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Region endorses legislation to stop harassment and abuse on municipal councils

Former Cambridge mayor Kathryn McGarry voiced support for legislation, having heard 'thousands of stories' on the issue
Region of Waterloo administration complex
The Region of Waterloo administration complex on Frederick Street in Kitchener.

Regional council endorsed a bill Wednesday that would enable municipal councils to remove members of council who violate workplace harassment policies.

Currently, the region and other municipalities have codes of conduct that prohibit members of council from harassing or abusing other members, staff, volunteers, or the public. However, there is no option to remove members from office because of their conduct.

With the endorsement of Bill 5, the Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act, council will ask the province to consult with municipalities and their integrity commissioners when developing regulations related to the act.

Former Cambridge mayor Kathryn McGarry appeared as a delegation at last night's council meeting to "strongly support the motion," saying as a former head of council, MPP and a member of a 2015 Ontario all-parties select committee on sexual violence and harrassment, she has gained insight into the issue from hearing thousands of stories from across the region and Ontario.

"Harrassment and abuse of any kind are problematic in our community," she said, adding that as a nurse she cared for people who suffered traumatic abuse from colleagues in workplace situations and politicians.

Often, workplace harrassment complaints are filed against one individual, she said.

"Some politicians, and their family member or friend can be threatening in their words, tones or actions, creating a power imbalance that creates a toxic, fearful, intimidating work culture."

McGarry said some use fake social media names and accounts to "harass, undermine and discredit colleagues and staff."

She pointed to a "recent example" in Cambridge, where the city's mandatory staff and council relations policy was long delayed "by some obstructive councillors who apparently had complaints against them."

McGarry appeared to be referring to the 2019 ruling against current mayor and then councillor Jan Liggett, which found she violated the city's code of conduct when she submitted an unfavourable job performance review against a city staff member.

In his report on the incident, the city's integrity commissioner called Liggett’s "defamatory review" of the complainant "unnecessary" and an instance of workplace harassment in that it was "replete with false allegations in a work-related document" and was "an effort to impede the complainant’s employment for reasons that are not legitimate."

He ordered Liggett to formally apologize for her actions and take a "respectful/conflict management course."

McGarry said the public and local politicians deserve better in voicing her support for tougher legislation that will allow municipalities to remove politicians who violate codes of conduct.