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HomeStratford NewsLawyer calls three-month ban against city residents 'draconian'

Lawyer calls three-month ban against city residents ‘draconian’

Measures taken by the City of Stratford against two of its residents for comments they made at a city council meeting are unconstitutional and illegal.

That is according to David Donnelly, a lawyer representing a group of local concerned citizens including Mike Sullivan and Barb Shaughnessy, who were recently banned from entering city-owned buildings for a period of 3 months, or communicating with city staff during that time frame.

It is alleged offensive statements were made at a Feb. 26 city council meeting and numerous derogatory and misleading comments were made against senior city staff, and that the statements were in violation of the city’s respectful workplace policy.

Donnelly noted to My Stratford Now that no examples of the alleged behaviours were provided prior to the city banning the residents.

The city did, however, update the lawyer on Tuesday, outlining what Donnelly described as “innocuous” comments.

The city received five incident reports from city staff as well as three reports from three individuals at the Feb. 26 meeting alleging bullying, harassing and threatening behaviour.

The meeting is available on the city’s website.

The city provided the lawyer and the accused residents with a list of behaviours found to be “disrespectful, derogatory, inappropriate, misleading and vexatious”.

City CEO Joan Thomson said in an email to My Stratford Now that there was a threat of violence made outside of council chambers at one point during that evening.

The individuals are still able to participate and comment on city business, she said.

“Communications with city staff during the temporary suspension period are sent to the city solicitor, who then forwards to the appropriate staff person to respond to the questions or comments.”

A third resident, Jane Marie Mitchell, received a written warning from the city.

Donnelly said the city has offered an appeal process, which will permit them to state their case, but he described that as lacking transparency.

“It doesn’t seem to be a legitimate appeal process, but will we engage it anyway and see what answer comes back.”

At the same time, Donnelly said he is investigating the court process, “starting first and foremost with a breach of charter rights.”

Donnelly said what the city has done to its residents is illegal and described it as “draconian”.

Thomson said the city council chamber is a public space and also a workplace, and “we are responsible for ensuring it’s a safe and respectful place for everyone.”

People should feel welcome in public spaces, and feel safe and respected, she said. 

“The city has a respectful workplace policy that highlights the importance of treating everyone – city employees, city council and members of the public, with dignity and respect. It is our responsibility and our duty to take appropriate action when someone violates that policy.”

Sullivan, in particular, is well-known for fiercely advocating for open communication about city projects including a potential Chinese glass facility. Opponents to the Xinyi Canada project noted a lack of transparency. It never got off the ground in Stratford.

Sullivan has filed numerous freedom of information requests, discovering more than 100 in-camera city council meetings that an investigator found should not have been held behind closed doors.

“This stems from Mike fighting Xinyi,” said Donnelly. “He blew the whistle on in-camera meetings.”

Sullivan and others in the group that hold the city and its elected officials accountable are “heroes”, the lawyer said.

“And this is the thanks they get.”

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