Hamilton

Integrity commissioner recommends reprimand for chair of LGBTQ advisory committee

The fate of Cameron Kroetsch as Hamilton city council's LGBTQ advisory committee chair is up in the air after an integrity commissioner report admonishing him for a tweet and a radio interview where he disparaged city council.

LGBTQ committee chair says report sends a 'chilling' message to marginalized voices

Cameron Kroetsch says he doesn't plan to step down from the LGBTQ advisory committee. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

The fate of Cameron Kroetsch as Hamilton city council's LGBTQ advisory committee chair is up in the air after an integrity commissioner report admonished him for a tweet and a radio interview where he disparaged city council.

The new report to council recommends "that Cameron Kroetsch be and is hereby formally reprimanded," and "that council consider revoking the appointment of Cameron Kroetsch as a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Advisory Committee, and that he be thanked for his service to date."

The report from the city's integrity commissioner, Principles Integrity, also says Kroetsch should consider stepping down after he tweeted a motion that had been previously redacted by the city clerk's office. Kroetsch also criticized city council on the radio and referred to a cover up.

Kroetsch says he does not plan to step down,calling the investigation against a resident "unprecedented" and an "egregious overstep."

The whole process, he says, sends a "chilling message to all members of oppressed communities in Hamilton." 

"As a member of the queer community, I refuse to have my voice silenced by council," he said in a statement.

Taking advice

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12, Ancaster) says he doesn't know of a motion in the works to remove Kroetsch from the committee, but would support one if it happened. The report is part of city council's public agenda on Wednesday.

"We solely have an integrity commissioner so we don't have to get involved with this stuff, so we should probably take the advice of the integrity commissioner," Ferguson said. 

Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4, east end) says he doesn't plan to introduce a motion to unseat Kroetsch. But he is working on one to firm up the role of advisory committees so they can't be seen as supporting political candidates.

"One of the complaints against Mr. Kroetsch was that he exploited a council appointment for partisan political purposes," he said. "I will be bringing forward a motion to prevent any partisanship being used."

Kroetsch says he provided "extensive feedback," including evidence to counter the allegations, that didn't end up in the final integrity commissioner report. He hopes council discusses the findings in public and not in camera.

Silencing voices

"This egregious overstep by council only further serves to erode public trust in our government and the people we elect. Rather than encouraging members of marginalized communities to speak their truths and to share their lived experiences, council's action serves to silence their important voices."

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says he won't comment until after the council meeting, when councillors will have the chance to "determine appropriate next steps."

The report comes after a particularly heated period between city council and the LGBTQ advisory committee. 

The committee passed a motion last spring asking the city to cancel its Pride flag raising ceremony over a number of issues. This includes the city appointing Fred Bennink, the retired president of Zip Signs, to the Hamilton Police Services board. The committee wanted to see a more diverse appointment.

The clerk's office, after extensive back and forth with the committee, redacted part of the motion, including references to Bennink. Kroetsch tweeted the unredacted version, and also gave a radio interview on 900 CHML where he disparaged city council, the report says.

"Regardless of [Kroetsch]'s opinion of the person affected, and the city's relationship to that person, the choice to publish the information on his personal Twitter account did not amount to 'Good Trouble,'" the report says, referencing a documentary about the late congressman John Lewis.

"On the contrary, the violation was serious and purposeful, and carried with it implications for the city's privacy protection obligations, and the individual involved."

"In the circumstances, it might be appropriate that [Kroetsch], recognizing the constraints on him as an advocate pushing for change through the structure of an advisory committee, consider relinquishing his role on the LGBTQ advisory committee."

Overstepped mandate

The report also says the committee's request to present to the Hamilton Police Services board overstepped its mandate, but that wasn't just Kroetsch's doing. It also looked into his appearance in an NDP campaign video for now-Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green, where he identified himself as chair of the advisory committee, although the report says this didn't violate the code of conduct.

Kroetsch says he plans future responses to each of the complaints, but says the allegations the commissioner deemed in conflict "are completely without merit."

"My comments and actions have never deviated from the public decisions made by the LGBTQ advisory committee and, as the chair of that committee, it remains my duty to speak on its behalf."

Council pays an integrity commissioner to investigate complaints against councillors, and also provide advice to councillors about whether they have conflicts of interest. 

The firm told council earlier this month that it sees providing advice as its primary function, and investigating conflicts as its secondary role. 

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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