Embattled Calgary city councillor Sean Chu will not be a sitting member of any city committee for the next year, following a decision made by council.
But that doesn’t preclude him from attending meetings and voting on items.
Councillors normally have to be a member of at least one standing policy committee under the city’s procedure bylaw.
An amendment introduced by Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra allowed the selection committee to bypass that part of the bylaw for one year.
Only councillors Peter Demong, Dan McLean, Sonya Sharp, Terry Wong, Andre Chabot and Sean Chu voted against Carra’s amendment in a 9-6 vote.
It’s one of the few things city council could do following reports that Ward 4 incumbent Sean Chu was found guilty of discreditable conduct involving improper relations with a minor — allegations that came out days before election day on Oct. 18.
“We have very limited abilities and powers as a council, (but) we exercised one of those today,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters.
City solicitor Jill Floen cautioned council it was “very, very important that council makes a decision that is reasonable in the circumstances.”
Floen also urged council to “consider carefully” the needs of the committees and who would be the best members to serve on those committees.
Joining remotely, Chu apologized to his fellow councillors “that we have to go through this right now.”
“I meant no harm whatsoever,” he said.
But he did not offer his resignation.
“I am duly elected by the people of Ward 4,” Chu said. “My intention has always been to serve to the best of my ability to the Ward 4 residents and to the citizens of Calgary.”
Chu called the decision of not naming him to any committees a “slap in the face” to Ward 4 residents. On Twitter, he said he was disappointed but still plants to attend committee meetings “as I must still make informed decisions when I vote in council.”
Chabot endorsed the work he saw Chu do during their first terms in office.
“During that four years, my personal experience with Coun. Chu was nothing but exemplary and above reproach,” the Ward 10 councillor said.
During his opening argument, Carra said he was bringing the item to council for four reasons: the systemic issues with police investigating themselves, the balance between the letter and the spirit of the law, the lack of information about Chu’s history that voters had during advance voting periods and allegations of impropriety with a minor that Chu has commented on publicly but which haven’t been proven in a court of law.
Carra apologized to Chu on Floen’s advice.
“If I made any comments in my opening that in some way suggested that Coun. Chu had been found in violation of the letter of any law — whether it’s the procedural bylaw, whether it’s a court of law — I did not mean to say that, I’m not saying that at all,” Carra said.
When asked by Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, Floen said the only duties for councillors as outlined in the municipal government are to attend and vote at council meetings.
Floen also said that if a city has committees, participation isn’t mandatory and councillors can be removed from them under powers in the Municipal Government Act.
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said Monday’s decision continues a theme following the mayor not swearing in Chu the week before.
“It’s really a public dressing-down that he has received on the very first day of work,” Bratt said.
“What council is saying is that we don’t want this person involved in the work of city council and we don’t trust this person to do the work of city council.”
The political scientist said Chu can still represent Ward 4 residents.
“He’s still capable of doing that if he chooses to do so, but what this says it’s going to be very tough for him to work with other members of council,” Bratt said. “It’s clear that for nine of them, it’s going to be impossible. The other six, maybe he can on a case-by-case basis.”
“The councillor himself said that he was duly-elected,” the mayor said, “and I would expect that providing service to his constituents will be a priority.”
Fewer committees to sit on
Following a reorganization in September, the standing policy committees were reduced from four to two: the community development committee and the infrastructure and planning committee.
The committees do much of council’s policy-creation work before presenting their recommendations to a combined meeting of council.
Carra was named to both and was selected as chair of the infrastructure and planning committee.
In addition to Carra, councillors Raj Dhaliwal, Richard Pootmans, Courtney Walcott, Wong and Jennifer Wyness were named to the community development committee, with Coun. Kourtney Penner as the chair.
Joining Carra, councillors Chabot, Demong, McLean, Jasmine Mian, Sharp and Evan Spencer make up the infrastructure and planning committee.
Replacing the priorities and finance committee, the executive committee is made up of councillors Pootmans, Carra, Penner, Walcott, Demong and Spencer, and will be chaired by Mayor Gondek.
Chabot and Chu voted against the forming of the temporary selection committee that decided on the sitting membership of the standing policy committees.
Later in council’s organizational meeting Monday, it was revealed Chu was not named to any of the city’s boards, committees or commissions that had councillor membership. He was also not named to any of the boards of the city’s wholly owned subsidiaries.
The mayor is a member of all committees by virtue of her holding that office, and also chairs the executive committee and intergovernmental affairs committee.
After asking if the province should be adjudicating on the matter — which the mayor noted the minister of municipal affairs has sought external legal advice on — Wong said he had been “affected” by a situation similar to the Chu allegations, and took “great pains“ to support the victim.
Wong said the matter still bothers him but happened “years ago.”
“I’ve learned to move on and so as this victim learned to move on, but I think our responsibility, if we’re judging on a fellow councillors’ behaviour today, it should be relevant to today and we can make judgments today,” the Ward 7 representative said.
“If that were to happen today, I would certainly censure one of our members today. But something that happened a while ago, which society and councillors here have given thought to and the person we’re speaking of has also given thought to, I’d like to think we’d move on.”
Those comments drew backlash online, with some calling it a “bad look,” a “bad take” and that “victims can’t ‘move on’ until justice is served.”
Walcott said asking anyone to “move on” ignores the issue of transparency.
“It is in this absence of knowledge that we must understand our past choices impact the decisions we do make today,” Walcott said.
“And so the continued choice to prevent the public from this information, or at least the choice to no longer allow people the knowledge so that we can make effective choices in our voting records, as well as how we work with people beside us — these are present day issues.”
Walcott used an example of someone using a racial slur and then proceeding to sit on a council with a commitment to anti-racism work.
“It impacts my ability to actually understand the perspectives that they’re coming from,” Walcott said. “So it does impact us today — that transparency is significant today.”
Earlier, Walcott cautioned against falling into the “slippery slope” logical fallacy given the precedent-setting decision council was considering.
“We are not actually doing anything but adjusting our ability to hold each other accountable,” the Ward 8 councillor said.
“And at the end of the day, that is the most important thing that I think we can reflect on: is that we have very few opportunities to hold each other to account through our actions, through history, through transparency, through integrity — and this is one of them.”