It is getting dangerous out there - staff are at risk and getting hurt

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

May 6th, 2021



Council went into a Closed Session yesterday on six different items; one of which related to a person (believed to be a staff member) who could be named- thus the need for privacy.

There are reports that a city employee was harassed, or injured while doing their job.

There is basically no information but the city has suspended its Park Ambassador program.

Someone was hurt.

Staff put forward all kinds of information on city policy related to workplace violence.

bylaw options


Earlier today Regional Police Chief Tanner told council during a virtual delegation that the police would not be getting involved in matters relating to how people in the parks behaved.

Everyone was walking away from the issue and saying that it was going to be up to the public to be cautious and tell the bylaw people that they saw a problem y calling the Covid hot line that few people even know exists.

The number is 905-825-4722: write it on the palm of your hand or the cuff of your shirt because things are getting nasty out there.

The best the city seems to be able to do is issue a communication to the public.

Amber Rushton

Amber Rushton

Amber Rushton, a city staff member that Tim Commisso once said he could not do without, provided some data that normally comes from the Public Health Unit.  She has commented in the past on her difficulties with them.

Rushton was providing data on the damage and the impact the Covid variants were having on the transmission and level of infections.

The last line of the statement she read out is truly troubling: “Mental health tribulations, civil unrest, anti-government movements, social isolation strains = short term crisis + Long Term Community Recovery.”

In my experience as a reporter I have never heard a civil servant make a statement like that in public.  I bounced that off people who have deep civil service experience – their experience was the same.  Rushton was not wrong; however the solution to the issues she highlighted are not better public communication.

ashton data

Denise Beard -stern

Denise Beard: in the seven years we have covered Ms Beard and her work at city hall we have never seen her as concerned and disturbed as she was today.

Denise Beard, one of the Parks and Recreation managers said “there was a violent incident that came up in the Closed session of Council” that took place yesterday.

A bylaw department staffer said that “no one thought this would happen – there is a lot of animosity out there”

When the idea of creating the Park Ambassadors positions someone said they were going to be on site to help people enjoy a “Disney like experience”.

Ward 2 Councilor Lisa Kearns said the public needs to be warned about what not to expect in the parks and asked “why is nothing being done about the way people are congregating in the parks. This is getting dangerous.”

Stolte May 5

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte

Councillor Stolte wanted to know: “How do we communicate this to the public adding that “we need to land a message that explains what we can and what we cannot do to protect the public.”

It is going to take more than more signs – a change in public behavior is what city hall is asking for.

City manager Tim Commisso added that “that’s the crux of what we face” adding “the public is not aware” and that this is another opportunity to look at our communication plans.

Kwab Ako-Adjei, Director of Communications for the city said his people are working with the bylaw staff on a communications plan adding that there would be massive blow back from the public.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward told council that she had a meeting with police and bylaw people and met with the communications people to develop some initial material for members of Council and their staff.

The solution seems to be that the onus is for individuals to follow the guidelines – which at this point is to Stay at Home – that rule is in place until May 20th.

This is an important story.  It impacts everyone who lives in Burlington and gets out to enjoy the parks and get some fresh air.  When a staff member with significant field experience uses words like “Civil unrest, anti-government movements” and points out that “short term crises” = Long Term Community Recovery we need to pay close atention

Unfortunately not everyone in Burlington reads the Gazette – would you make a point of sharing this story with ten people in the city you know.  The message is critical – we are in serious trouble.


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9 comments to It is getting dangerous out there – staff are at risk and getting hurt

  • Denise W.

    Assault, has to be addressed. Hoping that charges have been laid. Not that I have any bias, but I think I would be excused from the jury pool. Hope it is not too serious of injury….

  • Penny Hersh

    How can residents in Burlington have faith in their council when some councillors are calling for streets to be closed off to allow for more people being able to walk outside. Congregation outside would be the end result, especially if there is entertainment.

    Going for exercise does not mean stopping to talk to people, getting together for an ice cream, or meeting with friends in the park. The same goes for outdoor farmer markets, etc. These need to be controlled with the number of people in the area at one time.

    As for communication by the city – who are they kidding? This has been an issue forever, and as many have said we are one year into this and just now it has been decided that better customer service and communication with the public is necessary.

    What about a councillor who sends an email to a resident in their ward indicating that they are not to communicate directly with them through their City of Burlington email address after asking for help, and challenging the way a simple request became ” a mountain out of a molehill” ? Is this good customer service?

  • Lynn Crosby

    Unfortunately this is not a Burlington nor a Halton problem but a widespread one. Incidents have occurred where bylaw people have been hurt in Brampton, Toronto, and many other places, near and far. Why on earth does our police chief say they won’t do anything? You can put officers to sit at road work locations or to patrol at crowded events but in this emergency we are on our own? Am I reading this correctly because that sounds absurd?

    Also absurd is Tim Commisso saying this is a communications problem (!!), the fact the council uses closed meetings way too much and the fact they ever thought using Ambassadors would be effective or safe in the first place. Where is our leadership? Half the city sits on the COVID table… and yet this is where we are at this late date??

  • perryb

    It is inexcusable for the police to decline to enforce provincial laws. We have seen far to many protests (not only pandemic related) where the police orders are to “attend” but not intervene even if the law is being violated. And people who get away with it are only encouraged to continue and flout any rules/laws as they see fit.

  • Bob

    That isn’t what was said.
    The current shutdown by the provincial government does not disallow people to exercise, including walking. Closing city parks was done municipally with a bi-law and the regional police are saying they won’t be enforcing bi-laws, hardly a lack of rules that would probably fail a Supreme Court challenge (the right to assemble)

    • perryb

      whether or not it is merely a bylaw violation to enter a closed park, it is still against the law to congregate in large numbers and hold parties. Some people don’t get it and need a proverbial whack upside the head to get their attention.

  • Blair Smith

    My first reaction to this is ‘what bubble have staff and Council been living in’? This was entirely predictable (and preventable) from the outset. You expect ‘Park Ambassadors’ who have no real authority to confront tired, disillusioned and now disbelieving people; people who have been repeatedly confined and restricted for over a year, and make them tell the crowd that they should behave differently – you have a potentially explosive situation. To put these well intentioned, feckless Ambassadors in such a position is irresponsible and possibly negligent. To say, as our City Manager has done, that this is “a communications issue” is dense beyond belief. It is not. The people have heard for over 13 months and they have decided that they no longer have faith in their leaders. It is a leadership and an enforcement issue. Full stop. Consider hiring ‘paid duty’ Halton cops (sorry Chief) to simply show their presence. People will react quite differently to actual representatives of the law who (incidentally) can meter out penalties with little recourse. This is how Toronto and Peel are dealing with even more difficult situations. Time for this group of ‘leaders’ to step up.

  • Bob

    City manager Tim Commisso added that “that’s the crux of what we face” adding “the public is not aware” and that this is another opportunity to look at our communication plans.

    Really? 4 weeks into the current shutdown and NOW is the opportunity to look at our communication plan?
    Personally I read my newspaper based in Toronto although a national paper. My news source the CBC doesn’t cover our local news. All 6 of our councillors had the opportunity to do a mailer at the beginning of this current wave. To think of communicating 2/3 of the way in is not really going to be prudent.

  • Steve W

    If I’m reading this correctly someone was physically hurt, assuming this was a city park ambassador. Now the program is suspended and the police chief says they are not going to enforce the rules in a park. This means there are no rules now… Right?