Barrie City Council has followed through on a reprimand to one of its own, despite delays and some protest to the contrary.
Council held a special meeting at City Hall on Wednesday evening, to give final debate and vote on an Integrity Commissioner’s Report recommending Councillor Keenan Aylwin be reprimanded for a post he made on Facebook that included a pair of local MPs and mentions of white nationalism. The reprimand, a sort of municipal caution, comes with a stipulation the post in question be removed. This is the first time since the introduction of an Integrity Commissioner at the city that a sitting Councillor has been reprimanded.
Aylwin did face lawsuits from both MPs John Brassard and Alex Nuttall, the pair of federal politicians mentioned in the post. Following Wednesday’s decision, Brassard said in a statement he will be dropping the defamation suit, while Nuttall previously stated he would do the same should the post come down.
Following the vote, Mayor Jeff Lehman told a crowded council chamber it should never have come to this. “What should have happened here, long before this point, would have been for Councillor Aylwin to recognize that, while the reasons he said what he said and his purpose may have been right, the way he said it was wrong. And he should have apologized to MP Brassard and taken down the post.” Lehman added “And, in my opinion, MP Brassard should have dropped his lawsuit.”
The hotly debated issue became a polarizing one well before Wednesday’s meeting, with allegations from different sides of partisanship and violation of free speech, while Lehman said the entire issue could tarnish Barrie’s image. “This is one of the most difficult situations in nine years of Mayor that I’ve ever faced, and I’ll tell you why. Because my responsibility is to this city; It’s not to friends or parties, or even other members of council or friends in the gallery. My responsibility is to Barrie. And I am concerned. I am concerned how this playing out is going to affect how people view Barrie.” He added that the only issue that should have been at the table was that of the Code of Conduct, that it was in no way about free speech or white nationalism.
Wednesday’s meeting was to ratify an earlier decision to enforce a reprimand, while there was a chance for debate from council, along with a series of deputations from the public. Not all who wanted to make a deputation were given the chance, however, as council elected not to hear any of the six emergency deputations submitted after the deadline. Councillor Doug Shipley declared a conflict of interest after being named the Conservative candidate to run for Alex Nuttall’s riding of Barrie-Springwater-Oro Medonte, while Aylwin was also not at the table due to an obvious conflict. Neither cast a vote in the decision not to hear emergency deputations, while Mayor Jeff Lehman was the only one at the table who voted in favour. The vote elicited calls of “shame” from the gallery, before the seven deputants who applied to speak before the cut-off were given ten minutes each to speak. Deputy Mayor Barry Ward addressed councils choice not to hear any other deputants. “This is the continuation of a meeting that was held last Monday. People had lots of time to say if they wanted to make a deputation. We did add people to the deputations last Monday.” Ward added “We had to cut it off somewhere. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to hear from anybody on the other side.”
The contentious Integrity Commissioner’s report claims Aylwin violated the city’s Code of Conduct on March 21st, when he made a post on Facebook that spoke of both Barrie-area MPs John Brassard and Alex Nuttall, along with white supremacy and neo-nazism. The Integrity Commissioner declared the association crossed a line.
A special meeting was scheduled for Wednesday evening, after an earlier regularly scheduled meeting went long with debate on other matters.