Special Report: Integrity Commissioner

Why 'The Shove' Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon

The fact that the Basse report has been allowed to stand as the official word on what happened is a major reason why The Shove hasn't gone away just yet.

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 24, 2015

This article has been updated.

In this past Saturday's edition, the Hamilton Spectator published an editorial calling for everyone to stop talking about the incident in which Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson grabbed and shoved independent journalist Joey Coleman.

The matter has been investigated and arbitrated. Common sense suggests it should be laid to rest before it consumes more airtime at the expense of more important matters.

But the issue has never been properly investigated or addressed, and the actual facts of the incident are still up in the air.

We need to go back and review the timeline of events to understand why The Shove is not going away any time soon, and why it does a great disservice to the truth to wave the matter away before it has been resolved.

On February 26, 2014, Council went in camera to debate the Ivor Wynne Stadium lease to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. After the meeting, a press conference was going to be held in a conference room at City Hall.

Coleman was carrying his recording equipment and following City Communications Manager and then-Councillor Brad Clark toward the meeting. At around 10:45 PM, Ferguson walked up and began talking to Clark and Kirkopoulos. He turned to Coleman, told him to move away and then grabbed him on the arm and shoved him back.

According to Coleman, his camera was turned off and the lens was shuttered and he was simply carrying it to the press conference.

The next day, Coleman posted an article on his website reporting the incident. Ferguson apologized privately to Coleman and publicly at the General Issues Committee meeting, and Coleman accepted the apology.

Basse Report

On May 27 and May 29, 2014, two Hamiltonians independently filed complaints against Ferguson to Earl Basse, who was at that time the City's Integrity Commissioner, alleging that Ferguson violated the Council Code of Conduct.

It took close to a year for Basse to finish his report [PDF] and present it to Council in February 2015.

Saturday's Spectator editorial describes the report as "admittedly flawed", but the report was worse than just flawed - it was an outright travesty.

Basse reviewed the City's video security footage of the incident and interviewed Ferguson. He did not interview Coleman, or any of the other witnesses to the event.

Basse provided neither a methodology for analyzing the issue nor any actual analysis. He merely reiterated Ferguson's description of the events, including Ferguson's belief "that Mr. Coleman has eavesdropped on private conversations in the past and that he had a recording device with him to record this private conversation."

Basse noted that the security video did not show whether the camera was turned on, but that Coleman was standing close enough to "be in in range of a sensitive recording device."

In his conclusion, Basse noted that Ferguson was Chair of the Stadium Sub-Committee and had a "contentious" meeting that day which had run very long, from 8:30 AM until 10:45 PM.

Basse found that Ferguson had violated Section 45 (a) and (b) of the Code of Conduct, but recommended no sanctions against Ferguson.

Basse also concluded that the complaints were "neither vexatious nor frivolous", though he implied that they may have been politically motivated.

When Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin saw the report, he took to Twitter to castigate it, giving it a grade of "F".

Andre Marin's notes on Basse's report
Andre Marin's notes on Basse's report

Marin pointed out the obvious deficiencies of the report, particularly the fact that neither Coleman nor any witnesses were interviewed, no analysis was provided, and there was no effort to weigh the evidence or compare alternative recommendations on whether to sanction Ferguson.

At the time, the Ontario Ombudsman did not have oversight on municipal integrity commision reports, though this will change once Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, comes into effect in January 2016.

Marin concluded, "If #Bill8 had been in effect, I would have sent #HamOnt [Integrity Commissioner] report back [to the] drawing board. And not the grade 3 one it appears it was written on."

Justice Not Done

When the report was presented to Council, they merely voted to receive it. They did not reject it, send it back to be redone properly or seek to have it reviewed by a third party.

Only two councillors voted against receiving the report: Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green, and Ward 7 Councillor Scott Duvall.

Council imposed no sanctions on Ferguson, and even allowed him to continue serving as the Chair of the Police Services Board and the Chair of the Integrity and Accountability Sub-Committee. This itself may be the most mindboggling detail in the whole sordid affair.

For his part, after Council received the report and outrage boiled up on social media, Ferguson voluntarily stepped down from the Integrity and Accountability Sub-Committee - but not the Police Services Board - and agreed to donate $1,000 to the Ancaster Community Services organization.

In March 2015, the Ontario Provincial Police opened an investigation into the incident, but completed their investigation without filing any charges. The OPP did not explain why, but it is likely because the assault was considered too minor to waste the Court's time on criminal proceedings.

Victim Blaming

The incident may not be serious enough to warrant criminal charges, but as a civil matter, it is egregious that the City's "Zero Tolerance" policy continues to run up against Council's unwillingness to demand real accountability from its own members.

The fact that the Basse report has been allowed to stand as the official word on what happened is a major reason why The Shove hasn't gone away just yet.

It is bad enough that the report partially excused Ferguson for shoving Coleman by noting that it had been a long, contentious day. Even worse, the report blames the victim by implying that Coleman was eavesdropping on a private conversation - in a public hallway of City Hall, no less!

Since the report was released and accepted by Council, Coleman has found it increasingly difficult to continue his journalistic work. City staff stopped cooperating with him on providing agendas for meetings.

He recently suspended operations on his website, The Public Record.

Release the Video

One thing that would help clear up what actually happened is the security video that recorded the incident.

The reason we still have a video recording is that, soon after the incident in 2014, Coleman sent a letter to the City asking them to retain the video instead of destroying it after 14 days as is normally the procedure.

He noted that he had personally accepted Ferguson's apology, but that: "As it relates to City of Hamilton policies and Council policies, those matters are not my decision to make." He had been advised by a Hamilton resident that they were planning to file a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner.

After Council accepted Basse's report, the City received Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from The Hamilton Spectator, CHCH Television and Coleman calling for the public release of the security video.

The report was supposed to be released on July 29, but one as-yet unnamed person who is identifiable in the video has objected to its release, so the matter must go to appeal by the Ontario Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Until the video is released, a cloud of uncertainty and suspicion will still hang over the entire affair, casting a chilling effect on citizens and independent journalists who seek to watch more closely what is being done at City Hall in their name and on their behalf.

'The Push' Documentary

Local film production company HamiltonSeen is producing a crowdfunded documentary about the incident, called, appropriately, The Push.

The documentary is set to be released in October but they have posted two teasers to YouTube, both of them clips from former Councillor Brad Clark, a witness to the original incident, who was interviewed for the program.

The first clip concerns the impact of Joey Coleman on City Hall:

It quotes Clark saying, "Where [Coleman] irritated people is he brought a camera into [smirking] public meetings. I say it with a smirk because I find it so comical that civil servants or elected officials would be offended by someone wanting to tape a public meeting."

The second clip asks how The Shove is still a thing:

In this, Clark argues that Ferguson should have stepped down from the Police Services Board and the Integrity and Accountability Sub-Committee. "It would have sent the message that he really understood his error and that he respected the institution in which he was the chair, and so much so that he was willing to step away."

Update: This article originally stated that the upcoming documentary is called The Shove. It is actually called The Push. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2015 at 09:15:41

I honestly have no idea how the Spec could print something like this. Granted it was an opinion piece, but it was penned by the Managing Editor, and in my experience, Managing Editors don't tell people to stop looking under rocks when the whole story remains untold.

There is something else going on here.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 12:01:48

That it is an "editorial" is what is so galling. The official position of Hamilton's largest (only?) daily paper and opinion-leading media outlet is that journalists are fair game for physical tussles with pols, and that political pressure trumps principles like "zero tolerance" (they gotta keep those lines of communication with Lloyd and Team Council open!).

Principles? Truth? Journalistic freedom? Fuggedaboutit.

At least we know now how the Spec would react if Matt were manhandled by an elected official: they'd urge him, or any of his colleagues who call City Hall their "workplace" to just STFU and move on. "Lay it to rest before it consumes more airtime at the expense of more important matters," Howard will say.

On the other hand, it is not surprising in the least to see Team Council (perennially testing the trust of constituents) and The Spec reading from the same playbook. Joey's presence was annoying to both of them, and Basse's report gave everyone an excuse to force Joey out of his workplace (a public building), and make his life difficult as both a journalist and a citizen.

That the City has succeeded in grinding out Joey and (temporarily) killing The Public Record is why the Spec editorial has me literally BEGGING Megan to let me cancel our subscription. I used to be happy paying both Howard & Joey to provide me some local news, insight and analysis, but I can't in good conscience continue to shovel a monthly fee over to a business with values like, "Protect power," and "Ignore the past".

Hamilton Council showed their true colours when accepting Basse's pathetic report and now The Spec has OK'd that flawed decision and recommends moving on. I think we should move on, too--I'll save the $$ I would have given to the Spec for Joey's comeback, and as for Council, 2018 can't come soon enough.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 14:10:29 in reply to Comment 113644

Is against the the law for a website to write a file to your computer that you cannot delete.

The Spec.com uses a soft paywall that depends on people not knowing the above rule.

When you get the 'max article' pop up message ( in FireFox ) go to Options > Privacy > Remove Individual Cookies > Remove All (you can also select only the ones the Spec writes but I've never had a problem just removing them all). Refresh your page - bingo!

Last step, cancel your subscription...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2015 at 12:17:42


So Dreschel overheard Merulla's phone rant... was he eavesdropping too? Will the Spec editors be just as conciliatory if their journalist is banned from city hall?

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-08-24 12:17:56

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 13:27:41

The simple truth, the city has zero tolerance policy for violence, that policy has been put on the back burner.

One could create the scenario in their mind that this Chicago during the height of prohibition, where said councillor operates like the infamous Al Capone. Said councillor has his soldiers all around him.
If those who are suppose to act as Elliot Ness, be Untouchable, are not doing their job, well that says much about the environment we must survive.

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By See No Evil (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 14:04:14

I am reserving judgement until the tape of the incident is released.

How anyone could advocate "closing the file" until the public is fully informed really is beyond the pale.

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By another Hamilton commissioner's big pay (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 14:14:46

re Hamilton city's various commissioners: take a look at this "compensation" plan: And Hamilton councillors & the Spectator have seen this--[can't put URL here}

Toronto Star, Aug. 7 2015 San Grewal
Lawyer dogged by conflict claims in Brampton case
Documents show lawyer George Rust-D'Eye's former firm was paid almost $2M by City of Brampton before it hired him for investigation

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By davidhinkley (registered) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 14:24:03

I am biased (in a sense) since I am intimately involved in the movie The Push and, although not well, I do know Joey. However, I can say from only the perspective of a person living, working and actively engaged within the Hamilton inner city, that I am heartened by both the care, accuracy and succinctness of the above article and the reasoned and passionate comments following it.

I am grateful for this glimmer of hope in Little Chicago ----- Maybe one day Hamilton's nickname can instead reflect the nature of this region before the first corrupters tainted her. (For those who don't know, this area was universally known as an untainted landscape containing a wholly neutral, peaceful People.)

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 14:38:32

I have been missing this sort of non-transportation related political reporting on RTH over the past few years. Great to see a time line on what has happened.

I've supported "The Push" with a donation, and I ask that if you haven't already, please consider doing so.

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By Hamilderp (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 18:35:52

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By far far left (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 21:53:13 in reply to Comment 113659

No offence but if you think the this site is 'hard' left. I can only assume that you vote conservative ... which is hard right and is a government that openly supports fascists in (the) Ukraine and war criminals in the middle east.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 19:40:53 in reply to Comment 113659

You clearly have no idea what the "far left" is then

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted August 24, 2015 at 19:17:26

This is a great article, Ryan. You should submit it to The Spec.

As you may know, I work at the now-hated institution, although not in the editorial department. I can't explain the editorial published on Saturday, but I will say that it is evidence the newspaper is run by human beings, and human beings are not perfect. That isn't an excuse, it's just an observation.

Another thing I can tell you with certainty is that the editors at The Spec will not engage in a defense of an editorial over Twitter. I saw a lot of tweets over the weekend addressed to Paul Berton and sensed frustration when he didn't respond. Again, I can't speak for him, but I know 140 characters will never be the platform for engaging in a debate about an editorial.

I hope many people will write their well-thought-out comments and rebuttals to The Spec so that readers who don't know the background of this case will be educated about the other side of the argument.

Over the weekend, I also donated to the documentary "The Push". I had been wavering on whether I should do so, but the editorial caused me to pay more attention to the purpose and vision of the documentary, and led me to conclude it was a worthwhile cause. I wonder if the publicity, negative as it was, had a positive effect on the crowd-funding goal.

The frustration of the community is understandable, but The Spec building is full of people with good intentions. Please don't give up on the paper because of a couple of paragraphs with which you are in disagreement. The Letters to the Editor page is there for everyone's voices.

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By Steve_Calverley (registered) | Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:11:22

Thank you, Ryan McGreal, for this article and your tireless and important efforts on behalf of this Hamilton we love. .. With the exception of Councillors Scott Duval and Matthew Green, City Council and City Staff's handling of this matter stinks like a rotting fish and no editorial calling for us to simply hold our noses is going to change that. This RTH article along with the Hamilton Spectator's (flawed) editorial have given me the push I needed to support The Push and I encourage others to consider supporting it too. (I have contacted The Push to find out how I can donate even though the campaign has closed.)

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By Paul Weinberg (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:59:51

Hi Ryan. I really appreciated your article. Joey is being persecuted for his journalism, pure and simple. And it is a shame that the Spec is going along with it.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted August 25, 2015 at 13:27:46

The "push" or "shove" won't go away for three reasons:

(1) it was wrong and that has never been unequivocally stated by Council or by some apologists in the press ... the official response has been to imply that Joey is somehow at fault, while the press has largely been deferential to Councillor Ferguson in their coverage. The effect is to downplay the seriousness of what happened;

(2) the integrity commissioner and the review process has been revealed to be deeply flawed, and not for the first time, yet it appears that council is content with the present arrangement, because it provides them with political cover when they need it; and

(3) Joey's ability to practice as an independent journalist has, and continues, to be severely disrupted ... he is the one paying the price for the "shove", not the perpetrator.

Comment edited by RobF on 2015-08-25 13:28:37

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By Other people's business (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2015 at 14:01:33

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 25, 2015 at 17:52:21 in reply to Comment 113666

Yes, a witch hunt against the victim. That's the problem, and until it's fixed, it's not going away.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted August 25, 2015 at 14:52:03 in reply to Comment 113666

This has all been hashed about before on this site including detailed discussions of public interest v. private rights , diminimus non curat lex, etc. etc.

Maybe Mr. Coleman has recanted his acceptance of the apology. Otherwise it is the Crown's prerogative to deal or not deal with the case.

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By juniorbart (anonymous) | Posted August 26, 2015 at 16:41:28

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By confused (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2015 at 01:52:01

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 31, 2015 at 09:54:27 in reply to Comment 113700

"He is not reporting because nobody cared enough to fund him."

That is a deliberate lie. Why are you interested in harming his reputation. As for your third paragraph, you seem to have managed the near-impossible task of arguing in the same sentence that Mr. Coleman's activities attract both too much and too little attention.

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By confused (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2015 at 23:55:12 in reply to Comment 113713

In a round about way you are right on the button. Anything good that happens with Mr. Coleman will not have much of an upside and anything bad will result in a never ending pile from his friends on this site.

If a councilor does an interview with a real journalist then the result will be passed on to thousands of viewers or readers. With Mr. Coleman if anything good comes of the interview then the audience is almost non existent. If something not so good comes of it then ....

Well we all know how that works.

If I were a councilor or anybody involved with politics I would avoid Mr. Coleman and those like him like the plague.

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted August 31, 2015 at 11:02:55 in reply to Comment 113713

Saying that nobody cared enough to fund him is incorrect. Coleman didn't get enough funding to be sustainable as he stated on The Public Record: "Even before the events of the past few months, my independent journalism was not yet sustainable and I don’t know if I would’ve been able to reach sustainability even if City Council hadn’t acted to shut down my work. I wish I could’ve found out."

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2015 at 07:14:29 in reply to Comment 113700

From the language and tone I'd bet any money this is our friend LOL_all_over_again using a different username so it seems like someone else shares his ugly opinions. For someone who keeps saying this site is irrelevant and has no influence you sure spend a lot of time here trying to convince it's readers...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 31, 2015 at 10:21:06 in reply to Comment 113712

As incoherent as it is, it's still too coherent to be our old friend LOL. Sounds more like someone from the Spec or Ferguson's office trying convince themselves, as much as anyone else.

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By juniorbart (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2015 at 00:03:24 in reply to Comment 113714

have you ever been anything other than an apparatchnik? There are about five - ten individuals/ sock puppets on this site who do nothing else other than sing the party line.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2015 at 14:15:30

Hmmm, Confused makes a grandiose statement that .01% of Hamiltonians actually support Joey. Where are his facts, please present factual data to back up your statement.
The city has policy which has been ignored. Talk about community class war, it is staring you right in the face.
I have little tolerance for drones, the equivalent to Stepford wives who drone on about their truth which really isn't truth.

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