A Visibly Upset Dave Bylsma – Removed from Seats on Regional Boards, Agencies and Commissions for Remainder of 2021 – Falls Short of Apologizing for Comments Made During a June, 2020 Radio Interview
A News Report from A Better Niagara, a citizens watchdog group in Niagara, Ontario
(This report was originally posted January 24th, 2021 on A Better Niagara’s Facebook Page)
Posted January 26th, 2021 on Niagara At Large
“If you are going to err, err on the side of social justice” — Ed Smith, St. Catharines community activist and a founding member and director of A Better Niagara, speaking to a full meeting Niagara Regional Council this past January 21st
It was difficult for many citizens, who watched the discussion by Regional Council on Thursday, January 21st to understand why it was so hard for some members Council to make a decision about if, and then how to, reprimand West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma.
The integrity commissioner’s report that they had in front of them, based on a complaint filed by Ed Smith after Council previously refused to deal with the issue themselves, concluded that remarks Bylsma made during a 610 interview in June about the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGTBQ community and Indigenous people were discriminatory and a contravention of the Region’s Code of Conduct. The report recommended that Regional Council reprimand Bylsma.
Ed Smith delegated to Council on the matter. He recommended that Council go a step further and remove Bylsma from taskforces, boards and commissions that the Region had appointed him to.
He said, in part: “You as a governing body appointed him in good faith to represent you, and by extension represent the values of this Region. He has clearly demonstrated that he is out of step with the values that the Region wishes to espouse. I put to you tonight that his unrepentant nature in this matter makes him no longer fit to represent this Region in the appointments that are controlled by you, the Council of the Niagara Region.” A full transcript of Ed’s remarks can be found at the end of this post.
ABN (A Better Niagara) thanks Niagara Regional Chair Bradley’s remarks before the discussion that outlined the importance of Council members to follow the Code of Conduct.
In part Bradley said: “The public has placed their trust in us, and we certainly owe it to them to hold ourselves to the highest standards possible.”
ABN also thanks the many members of Council who voted to reprimand Bylsma.
The only members who did not were Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Grimsby Regional Councillor Wayne Fertich and Pelham Mayor Marv Junkin.
The vote to remove Bylsma from boards and committees for the rest of 2021 also passed.
Those voting against it included: Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, Niagara Falls Councillors and Peter Nicholson and Barb Greenwood, Grimsby Regional Councillor Wayne Fertich, Fort Erie Regional Councillor Frank Insinna, Pelham Mayor Marv Junkin; St. Catharines Regional Councillor Rigby; West Lincoln Regional Councillor Albert Witteveen and Niagara-on-the-Lake Regional Councillor Gary Zalepa. Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Sandie Bellows was absent.
To read 610’s reporting on the issue, to hear the original June interview with Bylsma and to read the Integrity Commissioner’s Report go here: https://www.iheartradio.ca/…/niagara-regional-council…
The text of Ed Smith’s January 21st, 2021 delegation to Niagara Regional Council is below –
“Chair Bradley, Councillors, staff and fellow citizens, thank you for allowing me to address you, all the protocols of this chamber are respected.
In regards to the matter before you tonight I am not here to go through the report, I’m sure most of you have read it and I believe it is clear and stands on its own merits. Having said that I believe there are 2 important aspects that the council should consider in your deliberations.
The first is to ask you to consider one other option, not mentioned in the report.
I believe you should consider removing Member Bylsma from his appointments to Task Forces, Boards and Commissions that were awarded to him by this council. Councillor Bylsma is entitled to his seat in this chamber by virtue of his election by the people of West Lincoln. You as a governing body appointed him in good faith to represent you, and by extension represent the values of this Region.
He has clearly demonstrated that he is out of step with the values that the Region wishes to espouse. I put to you tonight that his unrepentant nature in this matter makes him no longer fit to represent this Region in the appointments that are controlled by you, the Council of the Niagara Region.
The attitudes demonstrated by his public comments, his refusal to withdraw them, and his doubling down by reinforcing his perceived rights to express them and seemingly rallying like minded people to his defence, can not be tolerated.
Any number of staff and citizens who serve on these same Task Forces, Boards and Commissions have been insulted by his stance and his words. I think I speak truthfully when I say you do not have to be a member of the Black, Gay or Indigenous community to be offended by his words, his words speak against the very nature of the community we all hope to create.
I don’t mean to dismiss your consideration of a reprimand as meaningless, but he clearly does not represent our greater community and I believe there is a duty to prevent him, to the extent possible, from being in a position that may serve to intimidate or offend staff, citizens or colleagues. When any elected official so clearly demonstrates being out of step with our core community values, all options should be on the table to change or minimize the impact of that behaviour.
The second issue that I would like to address is the fact that we are even here tonight talking about this. Twice before the issue of his highly public comments were brought before the Council and yet you refused to even consider the situation without an Integrity Commissioner report leading you. I do not understand that.
His comments were made on the radio, reprinted all over social media and traditional media and you still would not discuss it unless someone made a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner. The burden was left to the citizen to force the definition of the moral foundation of this council.
To be clear, I do not think your inaction translates into a tacit approval for Councillor Bylsma’s remarks, I believe I am familiar enough with this Council to know that those types of comments would find no hiding space or comfort here.
But by refusing to deal with it unless there was an Integrity Commissioner report, you passed the burden to citizens. If no complaint gets filed this council lets the comments exist and slide by unchallenged.
There is a time and a place for Integrity Commissioners to ferret through the nuances, the reports, the emails, the statements, the actions and the inactions to help all of us decide if something was right or wrong, but this was not one of those times. This was a time for strong moral leadership
that does not require that level of effort.
My hope is that the next time we are faced by something like this you come out strong and unequivocally, don’t wait, do something about it, not something general, but specific and targeted.
If you are going to err, err on the side of social justice.”
Ed Smith’s brief delegation can also be heard here by clicking on the screen immediately below and moving the red ball in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to the time period 28:19:
To visit a recent CKTB Heart Radio report on this issue, click on – https://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb/news/niagara-regional-council-votes-to-reprimand-mayor-dave-bylsma-following-comments-made-on-cktb-1.14415952 .
To watch West Lincoln regional councillor and Mayor David Bylsma respond to the reprimand, click on – https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=428294661772746
About A Better Niagara – A Better Niagara is a non-partisan, non-profit organization with a mandate to encourage civic engagement and municipal public participation in Niagara.
Formed by a desire to see transparency and accountability in municipal politics A Better Niagara is committed to a Niagara that is more democratic, more equal and more open.
This coalition endeavours to empower local residents who share a common vision for A Better Niagara. Whether residents choose to run for office or simply want their voice heard in the decisions made about their own communities, our group will support and encourage everyday citizens who wish for levels of government that are more accessible, accountable and honest and which above all serves the needs of the residents who put them in power.
We are an open and inclusive group and we invite all residents who dream of, work for and want A Better Niagara to join our movement.
To visit A Better Niagara’s Facebook Page, click on – https://www.facebook.com/betterniagara/ .
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