An update on the city's decision to remove a reporter from city hall when they didn't have the authority to do so

By Pepper Parr

March 4th, 2024



An update on the occasions when the city of Burlington decided I should be banned from entering city hall.

They do this by issuing Notices of Trespass.

The first one was delivered to me by James Ridge, in September 2017

Former City Manager: James Ridge

Ridge served me with a Notice of Trespass – something I learned much later that he didn’t have the authority to do – which I am pretty sure he knew at the time.

At the time I was stunned; what bothered me most was that the decision to issue a Notice of Trespass  was based on a report on my behaviour that the city had done by an outside law firm engaged to investigate a complaint.

I was never interviewed, I was not given a copy of the report and thus had no way of defending myself nor did I know what it was I was supposed to have done.  The first ban was for one year.

I met with a number of lawyers; few had any experience with this kind of thing.

I decided to wait out the year and cover city hall as best I could without stepping into the building.

A year later I had not heard from the City.

The first Notice of Trespass expired one year later September 2018.

In October of 2018, then City Manager James Ridge issued a second Notice of  Trespass that was for an indeterminate length of time.

This time I knew why I was being served with the Notice of Trespass

Let me provide some context around this second incident.

When there was a Planning matter that I needed some clarification on I would call the planner on the file and ask some questions.  Most, but not all, were a pleasure to work with; they answered the questions often providing additional information.

Some were a little edgy: they weren’t sure just how much they could say and they didn’t want to annoy the Director of Planning who, at the time, was Mary Lou Tanner. She wanted to be aware of what I was talking to planning staff about.

Former Director of Planning – Mary Lou Tanner

I had suggested to Tanner that when I was communicating with planning staff by email I bcc her on every email.  That way she would be in the loop and could step in if she was concerned.

Up until that point there was a decent relationship with Mary Lou, or at least I thought so.

On what was Halloween Eve  of 2018 I sent Ms Tanner an email. The response was one of the automated “I am not at my desk” things.

Now appreciate this – I am talking to someone I felt I got along with reasonably well and it was during the day of Halloween Eve – and the person I wanted to talk to wasn’t available.

I responded with the following:

Emojis are a form of communication. How a smiling face could be seen as anything other than a joke was beyond me.

A second Notice of Trespass came from City Manager Ridge in October of 2018.  This notice was for an indeterminate period of time.

Some might feel the email was inappropriate – I could live with that.  Ridge in his second notice of  Trespass said:

You were clearly notified at that time that your pattern of behaviour directed at staff constituted harassment and a number of restrictions were imposed on your access to city hall and city hall staff under the Trespass to Property Act, R.S.O. 1991, c. T.21.

Two things: Ridge did not have the authority to issue a Notice of Trespass and exactly what can be defined as harassment appears to be whatever the city says it is.  Every opinion I got did not define the Halloween Eve email as harassment.

And that is where things stood.  The pandemic took over the way things worked everywhere and everyone did the best they could.

In June of 2023,  there was a motion on a Council Agenda to pass a bylaw related to Notices of Trespass.

Turns out the city did not have the right to issue Notices of Trespass unless there was a bylaw allowing them to do. .

What we had then was the city issuing Notices of Trespass when they didn’t have the authority to do so.

Some time later, September 27th, 2023 I had occasion to send an email to Blake Hurley who was now the City Solicitor.

I didn’t get a response from Hurley but did get a response from the law firm the city had hired when we sued every member of the 2018 Council.

The law firm told me that the Notice of Trespass that had been issued in October of 2018 had been withdrawn in July of 2019.

That was a surprise to me. I didn’t recall getting any notice from the city.  I checked the computers I use – What the city maintains they sent didn’t get to my computers.

Given the seriousness of the matter – requiring a credentialed journalist to be escorted by security while in city hall – is serious stuff.

It was my view that when advising me that the Notice of Trespass was being lifted, a responsible City Manager would have asked me to drop by for a short meeting during which he would advise me that the Notice of Trespass was no longer in place and then talk about how we could put together a working relationship that first ensured media, working for the public interest, would have access to key personnel and that there were clear procedure for interviewing staff.

The behaviour report the city had done in 2017 is, to this day, a document I have never seen.  It was issued by then city manager James Ridge who did say prior to the 2018 election that he would let me have a redacted copy of the Notice when the election was over.  Of course we all know what happened to Mr. Ridge.

While withdrawn, the document does exist, filed away somewhere, and easily brought forward again should it serve some city purpose.

Our motto – Informed people can make informed decisions – is behind everything we do.

I don’t believe the current administration is fervent in wanting an informed public.  They pay lip service to the concept but the proof is just not in the pudding at their table.

So here is where it all stands:

Any notices telling me that I was not permitted to enter city hall without an escort are no longer in effect.

However, the city tells me – If I ever do what they maintain I did they can use that report to kick me out again.

This is bullying and intimidation.

They are what they are – they do what they do.


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6 comments to An update on the city’s decision to remove a reporter from city hall when they didn’t have the authority to do so

  • The illusion of democracy will come tubbling down in the next decade.

    • Anne and Dave Marsden

      Sooner than expected Steve if those who appreciate how our municipal democracy was earned.have their way.

  • Caren

    This whole scenario is very alarming and wrong. Our City Council work for Burlington residents. We don’t work for them! We pay their salaries.

    I have watched several Council meetings and have listened to numerous delegations made before Council by different residents. And, I am appalled at how all of these delegates were treated by our City Council. If they say anything negative or offer solutions to a problem, Council automatically dismisses them. And more often then not our Council members do not ask questions of any delegates or show any interest whatsoever in what these delegates have to say. If it’s not on our Councils agenda it isn’t important or of any interest to them.

    Last time I checked, we are suppose to be living in a Democracy, “power of the people”: a way of governing which depends on the will of the people.

    And NOT strictly what our City Council wants!!! Which is exactly how our Burlington Municipality is now being run.

  • Anne and Dave Marsden

    Thanks for sharing. We believe you are correct in your position that prior to the new trespass by-law being approved in 2023, there was no authority for the city to issue trespass notices for city property. Ridge had that authority in his previous education position as per the Trespass to Property Act. It took a new head of legal to put the appropriate by-law support for issuing such notices in place.

    The by-law provides for the ability, when subject of a trespass notice, to continue to access city council chambers to attend public meetings. It also provides for an appeal process both of which were denied victims of the past City Manager with legal and council support, issue of such notices.

    Past and present city, council and legal have continued to support the inappropriate and some would say unlawful actions of the past city manager despite the impact on the democratic process the public believe we have at city hall.

    Quite an inheritance for a new city manager!

    Circumstances such as these are why we are addressing the need for a process to hold municipalities accountable as occurs out West.

  • Sue C.C.

    A very obvious case of both a denial of natural justice and exceeding the limits of appropriate authority. One of the largest problems with Municipal governance is that no truly independent body reviews the clucks in the henhouse. Cities like Burlington hire their Integrity Commissioners and Auditors and ad hoc legal advisors. These are paid help and act accordingly. Their continued employment largely depends on rulings favourable to their employer. We have seen this time and again. The Integrity Commissioner’s very questionable findings relative to the Ward 1 Councillor’s conflict of interest is a recent and glaring example, imo.

  • Lynn Crosby

    My thoughts:

    The email was inappropriate but was sent in a joking matter, isn’t harassment and surely could have been handled with a request for an apology and that’s the end of that.

    Very curious that the City created the bylaw to allow them to issue these notices in June of 2023. Is this directly because you and your lawyer were complaining about your Notice and they realized they could be facing some trouble for issuing it without authority? Possibly. Also possible that they’ve decided they want to issue these notices to all sorts of people who might dare to delegate and say things they don’t like etc. I recall they went to great lengths to claim as the mayor said “we are not punching bags” as if members of the public are a bunch of hooligans. We’ve seen delegates kicked out of chambers since they’ve made this new bylaw. Perhaps a little compassion for people who are upset and some kindness would go a long way to calming down such situations and perhaps the incredibly unwelcoming and in fact nasty atmosphere that exists in Council chambers helps cause delegates to react angrily? As would being treated with hostility and disdain?

    It’s rather rich that your “behaviour” is being called out when the Mayor and Councillor Nisan are both on video displaying horrible behaviour to Councillor Stolte at public meetings.

    I can’t see how it is ok that you’ve never been given access to the details of the initial complaint nor told what behaviour you’re not allowed to repeat. Surely the old report should be null and void since in 2018 they had no authority to make it. Therefore, as of the date they passed the bylaw in June 2023, the only relevant thing is that your actions from that day on comply with this bylaw. Everything else before is irrelevant. Except that they owe you an apology and an explanation for why they did that in the first place.

    It seems that the definition of “harassment” is, as you say, whatever the Mayor and council say it is – and certainly seems to include being critical of them and their decisions and sending them an email on a matter more than once. That the first email was not responded to in a manner in which the sender feels answers the questions or addresses the concern, doesn’t matter. I’ve seen many examples from people who received email responses which end with the line “this file is now closed.” The receiver doesn’t agree it’s closed when nothing has been resolved or even properly acknowledged.

    But this seems to be the new normal at city hall. Think of the time they’ve spent working to shut us all up.