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Council reprimands chair of Hamilton LGBTQ2 advisory committee following integrity complaint

Hamilton city council has formally reprimanded the chair of its LGBTQ2 advisory committee following a complaint to the integrity commissioner. Cameron Kroetsch / Facebook

The chair of Hamilton’s LGBTQ2 advisory board has been formally reprimanded by city council in response to a code of conduct complaint to the city’s integrity commissioner.

The reprimand focused on a report from the commissioner that claimed Cameron Kroetsch ignored advice from the city clerk and posted to Twitter an unredacted version of a motion that identified a (now ex-) city employee with alleged ties to white supremacy, as well as a new appointee to the police services board.

During Wednesday’s council meeting, councillors discussed whether to implement one of the report’s three recommendations — asking Kroetsch to resign, revoking his appointment to the committee, or issuing a formal reprimand.

In a vote of 12-2, councillors opted to issue the reprimand, focused only on the privacy issue.

While the reprimand does not have any further actions associated with it, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said it holds weight as a symbolic gesture.

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“I think it’s appropriate in this case that he is advised that what he did — especially in the area of releasing information that needed to be redacted — is inappropriate, not correct, not something we need to have happen again,” said Eisenberger. “And should be put on a file that should it happen again, we can take different kinds of action.”

Read more: Hamilton’s integrity commissioner suggests LGBTQ2 committee chair step down

Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark expressed concern that Kroetsch posted the unredacted document against the clerk’s advice.

“This is about someone accepting the responsibility as a member of a committee, knowing that they’re not supposed to release private information, and released the private information – even though they were deliberately told, most assuredly told, not to do that,” said Clark. “Because they felt that the clerk was wrong and that they were right. That’s the problem here.”

The report also addressed public criticism that Kroetsch had made of city council, referring specifically to an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show in 2019.

During that interview, Kroetsch explained why the LGBTQ2 advisory committee had decided to call on the city not to raise the Pride and trans flags at city hall, citing the employment of the former leader of a neo-Nazi group, as well as a recent appointment to the police services board.

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Councillors chose not to focus on that aspect of the report, with some arguing that part of advising council includes being an advocate — which may mean being critical of council’s decisions.

Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann said residents with “lived experience” in the areas in which they’re advising council should feel that they can be critical of council decisions without facing repercussions.

“There’s been a lack of clarity in the past, and clearly still now, in terms of the difference between advising and advocacy,” said Nann. “And for people who’ve been historically and systemically and structurally marginalized, being able to speak truth to power is part of advising.”

Read more: Hamilton LGBTQ2 residents react to Pride 2019 review: ‘We knew that we were right about this’

Following Wednesday’s council meeting, Kroetsch said he’s “pretty concerned” about the decision to receive the integrity commissioner’s report.

That motion passed on a vote of 11-3.

“By receiving the report of the integrity commissioner, unfortunately, I think it sends … a chilling message to people because now that this office can be used to file a complaint against a volunteer,” Kroetsch told Global News.

“And I think that’s a really high burden for volunteers. I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of the integrity commissioner, and I still remain concerned that folks in marginalized communities are going to speak out less and be more concerned about being censored.”

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He also expressed confusion about the actual tweet identified in the report that was the subject of concern about a privacy breach.

That tweet from Feb. 15 shows Kroetsch posting a screenshot of part of the motion to cancel the Pride flag-raising ceremony, and while it contains vague descriptions of the people whose privacy was apparently violated, it does not actually name them.

“The continued assertion is that I somehow made the names of identifiable individuals public, and I didn’t do that,” said Kroetsch. “If you look at my original tweet you can see that actually in the version of the motion that I put out there, the names are taken out.”

He added that the unredacted motion had been posted on the city’s website under a police services board agenda, although it appears to have been taken down since then.

“The information we’re talking about here isn’t private information, and I haven’t made this information public. So I don’t really understand why I’m being taken to task over this.”

Read more: City of Hamilton staffer with links to white supremacist group terminated

Councillor Brad Clark raised that issue with integrity commissioner Jeffrey Abrams, asking whether it changed anything if the information was already in the public record at the time of Kroetsch’s tweet.

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Abrams said it does not.

“The further publication of the information is the concern, contrary to the direction given by the clerk,” said Abrams.

In a statement following the meeting, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the integrity commissioner’s report underlines that there are “consequences” when council and all city committees, subcommittees and advisory committees go against the Municipal Act and provincial laws.

“This situation could have been avoided had the LGBTQ Advisory Committee Chair followed the advice of the City clerks who are there to ensure everyone acts within the laws and procedures which are in place to protect everyone,” reads Eisenberger’s statement.

Kroetsch said he’s concerned about how the integrity commissioner might be used from now on, and what kind of impact that will have on volunteer members of advisory committees speaking up or criticizing future council decisions.

“I hope that council reflects on the decision they’ve made today, and when they make these decisions about governance and about how they’re going to change the code of conduct, that they make sure it’s clear to everybody. Because I think right now, unfortunately, the waters have been really muddied by all of this. I don’t know how people are going to continue in their roles on advisory committees with so many questions in the air.”

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