Special Report: Integrity Commissioner

Ferguson/Coleman Incident Reaches Canadaland, Boing Boing

There is nothing like the perspective of an outside third-party report to demonstrate just how freaking absurd this whole fiasco has been.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 17, 2015

Yesterday morning, national journalist Jesse Brown of CANADALAND posted a podcast interview with Joey Coleman about the never-ending debacle of an aftermath to the February 26, 2014 incident in which Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson grabbed and shoved Coleman in the public lobby of City Council Chambers.

There is nothing like the perspective of an outside third-party report to demonstrate just how freaking absurd this whole fiasco has been.

If you are not sure why this issue hasn't gone away yet, I highly recommend listening to the podcast, which does an excellent job of delving into the background and context between Ferguson and Coleman.

That context includes an altercation earlier on the same day when Ferguson left his seat in Council Chambers and argued with Coleman so loudly that the Chair had to call for order.

Ferguson turning to glare at Coleman (Screen capture from YouTube video)
Ferguson turning to glare at Coleman (Screen capture from YouTube video)

Coleman had just tweeted that the "accountability and transparency" Sub-Committee, which had just been renamed the Governance Sub-Committee, was meeting at the same time as another meeting. Ferguson replied to debate the point and then got up to confront Coleman face-to-face at the Council meeting.

Several councillors turning to look at argument between Ferguson and Coleman (Screen capture from YouTube video)
Several councillors turning to look at argument between Ferguson and Coleman (Screen capture from YouTube video)

Ferguson was the chair of the Accountability and Transparency Sub-Committee while it spent years dragging its feet on establishing a Lobbyist Registry, and Coleman had to fight constantly to receive notice of upcoming meetings, agendas and minutes.

That was also the committee which established the office of the Integrity Commissioner, who would go on to investigate the incident between Ferguson and Coleman and submit a widely-criticized report that didn't bother to interview anyone other than Ferguson.

The report found that Ferguson had violated the Council Code of Conduct but he shouldn't face any reprisals because it had been a long, hard day and Ferguson thought Coleman had "eavesdropped on private conversations" - you know, in the lobby of City Hall on the way to a press conference.

Issue Still Not Resolved

While Hamilton's daily newspaper wants everyone to just get over it, already, the issue is nowhere near resolved. Coleman has since faced a steady campaign of obstruction and bullying from City staff, who complained that he was covering too many meetings and accused him of "hacking" the city website because he was using the public RSS feed to see when staff posted new public reports on public meetings.

Coleman was banned from using the City's internet connection under a City Website Acceptable Use Policy that prohibits anyone to "reproduce, publish, copy, link to, frame, tag, embed, merge, modify, recompile, license, distribute, sell, store in an electronic retrieval system, download (except by the browser of a single user) or transmit, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means whatsoever" any website content without "prior written permission" from the City.

Just to be completely clear, simply by linking to a page on the City website and quoting part of the Acceptable Use Policy, this very article is in violation of the policy.

That policy was supposed to have been updated back in 2011 and staff insisted at the time that it had never been enforced, but that didn't stop Council from agreeing at an in camera meeting to ban Coleman under its Kafkaesque terms.

Wider Ripples

The fiasco has already been the subject of a documentary film, and other observers outside the City of Hamilton are starting to pay attention. This morning, the story appeared in Boing Boing, a popular culture, technology and politics blog, and if you're still not sure whether this story has legs, read the opening paragraph by author Cory Doctorow:

Hamilton's the kind of city where half of City Hall says they've been bullied at work, where the "accountability" committee charges you $100 to make a complaint and proposed that it would only investigate if you are never quoted in the press on the matter, and where city policy prohibits linking to its website without written permission.

Are you cringing yet?

I can't stress this enough: the stuff we deal with on a daily basis in Hamilton - from deranged politics to councillors engaging in twitter wars to five-lane expressways blasting through the heart of the downtown core - only seems normal because we're steeped in it.

I have a feeling this story is only going to keep snowballing, especially since there is actually a surveillance video of the incident itself, the publication of which has been appealed to the Ontario Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

That is at best a stalling tactic, since there are absolutely no legitimate privacy implications to publishing a video of an incident between a Councillor and a journalist that took place in the public lobby of Council Chambers at City Hall, for crying out loud.

I can already hear John Oliver's take on a future episode of Last Week Tonight - the story practically writes itself. "Do you remember when we talked about the Canadian election and there was that candidate and school board trustee who made a penis joke about a Nazi death camp? Well, you won't believe what else they've been up to in Hamilton, Ontario!"

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 09:08:34

The notion of being "steeped in it" is very apt. When I moved here from Toronto a few years ago I was constantly gobsmacked by how little perspective Hamiltonians had about a lot of issues directly affecting them, the most obvious to me being traffic. It continues to shock me how silly drivers in this town are with regard to their expectations around traffic flow, acceptable speeds and travel times during rush hour.

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By go back to TO (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2015 at 00:00:38 in reply to Comment 114862

"When I moved here from Toronto..."

That says it all. Go back, please.

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By sweet loretta (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2015 at 00:11:30 in reply to Comment 115027

Go back to your parents' basement.

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By Behind the Curtain (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 10:20:26 in reply to Comment 114862

Though I grew up in Hamilton, I lived and worked in Peel and York Regions for about 6 years before moving back. My fiancée lived in Markham for years and still works in downtown Toronto. It once took me 40 minutes to drive a kilometre down the road from her apartment to get to the grocery store. Anyone who claims downtown Hamilton has a traffic problem is suffering from a severe lack of perspective.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2015 at 09:13:14 in reply to Comment 114862

I took this photo of Queen Street South yesterday during rush hour.

Queen Street South

We're told we can't convert Queen Street to two-way because where will all the traffic go? The entrenched, reflexive phobia of change is delusional in its intensity.

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By really (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 15:07:05 in reply to Comment 114864

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2015 at 23:56:33 in reply to Comment 114875

The problem from a pedestrian standpoint isn't volume, it's speed.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted November 18, 2015 at 09:25:19 in reply to Comment 114882

As I have said here before, I walk down Queen twice a day 3-4 days a week and it is pretty busy when I am walking there. I praise the new idea for the crosswalk - not because of the speed of traffic but because of the volume.

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By JVRudnick (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2015 at 09:09:55

Wow, had no idea about much of this, Ryan - but will try to follow it to see where it goes.

That - and one question for anyone who might know - I take it that the person or entity who requested that the release of the video WILL be named once a decision is made, right?

So we'll know who this is, right?

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By Tomato Fettuccini (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 09:23:11

I just tweeted this article to @JohnOliver and This Week Tonight. I wonder how much he'll like some international exposure.

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By alberta (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 10:24:31

the thing is you forget about how asinine the system is when you deal with what appear to be fairly minor incidents like this and forget how these things have happened over and over again. Good on this article for tying it together. I'd forgotten about the plan to not allow complaints if the person had gone to the media. That one was priceless. I also wasn't aware of this earlier meeting. Up til now I thought the push incident was really a stretch but when you tie it together to this committee meeting and the post-event troubles Joey has faced, it gets much more difficult to see it as an isolated incident.

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By MichaelHealey (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2015 at 10:32:49

There are many aspects of this situation that are troubling - to say the least. In addition to those mentioned in this article and by @JesseBrown, there is the vote by the current council to "accept" a report by the Integrity Commissioner based on what most reasonable and objective people - including the Ontario Ombudsman - would consider a poorly executed investigation.

I would have expected a stronger response from council to this very debatable report. It strains credulity that anyone would consider an investigation anywhere complete when witnesses to the incident and one of the two primary participants (who is probably actually the victim of a serious transgression) were not interviewed.

Can you imagine that scenario being played out in a court of law:

investigator: "no your Honour, I only interviewed the alleged perpetrator" Judge: "Why didn't you interview the alleged victim?" Investigator: "Based on my interview with the alleged perpetrator, I had a gut feeling the alleged victim might have nefarious intentions" Judge: "Why didn't you interview any witnesses to the event" Investigator: "Ummm"

If we remove the politics and emotion from the situation - on a purely practical level - our tax dollars were spent producing a deficient report - and council "accepted" it without comment - WHY? Council could have rejected the report, not due to its findings, but due to it not meeting a reasonable standard of competency.

Was this expediency? Political whitewash? Retribution? Raises the question - in what other areas are council accepting substandard results?

I hope this issue won't "go away" until there is a full and impartial investigation and report on all aspects of this situation - including now the response of city staff, which seems prejudicial towards Joey Coleman.

Which then also raises another aspect to this issue, a contextual aspect. I haven't seen the results of the survey, but apparently 50% of city staff indicated in 2013 that they had felt bullied in the workplace. If this is true, that would be considered a key indicator of the workplace culture. As workplace culture is always a reflection of the behaviours and thinking of the most senior leadership in the organization - in this case that would be the mayor and council - by "accepting" a deficient report and by, at least tacitly, condoning a less than full investigation of alleged workplace violence, the message council is sending is "we are really not a zero tolerance workplace", even though we have a policy of zero tolerance.

Like any policy, if zero tolerance is not enforced, it not only loses it's impact, it actually has an opposite and far-reaching effect. It permeates the whole organization. Punishing or censuring those further down in the organization will do nothing to change the culture if nothing changes at the top.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 21:45:14 in reply to Comment 114869

Can you imagine that scenario being played out in a court of law:

investigator: "no your Honour, I only interviewed the alleged perpetrator" Judge: "Why didn't you interview the alleged victim?" Investigator: "Based on my interview with the alleged perpetrator, I had a gut feeling the alleged victim might have nefarious intentions" Judge: "Why didn't you interview any witnesses to the event" Investigator: "Ummm"

Put simply, what has transpired doesn't pass the smell test. It stinks. And everybody ought to realize that by now.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 11:28:31

Wonder how much it would cost to complain that you have to pay $100 to file a complaint?

It seems like Hamilton has some serious growing up to do.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 12:27:03

Paying $100 for a complaint must make it really, really, official. Sure must keep down the number of complaints. "Hey Mr. Mayor this official city coffee is cold!" "Sorry that comment will cost you $100, now pay up"!

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 12:39:01

This is what Google says about CTV's W5: W5 is Canada's most-watched current affairs and documentary program, tackling major stories and investigations.

Just wondering.

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By who (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 15:09:27 in reply to Comment 114873

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By Amen (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2015 at 19:16:28 in reply to Comment 114876

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By um (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 16:06:07

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By Kickem (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 18:15:51

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By JulieT (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2015 at 19:36:28

Just a point of clarification - the $100.00 to file a complaint is refundable if the complaint is deemed non-frivolous. The complaint has to be filed in person, though, during regular City Hall office hours. Commissioner Basse did assure me that I'd get the money refunded if I made a complaint, but it would have meant taking a morning off work, and it just wasn't worth it to me.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2015 at 21:15:18 in reply to Comment 114879

The problem is Basse had a habit of declaring valid concerns to be "frivolous" and fining the citizen the $100.

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By JulieT (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2015 at 06:59:20 in reply to Comment 114880

You know far more about this sort of thing than I do, of course. My interaction with the man was over Bratina's office donations and when I spoke to Basse about it he did say it didn't sound frivolous to him. But I never filed the complaint, so I don't know.
You'd think that there would be a more objective determination of frivolous than one person's interpretation, but it certainly wasn't clear to me that there is/was.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2015 at 09:04:07 in reply to Comment 114884

Basse apparently makes his determinations based on a "feeling". Why interview witnesses or participants when you've got your feelings to go on?

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted November 18, 2015 at 01:10:08

And the Acceptable Use Agreement has been updated... yesterday (and is "currently under review") http://www.hamilton.ca/government-inform...

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted November 18, 2015 at 20:40:22

While listening to the podcast and hearing Joey explain some of the workings of City Hall to Jesse Brown, the description was familiar to me and seemed normal. Until Jesse said "Joey...", with absolute disbelief in his voice.

That, for me, was such an eye-opener to how dysfunctional our city is -- that an independent journalist cannot believe the description of our City Hall, shows how messed up it is.

And we (well I for one) have just become accustomed to it.

Something is seriously wrong here.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted November 20, 2015 at 00:57:10

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted November 20, 2015 at 08:27:34 in reply to Comment 114969

You are always on this site. You are always commenting on articles. You must have it bookmarked. Or do you accidentally happen upon it 20 times a month? It's obviously not so fringe that it doesn't matter to you.

If the cops came to your house two years after your car was stolen and said they'd recovered it would you just say naaah, keep it - it's been two years man!

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2015-11-20 09:27:55

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2015 at 07:43:00 in reply to Comment 114969

OH MY GOODNESS! This issue is soooo irrelevant and fringe that you can't stop yourself from coming back here over and over and commenting on every article about it!

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