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Councillor Handley in hot water over Ottawa convoy participation

'The councillor’s actions have demonstrated that he either has no ability, or has no intention of reform,' says the city's integrity commissioner in a new report
Councillor Jim Handley. ThoroldToday file photo

Councillor Jim Handley's conduct is under the microscope again, as the city’s integrity commissioner has filed a new report, concerning the councillor’s participation in the 2022 Ottawa trucker convoy protest.

In a 29-page report, the commissioner details how Councillor Handley contravened the city’s code of conduct, that requires “members of Council to refrain from making statements known to be false or with the intent to mislead Council or the public, and to recognize that they are representatives of the City and that they owe a duty of loyalty to the residents of the City at all times.”

The investigation was launched after the integrity commissioner received a formal complaint on August 3, 2022.

The report — written by Daria (Dasha) Peregoudova, on behalf of Aird & Berlis LLP — zeroes in on several of Handley’s Facebook posts, which spread misinformation about the pandemic, and also documented his participation in the trucker convoy protest in Ottawa.

In a written response to the commissioner, which is included in the report, Handley says he never knowingly made any false claims on social media.

“My intention on social media has always been to engage in honest, good-faith discussions and share opinions, news, developments, and occasionally humor," he writes. "I have no motive or intent to deceive or mislead anyone."

While the commissioner says there is no way to prove if Councillor Handley was knowingly dishonest: “At the very least, we find that the Councillor did not conduct full due diligence to confirm the accuracy of all of the information (and particularly, the highly sensitive and possibly damaging information) that he shared on social media in relation to these posts.”

The report also notes Handley’s concerns that “the investigation and the findings in the draft Report could be perceived as a further infringement of his Charter rights, as they 'seem to target [his] constitutionally protected actions and speech.'"

The city is currently seeking an external legal opinion to determine whether or not the city’s code of conduct contravenes one's Charter rights, after a motion made by Handley during a Feb. 28 city council meeting.

“We need to have a policy that guarantees one’s rights under the charter,” he told council members at the time.

But the commissioner thinks that one does not cancel out the other.

“Just as lawyers are constrained by law societies to express themselves 'with dignified restraint,' so too are Council Members expected to act with integrity, and in accordance with an established code of conduct,” Peregoudova writes. “The Councillor’s ongoing references are somewhat misguided, as the Councillor can be onside his Charter rights, but still be in violation of the Code.”

The commissioner finds that Councillor Handley contravened the city's code of conduct, because his online actions during the convoy protest "promoted and signaled that dispensing with applicable laws and protocols in place was fully permissible." 

Furthermore, the commissioner states that Handley “'doubled down' by personally attending the Convoy,” offered “financial aid to other Convoy participants,” and escalated tensions on social media, after a state of emergency was already announced.

“In all respects, the Councillor ought to have known that his promotion of an illegal activity was not consistent with his duty of loyalty to the City, which requires him to at least be viewed as upholding the spirit and the letter of the law, consistent with the Code,” writes Peregoudova.

The commissioner recommends “that Council denounce the actions of the Councillor by way of a formal reprimand and impose a suspension of his remuneration as a member of Council equal to ninety (90) days.”

Peregoudova is hesitant to impose more remedial or corrective sanctions as the “Councillor’s actions have demonstrated that he either has no ability, or has no intention of reform.”

ThoroldToday reached out to Councillor Handley for comment, but did not hear back in time.

It will be up to other council members to decide whether or not Councillor Handley will face any sanctions, as the report is set to hit the floor during Tuesday's city council meeting. 

This will not be the first time Handley's conduct is discussed in council chambers. 

He previously had his pay suspended for eight months, after a 2020 report from the integrity commissioner scolded him for his interactions with City Hall staff and fellow councillors. 

In 2021, the councillor came under scrutiny again after the integrity commissioner found that his presence at an anti-lockdown rally, as well as his continued harassment of City Hall staff, was cause for another suspension.

“At this juncture, it is up to the citizens of Thorold to decide whether the Councillor, having repeatedly failed to meet the standards of an elected official, meets the criteria for elected office," Peregoudova concludes her latest report. 

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Bernard Lansbergen

About the Author: Bernard Lansbergen

Bernard was born and raised in Belgium but moved to Canada in 2012 and has lived in Niagara since 2020. Bernard loves telling people’s stories and wants to get to know those that make Thorold into the great place it is
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