Ward 8 Calgary Coun. Evan Woolley publicly apologized on Monday after calling fellow city councillor Sean Chu an “ignorant moron.”
The apology came after the city’s integrity commissioner, Meryl Whittaker, ruled that the comment violated council’s code of conduct.
“I’d like to unequivocally apologize to Sean Chu, city council and Calgarians for the language I used to refer to Mr. Chu,” Woolley said after councillors came out of a closed session on the matter.
“This was not in line with the highest standards of the office of city council, which I greatly respect.”
In the ruling, Woolley must also write a letter of apology to Chu and the public, which will be published.
According to a report by the integrity commissioner, the office received four complaints regarding a late-night tweet from Woolley last November in which he said: “Chu is one of the most ignorant morons on council,” adding that “every developer that donates to him is a target that I will push.”
Chu, who represents Ward 4, announced he’d be running for re-election this October while Woolley would not be seeking another term on council.
In response to Woolley’s tweet, Chu said at the time that he believes “Calgarians deserve better from their elected officials,” and that he’d consider the matter closed if Woolley apologized.
Woolley did not apologize and said he wanted to call out certain behaviours he saw on council, including comments from Chu that addiction is a “choice,” as well as other statements about same-sex marriage and climate change.
The comment about addiction stuck with Woolley, who said his brother died of an overdose.
“2020 was the deadliest year for overdose deaths in Alberta, and the first four months of 2021, over 250 Calgarians have died,” Woolley said in his apology on Monday. “This is a crisis in our community.”
In her decision, Whittaker said Woolley’s tweet was disrespectful and had the “potential to undermine public confidence in city governance.”
Whittaker said the use of the word “target” in the tweet also violated the councillor code of conduct because it was “not without intimidation.”
According to Whittaker’s report, released publicly on Monday, Woolley used dictionary definitions in an attempt to justify his comments
“I can’t sit idly by and ignore the actions and words that both hurt and insult large numbers of Calgarians,” Woolley said at the time. “In a world that’s more divided than ever, I truly believe we must call out distortion, stupidity, misinformation, ignorance and hate.”
However, Whittaker dismissed Woolley’s argument and said the term “moron” is still considered offensive.
“While I can appreciate that Councillor Woolley may have strongly held views on Councillor Chu’s political commentary, the level of discourse on these issues should be focused on the issues themselves, not on the person,” Whittaker said in her report.
“By resorting to name-calling, Councillor Woolley has lowered the level of discourse to an inappropriate and disrespectful level.”
Chu released a statement in response to Woolley’s apology and said he will accept the report and the apology.
“Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we say things we wish we hadn’t, and I am no exception to that rule, but we must learn from these mistakes, take responsibility for our actions and move forward,” Chu said in a statement.
“I know I am ready to get back to work and focus on being the voice for every resident in Ward 4.”
According to Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the city has no tools available if a councillor decides not to follow through with recommendations from the integrity commissioner for things like a public apology. But Nenshi said he was happy that Woolley complied and apologized when other councillors have not in the past for separate issues.
“I wouldn’t have done it, and I got real mad at him for doing it,” Nenshi told reporters. “Ultimately, has councillor Chu been called worse than that before? Probably, as we all have. But has he been called worse by a colleague publicly? Probably not.”