Two sanctions were issued to councillor Chris Fisher by West Nipissing council during their June 22 meeting.
The sanctions related to two incidents in 2020 involving “vulgar language.”
Both instances were brought to the municipality’s integrity commissioner (IC), Patrice Cormier, who investigated the complaints, and found Fisher’s actions in violation of the municipality’s code of conduct.
“The use of vulgar language directed at a councillor for all members of council to see and read is inappropriate,” Cormier explained in his report.
The vulgar language was within an email, received by councillor Denis Senecal.
“Since this is public, I want to say what councillor Fisher had written to me,” Senecal said.
“What is it like being a lying piece of sh*t? Report me please,” Senecal quoted from the November 2020 email.
Cormier recommended an appropriate sanction would see Fisher apologize to Senecal.
"I have no problem apologizing," Fisher said.
Senecal did not feel that recommendation went far enough.
“He vilified council, he vilified the police board, and he vilified the community,” Senecal said, clarifying that Fisher chairs the police board, and felt his actions reflected negatively upon the board as well.
“I’m very disappointed,” Senecal continued, “and I hope that as a council we can decide what is appropriate for a comment like this. I think it’s going to be setting a precedent for others.”
“It’s unfortunate for a councillor to address another councillor with so little respect. Even if we don’t like each other, we all hold our tongues sometimes. It’s a matter of having a little bit of class.”
Senecal suggested Fisher purchase a quarter-page ad in the local paper to “apologize for what he did.”
“An apology to all” acknowledging “he has used his vulgar language to vilify,” would remedy the slight, Senecal concluded.
Council voted to accept the sanction, although some, including Dan Roveda, believed the action to be “harsh.”
West Nipissing's chief administrative officer, Jay Barbeau, questioned if council possesses the power to impose such a sanction.
“I don’t believe that council has the authority to impose financial penalties through the IC process other than loss of pay.”
“I’m pretty sure that resolution wasn’t actually legal,” Barbeau said.
With one sanction levelled, Mayor Joanne Savage read the second part of the IC’s report, which involved Fisher posting “vulgarities” on social media for a constituent to read.
These comments constituted “a violation to the code of conduct,” the report explained, and recommended Fisher post a public apology within the social media group for his original post containing the phrase “level of stupid.”
As for the comment constituting a vulgarity as outlined in the report, Fisher held reservations.
“I don’t believe it is,” he said. “It’s a statement of fact. There are levels of stupid.”
“You can misconstrue this any way you want, but there is no crime in it,” Fisher told council.
Council agreed with the IC’s recommendation, and sanctioned Fisher to provide the apology.
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.