Tomorrow (15 April) York Regional Council will consider a report from its Integrity Commissioner recommending Councillors give reasons if they block certain people from reading and commenting on the tweets they post on Twitter. 

He wants the Regional Council to develop a policy to guide elected members on

when and how Members of Regional Council may block constituents from their social media accounts, including Twitter.” 

This is ground-breaking stuff.

It is the first time such a complaint has been considered by the Regional Council. But the debate on elected officials blocking tweets has, of course, been simmering for ages.

Blocked for criticizing

On 8 January 2021 the Integrity Commissioner received a complaint against Richmond Hill’s Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli under the York Region Council Code of Conduct.

“The complainant alleged that Regional Councillor Perrelli inappropriately blocked him from a social media account (on Twitter) because he was critical of the Regional Councillor’s position opposing the Province’s COVID-19 lock-down measures proposed in York Region.”

The Integrity Commissioner finds Perrelli’s decision to block the complainant is contrary to York Region’s Code of Conduct.

On 7 January Perrelli had posted this Tweet (below) calling on the Provincial Government not to extend the COVID lockdown in York Region. He said he would be asking the Regional Council to support that position.

#COVIDIOT

The complainant, clearly outraged, dubbed Perrelli a #COVIDIOT.

He re-tweeted Perrelli’s Tweet with the comment:

As the number of COVID 19 deaths and infections increases exponentially, Richmond Hill Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli is trying to stop public health measures in York Region. #yorkregion #RichmondHill #COVID19Ontario #COVIDIOT 

Perrelli blocked him 24 hours later. This, says the complainant, prevented him from listening to and responding to comments made on Perrelli’s Twitter account about matters of legitimate public interest.

The Integrity Commissioner says elected officials who use social media to communicate with their constituents “should not unreasonably or arbitrarily block participants”. He says it is inappropriate to block people simply because they have a different point of view or are “constructively critical”.  

Offensive or abusive

Elected officials should take criticism on the chin unless it is “offensive or abusive”. 

Now we are entering difficult territory.

What is “offensive” to some people is robust free speech to others.

The Integrity Commissioner says the description of Perrelli as a #COVIDIOT would “not be considered by a reasonable person to be offensive or abusive”.

Although he finds the term “mildly dismissive, we do not find it to be particularly offensive or defamatory.”

I wonder what Perrelli thinks about that?

Respect

To the best of my knowledge I have only ever been blocked by one person who now happens to be my Liberal Member of Parliament. He started blocking me years ago when he was Mayor of Newmarket and, I suppose, couldn’t kick the habit. He wanted respect and felt I wasn’t giving him enough.

The epithet “Tony Van Trappist” seemed wholly appropriate to me when I observed Newmarket’s then Mayor remaining mute on York Regional Council for years on end - even when local matters were being discussed. 

For reasons which are perfectly obvious, I do not make defamatory statements about people. When Conrad Black threatened to sue me for defamation it didn’t send a shiver up my spine. What I said was true.

Fair Comment and Foul

We don’t need an Integrity Commissioner to tell us there are some lines that should never be crossed on social media. Years ago, when a former Newmarket councillor “liked” Tweets linking me to paedophilia I insisted the Tweets came down. And they did. 

It can be a nasty, fetid, stinking swamp out there. 

But that is not what we are talking about here.

COVID 19 is a real issue, not an invented one.

And the policy response to the pandemic is clearly a legitimate subject for public debate. 

Carmine Perrelli was wrong to block his constituent for disagreeing with him. 

Whether you think Perrelli is a #COVIDIOT or not.

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Update on 16 April 2021: From Newmarket Today: York Region's first integrity commissioner complaint sparks confusion, frustration

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