'Brash, loud and obnoxious gay male' doesn't have right to rude emails, tribunal rules

Hazen Colbert has called his city’s mayor an “old whore,” congratulated a councillor on her breast implants and threatened to release drunken photos of another if they didn’t vote a certain way.

North Vancouver council-watcher ordered to pay costs to district after losing human rights complaint

Hazen Colbert has been a council-watcher in the District of North Vancouver since 2010. (Hazen Colbert)

Hazen Colbert has called his city's mayor an "old whore," congratulated a councillor on her breast implants and threatened to release drunken photos of another if they didn't vote a certain way.

Over the years, Colbert has sent hundreds of these off-colour messages to officials at the District of North Vancouver, prompting council to adopt a policy that redirects all email from people who have a history of sending threatening and inappropriate messages to the municipal clerk.

But even that didn't dissuade Colbert, who was the only person covered by this policy.

He turned to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, filing a complaint that alleged the municipal government was discriminating against him because he is gay and has been an advocate for LGBTQ issues.

He described himself as a "brash, loud and obnoxious gay male," and said the district was trying to avoid oversight and input from its citizens, according to a tribunal decision.

'Opportunistic and disingenuous speculation'

But on Feb. 14, the tribunal not only dismissed Colbert's complaint, but also ordered him to pay $750 in costs to the district for improper conduct.

Tribunal member Devyn Cousineau wrote that Colbert's allegation of anti-gay discrimination "does not rise above the level of opportunistic and disingenuous speculation."

Cousineau went on: "Mr. Colbert's sexual orientation does not insulate him from the expectation that he treat people with basic courtesy and respect."

The decision to award costs was a response to what the tribunal described as Colbert's "attacks and insults against legal counsel for the District, and second, his threats to retaliate against the District if it did not engage in settlement discussions with him."

Colbert's emails were directed at district councillors and municipal staff. (Google Maps)

Colbert has been a council-watcher since 2010, and made an unsuccessful run for councillor in 2014. In the meantime, he has written more than 635 messages to councillors, Mayor Richard Walton and district staff, according to the tribunal decision.

Some of his emails have included:

  • Asking a councillor: "Are you willing to risk photos of your leaving the legion in your BMW, so drunk that you are barely able to stand, in order to vote in favour of a first reading. Think about the consequences."
  • Inquiring about a councillor's children's soccer schedules "so I can chat with their mother, or even your wife, directly about your poor judgment."
  • Referring to an alleged "bulge in [the mayor's] trousers" during a presentation to young people.
  • Congratulating a female councillor "on the success of your breast augmentation surgery," while recommending she tone down makeup that made her "look like a drag queen."

After councillors started raising concerns, district officials tried to warn Colbert his missives weren't appropriate.

The district's chief administrative officer, David Stuart, met with Colbert in June 2015 and asked him to change his approach to correspondence with the district, but Colbert continued to send off-colour emails, according to the tribunal decision.

After the district's legal counsel wrote to Colbert in September 2015, telling him the municipality would no longer tolerate his "aggressive, inappropriate and threatening behaviour," Colbert denied he had done anything wrong.

The emails continue

Two months later, council took action, approving the new email policy at an in-camera meeting on Nov. 2.

All of Colbert's emails would now be directed automatically to the municipal clerk, who would decide if the message should be forwarded to the intended recipient, and if any inappropriate sections of those messages should be redacted.

Still, Colbert persisted. He sent about 200 messages to staff and councillors between the time the new policy was implemented and when he filed his human rights complaint in January 2017. Those messages included a warning that Stuart needed "a trip behind the back shed."

Mayor Richard Walton was the target of a number of Colbert's emails. (CBC)

However, about 20 of Colbert's emails written in that time referred to LGBTQ issues, according to the tribunal decision.

Colbert hasn't denied sending any of the emails, but in tribunal hearings, he accused the district of cherry-picking its examples as part of a "smear campaign" against him.

Colbert responds

In the end, his human rights complaint was rejected because it "has no reasonable prospect of success."

Colbert sees things differently.

"On the contrary … I consider that it has met my definition for success, namely that I intended to create greater awareness for LGBTQ issues on the North Shore, and I did that," he said in an interview last week.

But another document reveals that Colbert emailed the tribunal soon after the decision was posted online, objecting to what he said was a "wholly inaccurate representation of who I am."

On Thursday, the tribunal rejected an application from Colbert to correct or reconsider its decision, saying he should file for judicial review if he wants to dispute the result.

Hazen Colbert ran for council in 2014. (ShawTV)

Colbert told CBC News he's still considering whether to appeal the decision to B.C. Supreme Court, and said he has no plans to stop sending emails to the district.

He said he wants to see council recognize World AIDS Day and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and pay more attention to the issue of affordable supported housing for LGBTQ seniors — among other issues.

The district declined to comment, except to say the tribunal's decision accurately reflects what has happened. A spokesperson confirmed that the policy still applies to Colbert.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.