Coun. Mike Nickel will not face any official reprimand following a series of social media posts he made that an independent investigation found went against Edmonton city council’s code of conduct and misled the public.
Councillors voted 8-4 for an official reprimand against the Ward 11 councillor, but it did not pass as a sanction requires a higher threshold of votes (at least nine in favour), according to city officials.
City council voted on the matter after a lengthy sanction hearing on Wednesday afternoon.
Councillors Banga, Cartmell, Caterina and Dziadyk voted against the sanction. Nickel was not present for the vote.
“Accountability is as essential to anything else for democracy and for our work here,” Mayor Don Iveson said before the official vote Wednesday.
“An apology could have fixed this. But the lack of any contrition for these breaches… leads us to a question of formal reprimand. I believe a reprimand is appropriate given an apology is not on offer.”
The sanction hearing comes after 10 public complaints were made regarding three different social media posts that Nickel made since April, all of which directly target council decisions and members.
The first post on April 17, was a lengthy complaint against changes council made to streets to allow for more social distancing.
The second that was addressed by the sanction hearing was from April 18, when Nickel posted a cartoon of Coun. Andrew Knack that related, again, to bike lanes in the city.
The third post that was looked into was from May 20, when Nickel posted a meme-like photo of Kermit the Frog questioning the management of Edmonton Transit.
The findings of the investigation into the posts found that all three were misleading.
Nickel himself did not speak at the sanction hearing, but his lawyer Jonathan Denis read a statement on his behalf. Denis argued that the posts are protected through Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Mike Nickel will not apologize,” Denis said. “Any sanction against Coun. Nickel will set a dangerous precedent that any city councillor cannot represent their constituents as they see fit.
“Nickel simply states his opinion, and whether an individual agrees with him or not, this is his inalienable right.”
Jamie Pytel, the city’s integrity commissioner, put forward the recommendation that Nickel should be sanctioned with a letter of reprimand from the mayor.
She said Wednesday that councillors have to abide by their own code of conduct, which they all voted to pass in February 2020.
“One of the themes today will be discussions about freedom of expression. It’s clear to me that when that code was brought in, that freedom of expression was affected by that code,” she said.
“This is in no way — and nor is the sanction — meant to suppress ideas. It’s meant to say we have a code of conduct that is a law, and we can express ideas and still abide by that code.”
Nickel posted a series of videos on social media Wednesday before the hearing took place, where he called the sanction hearing “shameful.”
“I’m being brought before you today because I choose to criticize the direction of this civic government. This is shameful,” he said.
“Right now, tax dollars are being spent to investigate Kermit the Frog and I, and what we say on Facebook,” Nickel said. “Intimidating me with this process to accept truths which are not truths is the very definition of censorship.”
Andrew Knack, the councillor who was directly referenced in one of the social media posts, said during Wednesday’s hearing that he believes the main issue is the importance that elected officials not share misinformation.
“I don’t believe we need to be disrespectful to make a point, even about serious issues,” Knack said. “Another issue I take great offence to is when people share misinformation.
“This is far bigger than our local government. And I used to believe that elected officials would not cross the line in sharing this misinformation.”
Other councillors said they do not believe the hearing was meant to silence Nickel on social media.
“No one is being silenced — that’s a ridiculous proposition,” said Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette. “And normally I wouldn’t be so passionate about this, except that — I’m going to be very upfront — I come from a people who actually have been silenced.
“It’s just about being as honest as possible to the public. It’s not a difficult concept.”
Another recommendation from Pytel from the investigation was that city council develop an official social media policy.