News / Halifax

More than two dozen complaints filed against Halifax regional councillors

Metro asked for all complaints against current Halifax regional councillors since they were sworn in on Nov. 1, 2016.

Photos of pages received by Metro through a Freedom of Information request asking for all complaints against councillors last year.

Zane Woodford / Metro Order this photo

Photos of pages received by Metro through a Freedom of Information request asking for all complaints against councillors last year.

Since the current Halifax regional council was sworn in, there have been more than two dozen complaints filed about councillors’ conduct, according to documents obtained by Metro through Freedom of Information.

Metro asked for “All complaints filed against councillors under Administrative Order 52, and any response from municipal officials, including the CAO’s office, the Clerk’s office and the Mayor’s office since Nov. 1, 2016.”

Administrative Order 52 is the code of conduct governing councillors’ behaviour.

The 38-page disclosure Metro received from the municipality does not include the complaints themselves, citing a section of the provincial Municipal Government Act that allows the municipality to withhold information that’s part of private meetings.

The disclosure does include email responses from the Mayor’s office and the Clerk’s office, with citizens’ names and email addresses redacted.

Some of the subject lines of the emails, like “RE: Complaint: Matt Whitman’s Ongoing Racist and Offensive Behaviour,” show which councillor is the subject of the complaints. Councillors are identified in the content of some emails as well. Other emails include no information identifying which councillor is the subject of the complaints. Metro counted emails identifying two councillors as two complaints in the total number, and those identifying three councillors as three complaints.

In total, Metro counted 28 complaints as of Dec. 22, 2017.

Coun. Matt Whitman was the subject of 16 identified complaints; Coun. Shawn Cleary was the subject of three; Coun. David Hendsbee was the subject of two; Coun. Waye Mason was the subject of one; and Coun. Richard Zurawski was the subject of one.

Metro has previously reported on complaints against Whitman, Cleary and Zurawski.

Whitman and Hendsbee did not reply to requests for comment on Tuesday. Cleary and Zurawski have previously declined to comment on complaints against them.

The emails show complaints against Whitman, Cleary and Hendsbee triggered the secret debate that led to councillors agreeing to group cultural sensitivity training.

Whitman used the word “negroes” in a television interview, Cleary cursed on Twitter during an argument with Whitman, and Hendsbee made a series of comments about Indigenous people protesting the Cornwallis statue.

There are no details of the complaint against Mason, made in April 2017, in the emails. The subject of the emails said “Complaint against Councillor Mason – Council Remarks.”

“I have not actually seen the complaint, but my understanding is that someone took umbrage to my use of the phrase ‘white men of privilege’ during the second Cornwallis debate, and felt that that was unacceptable,” Mason told Metro in an interview.

Mason said he was asked to apologize, which is typically the first step in the complaint process. He declined, and asked that if the issue went to council that it be dealt with in public, not in camera. It never went to council.

In a response to the citizen who complained, municipal clerk Kevin Arjoon wrote, “Staff have brought forward your complaint to the Agenda Review Committee and they have made a determination not to proceed.”

Council debated potential changes to the code of conduct last year, eventually voting to have staff periodically review it, but not to consider hiring an integrity commissioner to deal with complaints.

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