Is there a double standard for councillor who grabbed journalist?

An integrity commissioner report that concluded Coun. Lloyd Ferguson violated the city’s code of conduct when he grabbed a journalis got no discussion by city council on Wednesday.

Similar behaviour can mean a parent is banned from a city arena or rec centre

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson violated the city's code of conduct when he grabbed a journalist, the integrity commissioner has found. But the report recommended no sanctions, leaving some wondering if there's a double standard between elected officials and the general public. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It was a damning report that got no discussion by city council on Wednesday — an integrity commissioner report that showed that Coun. Lloyd Ferguson violated the city’s code of conduct when he grabbed a journalist.

But at least one city councillor says he worries that there’s a double standard when it comes to tolerating that behaviour.

Couns. Scott Duvall and Matthew Green voted against a motion to receive the report, which explained how Ferguson violated protocol when he grabbed Joey Coleman, an independent journalist who live streams meetings at city hall. The report recommended no sanctions.

Duvall, who represents Ward 7, said he has residents who have been suspended from city facilities for such violations.

“We have zero tolerance in our recreation, parks and all of our municipal buildings,” Duvall said. “It’s not against Coun. Ferguson or Joey Coleman.”

It took integrity commissioner Earl Basse nearly a year to report back to council on the Feb. 26, 2014 incident.

It was a late night after a long day of meetings that included a heated debate over a 20-year lease agreement with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the new Tim Horton’s Field stadium. Ferguson was against the agreement, which passed 9-7.

Ferguson was having a private discussion with a staff member when Coleman approached them with his camera equipment. Coleman, who was not interviewed for the report, has said that his camera was off.

Ferguson thought he was trying to eavesdrop, the report said. He “grabbed Mr. Coleman by the arm and physically propelled him approximately three feet away, at which time Mr. Coleman vociferously expressed his displeasure."

Ferguson apologized privately and publicly the next day. It was up to Basse whether sanctions were imposed.

As for whether there’s a double standard for staff or residents, Ferguson said he has no control over the commissioner’s findings.

“We delegated this to the integrity commissioner and we can’t interfere,” he said. “It’s a delegated responsibility.”

Coleman wouldn't comment on the incident.

Green said given that the commissioner didn’t interview everyone involved, “I viewed that report as being wholly incomplete.”

Basse explained that the report took so long because of serious health concerns. His contract ends in June.

The city is interviewing for a new combined integrity commissioner/lobbyist registrar. It’s conducting interviews this week and next week and expects to hire someone in April, Ferguson said.

Ferguson chaired the accountability and transparency subcommittee that oversaw the creation of the new role. He also chairs the Hamilton police services board. 

Basse also found that Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10 shouldn't have used an informal survey to get opinions from community members on a proposal at 2 Oceanic Dr., but that she was acting in good faith when she did so.

Pearson called more than 40 residents to inform them that an application to construct 10 maisonettes had been changed to six townhouses, and to get their opinions. Basse interviewed more than 40 residents during the investigation.

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