Whitby votes not to reprimand Councillor Leahy after body-shaming comments against a fellow councillor

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Published January 12, 2022 at 12:03 pm

Whitby Town Council has rejected their own Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation to reprimand Councillor Christopher Leahy for inappropriate hot mic comments he made in an October public meeting.

As Councillor Rhonda Mulcahy prepared to speak in the meeting on October 4, Leahy can be heard muttering, “Let’s hear what Big Rhonda has to say,” while he thought his microphone was muted, igniting a firestorm of criticism.

Nothing was said about the comments in the meeting after Mulcahy’s reply. Mayor Don Mitchell later said he had not heard the exchange. Leahy apologized later the next day to Mulcahy, which she rejected as late and insincere.

Leahy later apologized in the media and in a Council meeting on October 18, the next scheduled opportunity. Mulcahy accepted the apology this time before beginning a lengthy speech levying allegations of impropriety against Mitchell and Council, which Mitchell denied.

The allegations of impropriety against Mitchell will not be investigated as the incidents are happened before a six-month cutoff window to file a complaint. Requests for an extension of the investigation window were vetoed by council, following a lawyer’s advice.

Throughout this time four complaints were lodged with the Town’s integrity commissioner, Guy Giorno, including one from Leahy against himself, one from Mulchaey and two from the public.

Giorno’s reports on the complaints and recommendation to reprimand Leahy were made public in Council Agendas prior to a special council meeting on January 10 to vote on the matter.

In the meeting Giorno said, there is no formal description of what a reprimand can be according to the Municipal Act, but said “it is generally understood to be a formal and recorded statement of admonishment,” but has “the nature of penalty,” based on decisions from Ontario Divisional Court.

According to Giorno, the reprimand is meant to serve four purposes; deterrence for the individual, general deterrence for other members, rehabilitation and maintaining public confidence.

Given Leahy’s numerous apologies and engagement with sensitivity training, Giorno recommended the reprimand based on “outward looking” criteria, as he was a felt personal admonishment of Leahy was unnecessary after efforts Leahy took to address the harm his comments caused.

“If we were only looking at Councillor Leahy, my recommendation is no reprimand is necessary,” he said, “However the other two factors, which go to consideration are outward looking to everybody else who is subject to the code and outward looking to the entire community.”

Despite the recommendation, Councillor Deirdre Newman put forward a motion, seconded by Councillor Jo Anne Drumm, that Giono’s reports be received for information and that no further action be taken by council.

Newman said she filed the motion because of Leahy’s numerous apologies and actions in attempting to rectify his behaviour, adding “I did not hear Councillor Leahy’s words on October 4 and heard only a ruffling of papers. This was the circumstance for many members of council.” She also voiced support for Leahy based on his character and public service work.

The comment is audible in the recording of the October 4 meeting at 54:38, right after an address from Newman.

Mulcahey, however, did not support the motion. “I feel that Councillor Leahy has done 95 per cent of the work here. I really do feel we can move forward and move forward in a way that’s acceptable, (so) I would ask that he consider that it’s only a written public document that acknowledges everything that’s happened.”

“I think that it’s a fair outcome.” she continued, “This has been exhausting… My family, and I’m sure Councillor Leahy’s family, have had enough and I’d really just appreciate if we can do this in writing and move on.”

“Unfortunately Councillor Newman, I will not support your motion, because I think that the work’s done and it’s really not hard to save face here,” she concluded.

After statements from council and Mitchell, some in support of a reprimand, others against, councillors voted on whether to pass Newman’s motion to take no action.

The council vote was razor thin with Councillors Lee, Mulcahy, Roy and Shahid voting against the motion and voicing support for a reprimand in their statements prior to the vote.

Leahy was able to vote against his own reprimand and did so, along with Councillors Drumm, Newman, and Yamada, some of whom echoed Newman’s earlier comments in support of Leahy.

The tie among Council was broken by Mitchell who also voted not to reprimand Leahy.

 

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