- Written by Gordon Prentice
It is now over seven months since East Gwillimbury Council asked Metrolinx to consider extending the planned all-day two-way 15 minute train service north from Aurora to the GO Rail station at Green Lane in East Gwillimbury.
The Town Clerk, Fernando Lamanna, told me on 16 April 2021 they still hadn’t heard from Metrolinx. Personally, I consider this a gross discourtesy.
I know Metrolinx has a lot on its plate.
I know we are in the middle of a pandemic but how much effort does it take for someone in Metrolinx to send an email to Mr Lamanna explaining things – or even acknowledging the Town’s request?
Metrolinx could have told Mr Lamanna they are not ready to reply in detail. They could say they have no idea how many people will be using the trains post pandemic. People may feel safer in their own vehicles. I don’t know. But to say nothing is unconscionable.
Quite separately, Metrolinx tell me they need more time to consider my Freedom of Information request (see below) - possibly until 14 July 2021. It will cost me $185. But, even then, there is no guarantee that I will get the information I am after. Metrolinx remind me they can refuse to disclose information to protect
“the economic and other interests of Ontario”.
Why is East Gwillimbury’s initiative important to Newmarket?
If East Gwillimbury (whose MPP is Transportation Minister, Caroline Mulroney) gets a 15 minute train service then we, downstream in Newmarket, automatically get one too. That’s why we should support our neighbour to the north.
Railway Crossing Improvements
In the meantime, Metrolinx is giving us a “railway crossing improvement” at Mulock Drive - one of the busiest roads in Newmarket.
Mulock Drive at the railway tracks will be closed to traffic from Friday, May 7, 2021 at 9 p.m. to Monday, May 10, 2021 at 5 a.m while they do the work.
Freedom of Information request to Metrolinx of 25 March 2021: All records (includes internal file notes, notes of meetings, emails or other electronic records) relating to the resolution of East Gwillimbury Council on 22 September 2020 (on the Joint Community Infrastructure & Environmental Services and Development Services Report CIES2020-22), which was forwarded to Metrolinx by the Town Clerk and calls on it to give consideration to: (a) advancing a second Implementation Phase of the GO Expansion Program to extend all-day, two- way, 15-minute service to East Gwillimbury GO Station, and (b) prioritizing the existing Green Lane at-grade rail crossing for grade separation. Time period of the records is 2020/09/23 – 2021/03/20.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
But this, of course, isn’t the first time Ford has apologised.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper detailed Ford’s apology to Sol Mamakwa, the indigenous lawmaker who was wrongly accused of jumping the queue for the Covid vaccine.
And Premier Ford sort of apologised when he was caught visiting his Muskoka cottage when this went against his own official Covid advice.
Yet he chastised his Finance Minister, Rod Phillips, for vacationing in the Caribbean while pretending to be at home in Ontario.
“I have let the minister know that his decision to travel is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus.”
Phillips apologized and resigned.
And in 2014, after the (then) Toronto police chief Bill Blair threatened Ford with a defamation lawsuit, Ford apologized for claiming that Blair was targeting his brother Rob and leaking stories to the press about him.
I am left wondering if Ford consulted his deputy, Health Minister Christine Elliott, before making his latest apology.
Back in 2008 Elliott was speaking at Queen’s Park on Bill 59 - an Act respecting apologies.
“… my basic training as a lawyer has conditioned me that this is not a good thing to do (apologise). As lawyers, we are trained to protect our clients, to act in their best interests and not to have them say or do anything that might jeopardize their position.”
But that was a long time ago. Years before she ran against Doug Ford for the leadership of the PCs - and lost.
I apologise if I have misrepresented her views in any way.
26 April 2021: from the Globe and Mail: Unravelled: The strange public and media strategy of Doug Ford
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Carmine Perrelli is a member of York Regional Council representing the City of Richmond Hill.
Last Thursday the Regional Council heard a complaint from one of Perrelli’s constituents, Jason Cherniak, who said Perrelli had blocked him from accessing his Twitter account, freezing him out and preventing him from commenting on the big issue of the day – the covid pandemic.
Cherniak took issue with Perrelli’s stance on the pandemic and was blocked after dubbing Perrelli a #COVIDIOT.
York Region’s Integrity Commissioner, Jeffrey Abrams, upheld Cherniak’s complaint and recommended the Region revise and update its Code of Conduct to include matters such as blocking on social media which are not currently covered.
The Commissioner found that blocking Cherniak had the effect of silencing criticism of the councillor. Furthermore, the Commissioner did not consider #COVIDIOT to be offensive, abusive or defamatory. He said the arbitrary blocking of an Open Twitter account contravened the Code of Conduct principle that
“Members shall serve the public in a conscientious and diligent manner that promotes public confidence and will bear public scrutiny.”
The Commissioner proposes that elected officials should, in future, have to give reasons for blocking someone.
Perrelli emphatically disagrees his decision was arbitrary. On the contrary, it was considered. He tells councillors:
“… calling me a COVIDIOT is offensive and I cannot afford, and none of us can afford, for our constituents to think that I was opposed to safety protocols. A blanket statement like that needs to be challenged and/or stopped.
… The same complainant called me a shyster. A shyster. Now if you guys are OK with someone calling you an idiot and a shyster I can guarantee you that if I called one of you guys an idiot or a shyster there would be a code of conduct complaint being made and I would be found guilty of that.”
There is no reference to “shyster” in the Integrity Commissioner’s report. Perrelli goes on:
“This all hinged in my opinion, and in my lawyer’s opinion, all on the fact that the Integrity Commissioner found it to be arbitrary and I disagree. And moving forward we have to be very careful because if we're going to allow someone else retroactively to decide if we have the right to block someone and they call me an idiot or a stooge or a moron or a donkey - and then we're going to let an integrity commissioner decide whether that was offensive or not? We are opening a real Pandora’s Box here ladies and gentlemen.”
Cherniak was already known to Perrelli before the complaint went in. Cherniak told the the meeting he ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 Richmond Hill election for Regional Councillor coming fourth (with 8,878 votes) behind Joe DiPaolo (11,758 votes) and Perrelli (11,418 votes). Two Regional Councillors were elected.
Clearly, there is history to all this. The animosity - at least for Perrelli - goes back a long way. Perrelli does not disguise his contempt for Cherniak.
On Thursday, Joe DiPaolo branded Perrelli a bully who intimidates and threatens Richmond Hill staff. I could hear the stunned silence before Wayne Emmerson, the Regional Chair, stepped in. Whoa!
Without missing a beat, Cherniak tweets DiPaolo’s comments.
Outside his work as Regional Councillor, Perrelli is President of a for-profit foster care company, Expanding Horizons. It has been in the news recently following the murder of a 14 year old boy in Barrie. Perrelli is close to Ontario Premier Doug Ford who follows him on Twitter.
At the close of a wide-ranging debate councillors decide to “receive and accept” the Integrity Commissioner’s report and, on John Taylor’s recommendation, organise a Workshop, probably in the Fall, to look at the use of social media by elected officials and the guidance that may be required.
Following this, York Region staff would bring forward a report to Council on any changes which may be necessary to the Code of Conduct.
In breach but no sanction
In the meantime, we are in this curious situation where Perrelli remains in breach of the Code but without any sanctions being applied. The Integrity Commissioner says the Code provides little guidance on arbitrary blocking and, for that reason, no sanction is recommended. It all sounds a bit back to front to me but we are where we are.
In all the circumstances I cannot see Perrelli unblocking Cherniak. It is perfectly obvious Perrelli loathes the man.
One other point. I think John Taylor deserves a round of applause for getting the Council to stage a workshop which could be open to outside presentations. If it goes ahead on this basis, I hope Council invites former Newmarket Mayor and member of York Regional Council, Tony Van Bynen, to explain why, for years, he has blocked people from his Twitter account. He continues to do so as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Newmarket-Aurora.
He outlined some of his thinking to Newmarket Council in February 2016:
“… My page represents my views and anything that comes from my twitter feed is believed to be endorsed. So I don’t feel in the slightest way obligated to advance an argument that is contrary to my views. So I don’t apologise for blocking certain people."
"I do set standards in terms of what I permit on my site and again I don’t apologise for that. But if you have something to say, set up your own site. Set up your own contacts. Send out your own messages. So you still have that right.”
Was that a defensible position then? And is it now? Van Bynen is not alone with this view. So how realistic is it to expect elected officials' open Twitter accounts - from all levels of Government - to be regarded as part of the Town Square?
But if Twitter is indeed the Town Square can elected officials exclude people who are perfectly civil in that platform but less restrained in other social media sites or in other forms of communication such as blogs, newsletters, TV and radio?
Should Twitter and other social media platforms be ring-fenced? So “disrespect” (definition please) on Instagram would not, necessarily, mean blocking on Twitter.
And how do we define offensive or objectionable? Mockery could appear in the guise of wildly exaggerated civility. It all seems very subjective.
Should people who participate on social media – and who do not wish to be blocked – conscientiously follow the rules of Parliamentary language and decorum? Never attribute improper motives. Never accuse someone of lying (though it is OK to suggest someone may have been inadvertently economical with the truth). Is this the way forward?
And then there is the level playing field argument. Elected officials (or, rather, some elected officials) have very substantial communication and advertising budgets paid for out of public funds. What elected officials say on public policy issues is intrinsically newsworthy. Should they block critics without this firepower without giving reasons? Jason Cherniak complains he was blocked from the conversation in the on-line Town Square by Councillor Perrelli because of a re-tweet of a single sentence.
Counsel of Perfection
Is the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation a counsel of perfection that is, in practice, unrealistic? Shouldn’t decisions on blocking or not blocking be left to the common-sense of elected officials who, after all, face re-election and the scrutiny of the voters?
York Regional Council’s decision to tackle these and a thousand other related issues is laudable. It could be a damp squib.
Or it could be a watershed moment.
Update on 20 April 2021: Text corrected to show Cherniak came fourth - not third - in the election for Regional Councillor in 2018.
Who said what in the debate? Click the link "Read More" below and scroll...
- Written by Gordon Prentice
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.
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.
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?
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.
Update on 16 April 2021: From Newmarket Today: York Region's first integrity commissioner complaint sparks confusion, frustration
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket-Aurora’s Liberal MP, Tony Van Bynen, is on a collison course with the Mayors of Newmarket and Aurora who say the legislation allowing municipalities to ban handguns is flawed and impractical.
In a front page story in today’s ERA newspaper Mayor John Taylor of Newmarket and Mayor Tom Mrakas of Aurora both reject the argument that municipalities should be responsible for bringing in a ban on handguns.
Last month Taylor told the CBC’s Power and Politics program local hand gun bans wouldn’t be as effective as a national ban.
Following the line
During the last Federal Election campaign Van Bynen said he was in favour of a national ban on handguns but since then (on this issue and all others) he has rowed back, faithfully following the official Government line even when it is an incoherent and logical absurdity. As a former Mayor of Newmarket he will be aware of the mountain of issues that would arise in implementing and policing any local ban.
The Minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair, has conceded that municipalities will not be allowed to bring in a ban on handguns without the prior permission of the Province. Ontario’s Doug Ford is on record saying he will not allow municipalities to ban handguns.
I have written to Van Bynen to ask him to speak in the debates on Bill C21 and to flag up the two Mayors’ opposition to the legislation. (Click on “Read More” below to read the letter.)
Update on 29 March 2020: From the Globe and Mail: Gun Control Group urges MPs to vote against weak Liberal Firearms Bill
Update on 8 April 2021: From the Globe and Mail: Shooting victims' families slam Ottawa over "toothless and cowardly" gun control reform
Update on 8 April 2021 from the CBC: Victims of Violence slam Federal Government over gun control reform
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