT which he considers offensive.
Regional Councillor Perrelli: I just want to respond to Mayor Scarpitti’s question/comment. I think what we really need to take from all of this is that the finding of guilt hinged on what Mr Abrams (the Integrity Commissioner) said -which was the word “arbitrary”.
It was the opinion of the Integrity Commissioner that both the disrespect (for what I consider to be disrespectful and unacceptable conduct) and comments of the complainant, he (the Integrity Commissioner) considered to be “arbitrary”. So let me just explain. When we do bring this policy back we better make pretty sure that we know what we are talking about.
So, two reasons why he (the complainant Jason Cherniak) was blocked: one, associating me with a COVIDIOT. For those that know what that means, it means someone, an idiot, who goes against all of the safety protocol of this pandemic.
You all know that for months I have always stated social distancing, wearing masks, follow the safety protocols, contact tracing. The only thing that I agreed with was when Dr Kurji stated that there was no transmission from businesses, places of worship, restaurants etc, and I said that if that's what you believe then we shouldn't go in a lockdown. (That’s) all I said.
Now, calling me a COVIDIOT is offensive and I cannot afford, and none of us can afford, for our constituents to think that I was opposed to safety protocols. A blanket statement like that needs to be challenged and/or stopped.
Number two. The same complainant called me a shyster. A shyster. Now if you guys are OK with someone calling you an idiot and a shyster I can guarantee you that if I called one of you guys an idiot or a shyster there would be a code of conduct complaint being made and I would be found guilty of that.
So, back to Mayor Scarpitti’s comment. This all hinged in my opinion, and in my lawyer’s opinion, all on the fact that the Integrity Commissioner found it to be arbitrary and I disagree. And moving forward we have to be very careful because if we're going to allow someone else retroactively to decide if we have the right to block someone and they call me an idiot or a stooge or a moron or a donkey - and then we're going to let an integrity commissioner decide whether that was offensive or not?
We are opening a real Pandora’s Box here ladies and gentlemen. So, I just put it out there for the future. You saw this report. It’s been done now. It’s been dealt with and I can speak about it. But look… the reality is this. The Integrity Commissioner found me guilty of a policy based on what he thought was an arbitrary… arbitrary (action). No. I had very good reason to do (what I did). I'm not against anybody challenging me. Today, in the past or in the future. You want to challenge my decisions? Absolutely. You wanna argue with me all day long. But when you go stoop to the level of calling me an idiot and a shyster, I'm sorry I draw the line on that.
That is not acceptable conduct. The Integrity Commissioner disagreed, called it “arbitrary” and because it was arbitrary (we have this report).
And, lastly, the other thing he considered, my Twitter accounts a Town Square where my lawyer gave a very long explanation as to why… (interruption)
Regional Chair Emmerson: Can we… I understand… I know you are trying to comment on Mayor Scarpetti but… I understand that. OK Councillor Ferri next and then Mayor Taylor.
Councillor Ferri (Vaughan): I certainly will support the motion on the floor but, and before this debate is over, I want to get clarification. Councillor Perrelli suggested that we should look at whether he is indemnified by the Region or not. And this incident happened because he is a member of Regional council and local Council and so in the course of conducting the business this situation arose.
I had understood – and this is where I need clarification – does the indemnification policy we currently have in the region, does it cover situations like this. I don’t need an answer right now but I would like an answer at some point.
Regional Chair Emmerson: OK. I’ll get you that Sir. I’ll get you that next week hopefully. Thank you. Mayor Taylor
Taylor presses for a workshop on the issues
Mayor Taylor: Speaking directly to the motion. I don't fully support the motion to be honest. I think it's important that we put in it that it is either a – I don’t know. I am looking, Chairman Emmerson, for some guidance from you or the Clerk – a Special Committee of the Whole or Council or a Workshop and then a report. But I think to bring report on this topic straight to a Committee of the Whole or Council… there’s so much for people to want to ask… could we look at this as well?
I think this is a two-step process and I would like to suggest that we make the motion for a workshop followed by a staff report because I think there's members of public who want to see where we are going in advance of the report. The report’s coming out four, five or six days in advance. So I would suggest that we amend it (the motion) to be a workshop followed up by a staff report on this policy.
The last thing I would say – it’s just food for thought as we go into this – (is that) we went through this code of conduct and many people in council strongly advocated that we not get very specific and keep it vague in high level now we're hearing maybe that should be different. I think there is a lot to be said for specificity and I think that’s where we are going.
I would like to ask if we are open to a friendly amendment for a workshop and a staff report. I don’t think we can just… there are going to be so many questions and levels of understanding that we need to work through this in advance with a staff report.
What is agreed
Regional Chair Emmerson: All we are doing with this is to approve and receive the report from the Integrity Commissioner, Mr Abrams. All those in favour? Against? Being none. Now I’d ask that a motion come forward regarding the policy. And that the staff prepare a policy going forward. For blocking, muting social media, newspapers, newsletters. I know it will come back as a policy but I believe it is a little bit more now than could be done in a month’s time so we’ll get it back to you as soon as we possibly can. So I need someone to move that motion at this time. Thank you Councillor Hamilton. Seconded by Councillor Ferri. Comments or questions on that? Councillor Jones?
Councillor Jones (Markham): Since you are including the whole gamut. It should include your web page and websites too.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Sure.
Councillor Jones: And it should be what you say in public meetings.
Regional Chair Emmerson: Ah. Let’s see how far we go. You can always add that. OK? I hear you Sir. Now Mayor Scarpitti you did ask for something to go into camera. Is there anything in any of these motions affecting what you want to go into camera on, Sir?
Workshop in the Fall
Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson: Motion to be moved and seconded by Councillors Hamilton and Ferri. Mayor Taylor is asking for a workshop. I don’t believe we’ll get to this until the Fall anyways because of COVID and what’s happening. If you want a workshop I’ll have to schedule one on an opposite Thursday when we don’t have a Council meeting and then the report would come out after public participation.
So I think what Mayor Taylor is looking for might be deputants at a workshop. I don’t know. But I mean if you want a workshop, Sir, I’d be happy to do it but we’ll need Council’s permission and I want Council’s direction on that…. It will not be until the Fall. Are you OK with that Councillor Hamilton and Councillor Ferri? Thank you. The motion is on the floor that we have a workshop regarding the policy on muting on social media on that part and then after the workshop there will be a further report to come to Council, open to the public. OK That’s the motion on the floor. Motion is carried.