The public might hear a little bit more today about the Public Conduct Policy

By Pepper Parr

June 10th, 2023



City Council is meeting today to work through a 22 page agenda.

One of the items is Public Conduct Policy and Trespass Bylaw. .

The public first learned of the plans the city has to invoke the Trespass Act when it was on the agenda of the June 26th Standing Committee meeting agenda.

The standard practice is for an item on the agenda to be presented by a Staff member who explains what the report is about after which Council members can ask questions.

This particular report was not presented – no one spoke to it. It came from the Clerk’s Office – we learned later during the meeting that the report was written by a Staff member in the Legal department.

The public had no idea what the city administration was up to and how severe the restrictions were and how the city planned to clamp down on the matter of people harassing staff or speaking to them in an unacceptable mater.

The Mayor Tweeted a comment saying they were elected to serve – not to become punching bags.

In a draft of the Policy they begin to define what misbehaviour is.

The purpose of this policy is to guide City staff in identifying and responding to behaviour that qualifies as misconduct. The decision to classify someone’s behaviour or actions as misconduct could have serious consequences for the individual.

Steps that may be taken to address offending behaviour may range from the issuance of a verbal or written warning to the issuance of a Trespass Notice in accordance with the City’s Trespass By-law.

Any restrictions imposed under this policy are dependent on the relevant factual circumstances, and there is an opportunity for the affected individual to have any restrictions, including Trespass Notices, reviewed in accordance with the applicable procedures.

This policy applies to:

(a) all persons in attendance on or at any and all City of Burlington properties, facilities, or programs, including any City of Burlington transit vehicles; and
(b) all persons interacting with City of Burlington staff, volunteers, Members of Council, or members of the public in any manner, including, but not limited to, one or more of the following:

(i) public meetings;
(ii) written communications;
(iii) telephone communications;
(iv) in-person communications;
(v) electronic communications, including e-mail, text message, and social media;
(vi) at City owned property, parks, and facilities; and/or
(vii) at non-City owned property, when interacting with City staff.

This policy will be followed in determining whether behaviour constitutes misconduct. Once it has been determined that misconduct has occurred, this policy will be followed in the implementation of any restrictions.

Definition and Examples of Misconduct
The term “misconduct” as utilized in this policy applies to a range of inappropriate behaviour from disruptive conduct, such as frequent unreasonable demands or requests by a customer, to conduct such as vandalism, threats of violence, or actual violence. For further clarity, misconduct includes:

Does the Policy make the point ?

• Conduct that is designed to embarrass or annoy the recipient, or is part of a pattern of conduct by an individual that amounts to an abuse of a City process or service;

Repeated complaints by an individual that have no serious purpose or value, or about a matter so trivial or meritless on its face that investigation would be disproportionate in terms of time and cost.
the decision to identify an individual’s behaviour as misconduct and to impose Examples of possible misconduct include:

• refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint or changing the basis of a complaint/request as the matter proceeds, despite offers of assistance;
• submitting falsified documents from themselves or others;
• making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff with lengthy phone calls, emails to numerous staff, or detailed letters every few days, and expecting immediate responses;
• refusing to accept a decision or information provided by staff/repeatedly arguing points with no new evidence;
• persistently approaching the City through different routes about the same issue;
• covertly recording meetings and conversations;
• causing distress to staff, volunteers, Members of Council, or members of the public which could include use of hostile, abusive, or offensive language, or an unreasonable fixation on an individual member of staff, volunteer, Member of Council, or member of the public;
• making unjustified complaints about staff, a volunteer, or Member of Council who are trying to deal with the issues;
• engaging in or inciting violence or making threats of violence;
• engaging in aggressive, harassing, hostile, intimidating or disrespectful behaviour;
• vandalizing or causing damage to City property or vandalizing or causing damage to the personal property of persons while attending City premises;
• using coarse language, or making racial or ethnic slurs, while accessing a City program, service, program, event or facility;
restrictions based upon that determination can have serious consequences for the individual.

An appropriate public response perhaps ?

This policy applies to members of the public whose behaviours and actions amount to misconduct; it is not intended to apply to generally difficult clients and individuals. Determining whether particular behaviours or actions qualify as misconduct requires a consideration of all of the circumstances of a particular case; the key question is whether the behaviour is likely to cause, or has caused, an unjustified disruption or distress to staff, volunteers, Members of Council, or members of the public.

If a Staff member, any staff member felt they were not being treated with the respect they were entitled to they could take a complaint to their Director.

If a citizen called people in a department seeking some information and felt they weren’t getting the full story and decided to call around and talk to other staff members. Here is how that gets covered:

• refusing to accept a decision or information provided by staff/repeatedly arguing points with no new evidence;
• persistently approaching the City through different routes about the same issue;

If someone uses a picture of a member of staff. Here is how that one is worded:
• photographing, filming or recording patrons, volunteers or staff without their express written consent or knowledge or without the permission of City staff;

Any Staff member can make a complaint to the Director of the department they work for. The Director listens and makes a determination that could ban them from attending events at city hall. If the person who has been WORD does not accept the Director’s decision it can be appealed to the Executive Director the Director reports to – but first you will have to pay a fee of $200 to be heard.

The document that sets out what this Public Conduct Policy and Trespass Bylaw 13 pages long. You can count on two hands the number of people who will have read that document on the city web site.

The city seems to have figured out how they will manage misbehaviour. Ban people from attending Council meetings or talking to staff.

What is more important is that the public has not been given a chance to hear how this Policy is going to be implemented and managed.

Expect the Gazette to report as often as possible on what the city is setting out to do.

Stephen White, an accredited Human Resources specialist and frequent commenter on public issues.

Stephen White a frequent commenter in the Gazette put it very well when he said:

“Gone are the days I suppose when, if someone was presumed to have uttered an offensive and defamatory comment that the offended and offending party would meet to resolve the issue in private. With the advent of social media anything goes, and defamation, slander, libel and threats run amok.

“That said, there is a quantum difference between defamation and offensive behaviour vs. constructive criticism, honest disagreement, and public opposition. The City seems overtly concerned with controlling the narrative and limiting free speech and free expression. This is probably part of the ESG/EDI agenda in which everyone is expected to quote WOKE missives, indulge in equity “happy talk”, and not express disapproval.

“City officials don’t comprehend that cognitive dissonance and honest disagreement are the trademarks of a thriving democracy. If City officials expended as much time and effort on promoting engagement with community groups as they do on silencing honest opposition we might actually have a more politically active populace rather than one where civic involvement is moribund, and the citizens are essentially kept in the dark.”

To get a sense as to just how silly this is: Realize that Spencer Smith Park is city property.

This is your city council. It is there to represent you and to ensure that you are getting the services you want at a tax rate that is reasonable and fair.

The budget that will be debated in the fall appears to be looking at an increase of 8% – some observers are predicting an increase of 10%.

The new policy replaces a policy that was due for a review in 2020. When the city finally got around to revising the bylaw “they try to ram it through without public input and Engagement. This is scandalous, was the way one reader described what is taking place..

Councillor Rory Nisan – the Councillor for ward 3 who lives in ward 2

Another citizen who is very familiar with how city administrations work said: “this one makes me nervous! And which people will be targeted? “

There is more – we will be watching the Council meeting very carefully – perhaps someone might even say something about the policy – so far no staff member has said is as much is as a word. Mayor Meed Ward and Councillor Rory Nisan liked the policy and commented favourably.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 comments to The public might hear a little bit more today about the Public Conduct Policy

  • Blair Smith

    For what it’s worth, I was a committed supporter of our current mayor in 2018 (and prior) and a “true believer” in what she professed. However, I changed during the early part of her first term as I recognized two things; that, apart from an acquired cunning and a well practised persona, she really was very limited in her actual beliefs and that, to an extraordinary degree, she was ‘form over substance’. She had (and has) little interest in or capacity for program and policy development – the main products and responsibilities of every level of government. Instead, she is drawn to the clearly visible, the open display, the candy floss of virtue signaling. And she is impatient with complication and largely intolerant of agendas that conflict with her own. This is my personal opinion but it is not an exclusive one. Significantly, virtually every member of her core 2018 Campaign Team has not only withdrawn their support but are now opposed, either openly, like myself, or quietly behind the scenes. And we talk.

    I have watched as the promised democratic reforms needed for City Hall sit ignored on a dusty shelf, as true public engagement has become a series of cynical ‘pro forma’ exercises, as discretionary funding of ‘feel good’ projects has depleted critical reserves, and as major capital expenditures requiring public input and full awareness have proceeded with ‘closed door’ negotiations and a ‘need to know’ veil of silence imposed. It is not just that the promises of 2018 remain unfulfilled; it is that we live with governance and service structures that are their opposite.

    The Mayor frequently talks about how well Council is aligned, how uniform they are in their views and direction. Indeed, it is the principal justification (apology?) that she cites when rationalizing her new Strong Mayor powers. But uniformity and alignment at the possible expense of open, honest and respectful opposition is the enemy of democracy, not its hallmark. And some would say that all it took to achieve this remarkable unity of position was a Deputy Mayor title on six City Hall doors.

    The most appalling development of all in the progressive isolationism of Council is the proposed Public Conduct Policy that, arguably, would seem to be as much about silencing dissent as it is about ensuring respectful behaviour. What is the need? And if there is one, it would seem to be misdirected. The only truly awful recent examples of dysfunctional conduct were displayed by the Mayor herself and one other member of Council. Other components of the Policy that prohibit continued public disagreement with approved decisions of Council are the flatulence of an entitled autocracy not the expression of democratically elected representatives. How would these provisions be received during Question Period in either the Ontario Legislature or the Federal House of Commons? This Council, in my opinion, is very much in danger of distancing itself entirely from the citizenry that it is intended to serve.

    • Thank you Blaie an excellent summary of where Council is today compared to what people believed in 2018 when the people entrusted them to serve and make decisions that met our needs and fit our incomes.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Holy moly, Batman, they’ve lost the plot.