Whitby deputy mayor faces reprimand from integrity commissioner after “insulting” remarks about fellow councillor

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Published January 10, 2022 at 12:07 pm

Whitby integrity commissioner Guy Giorno has reprimanded Councillor Christopher Leahy for his comments he made in council last October referencing the weight of another councillor.

In a public meeting on October 4 Leahy can been heard muttering, “Let’s hear what Big Rhonda has to say,” as Councillor Rhonda Mulcahy stood to speak about a new cricket pitch in town.

Mulcahy quicky fired back with, “Yeah, let’s hear what I have to say. Thanks, Councillor Leahy.” Nothing else was said about it during the meeting and Mayor Don Mitchell later claimed not to have heard the exchange.

Leahy filed a complaint against himself, alongside three other complaints, two from citizens and one from Mulcahy. Councillor Steve Yamada is cited as a respondent in one, and Mitchell is cited in another.

Leahy apologized to Mulcahy privately the next day, which Mulcahy rejected as late and insincere. The following meeting on October 18 began with a public apology from Leahy in the first scheduled opportunity, which was this time accepted by Mulcahy.

Mulcahy followed her acceptance with a lengthy speech outlining  a culture of workplace harassment in the Town’s organization, including allegations of impropriety against Mitchell such as unwanted touching and inappropriate innuendos.

Mitchell admitted to the incidents Mulcahy referred to, but said in a statement after the October 18 meeting that he meant no disrespect in touching Mulcahy’s shoulders and the innuendo was an “inappropriate attempt at a joke.” He did not apologize for either incident.

The allegations against Mitchell will not be investigated since they fall outside the six month reporting period after an incident when an investigation can begin. Giorno asked for an extension as a pattern of behaviour, but council voted against the request after a lawyer advised them against it.

However, the complaints against Leahy remained well within the cutoff period allowing Giorno to investigate.

In his complaint against himself, Leahy says he contravened Section 4.1 of the Code of Conduct which says councillors have, “the duty and responsibility to treat members of the public, one another and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation, and to ensure that the municipal work environment is free from discrimination and harassment.”

Since Leahy himself said he violated the code, Giorno said the “only issue, therefore, is what I should recommend to Council,” declaring in his report that Leahy should be reprimanded.

Giorno noted Leahy’s apologies and additional steps he’s taken to improve including diversity and inclusion training in his report. However, Giorno rejects Leahy’s insistence that his comments were “inadvertent.”

“He meant to speak the insulting words; he did not mean for them to be broadcast or recorded. The distinction is important. This was not an inadvertent comment. It was an intentional comment, inadvertently broadcast,” Giorno concluded.

In the Mulcahy v. Leahy and Mitchell report, Giorno reiterates his recommendation to reprimand Leahy, but says his investigation against Mitchell has been terminated as it’s outside the time limits and, “criticism that the Mayor did not respond appropriately to Councillor Leahy’s comment is timely but does not involve a contravention of the Code.”

He also notes that in his view, Mitchell’s actions do not constitute a pattern of behaviour because the “alleged 2019 and 2020 incidents differ from the October 4 incident” and aftermath. “The incidents relate to different people and very different activities. They are not of a similar nature or character.”

In her complaint, Mulcahy alleges “a toxic and misogynistic culture at Town Hall,”  where Leahy says “the occasional snide remark” to “make it clear that those who disagree with [his] positions will be isolated and discredited,” describing herself, Councillor Elizabeth Roy and Councillor Maleeha Shahid as frequent “targets of snide or rude comments.”

Further, she alleges the toxic environment is fed by Mitchell’s “refus[al] to correct this continuous behaviour at Council and has led us to the unfortunate name-calling.”

“I am well aware that many of these items are beyond the six-month period,” she continued. “But I am not going to allow that to happen moving forward and I feel it important that the history is documented in some way as it is all relevant to a consistent pattern.”

“I lack faith that this Council will take the matter seriously and act in accordance with the Code.”

Giorno concludes that Leahy, “makes no excuses. The comment was hurtful, nasty, mocking, and mean. It was degrading. It shamed someone based on physical characteristics – conduct that can be associated with adverse impacts on physical and mental health.”

Giorno’s formal reprimand to Leahy does not include a recommendation that Council suspend Leahy’s pay, though they have the power to do so for up to 90 days.

Council will vote on the matter in a Special Council Meeting at 5:30 p.m. January 10.

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