Montreal

Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Ex mayor blocked from speaking with borough officials, booted from Projet caucus

The mayor of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension, Giuliana Fumagalli, has been barred from speaking with borough officials, pending an investigation into allegations of harassment made against her.

Montreal mayor isolates Giuliana Fumagalli after more harassment allegations surface

Giuliana Fumagalli will remain mayor of the Villeray—Saint-Michel—Parc-Extension borough of Montreal while an investigation into harassment allegations is conducted. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The mayor of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension, Giuliana Fumagalli, has been barred from speaking with borough officials, pending an investigation into allegations of harassment made against her.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante made the announcement Friday at city hall, saying she was taking the step as a result of alleged "inappropriate behaviour" by the borough mayor dating back to May. 

Plante also kicked Fumagalli out of the Projet Montréal caucus.

Though there was mediation and a signed agreement made between those involved this spring, new allegations were brought to Plante's attention on Thursday. That sparked her decision to isolate Fumagalli from borough staff. 

"She cannot have contact with anyone at this point for the time of the inquiry," said Plante. "Our intention is to make sure there is no contact whatsoever."

Fumagalli has been offered a workspace at Montreal's city hall in the interim as she is still the mayor of the borough and, for now, remains a member of Plante's party.  

Montreal's mayor does not have the power to remove an elected official from office, but Plante's spokesperson told CBC News that Projet Montréal is taking steps to expel Fumagalli from the party.

Fumagalli responds

Fumagalli pushed back in a Facebook post Friday afternoon, saying the most recent allegation of inappropriate behaviour against her has nothing to do with harassment. She says the conflict is political.

She said she may have pushed too hard at first, but says borough administrators are used to the "old way of doing things" and resisted change.

The issues causing contention, she said, are the quality of some apartment buildings and how construction of the new Université de Montréal campus is affecting residents.

"Transparency around municipal decisions regarding deadlines and civic engagement needs serious improvement," she said in her Facebook post.

Fumagalli also said she wasn't surprised by Plante's decision, noting their relationship has been icy.

"That said, I trust her in how things will continue to unfold and in her decision-making in this difficult process," she added.

Allegations date back to May

Voluntary mediation involving Fumagalli was held soon after the initial allegations were made, said Plante.

Its aim was ensuring the work environment is "respectful" and "harmonious" for borough employees. An agreement was signed following the mediation.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Friday that Fumagalli will not be allowed to contact any of her borough employees pending the results of the investigation. (CBC)

"New allegations were brought to my attention yesterday that causes me to consider that the agreement has not been fully respected," Plante said Friday. "From there, we're taking the next step."

Based on the new information, Plante said she has no choice but to remove Fumagalli from her caucus while a "full inquiry" into the allegations is conducted.

Plante said the city cannot reveal details of the allegations because it is a human resources matter. She cited a code of ethics the city adopted in December, which covers both city employees and politicians.

In May, Fumagalli asked to work from home and apologized publicly after the allegations were made against her. 

"Citizens need to be reassured that the work has been done and continues to be done despite everything that is happening," Fumagalli said in May.

In a statement issued Friday, the city said comptroller and head of compliance, Yves Grimard, will now be investigating the "working climate" within Fumagalli's borough.

Grimard will also serve as her point of contact for communicating with the borough officials she is supposed to avoid.

Working to provide 'the best services'

Addressing the citizens of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension, Plante insisted that her administration will "work tirelessly" to offer the "best services to build a better neighbourhood."

She said she spoke with the other elected officials of the borough to ensure they work hand-in-hand to deliver on that promise.

"The City of Montreal is making every effort to create a healthy, respectful work environment," the city said in its statement. "Well-being and respect for all is a priority."

Perez blasts mayor, says borough is 'in crisis'

Soon after Plante's announcement, the leader of the opposition party Ensemble Montréal, Lionel Perez, told reporters: "The Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension borough is actually in crisis now."

"The climate in this borough is unlivable," Perez said. "We have a cabinet director who is taking an early retirement and we have a political attaché who has taken sick leave."

Since these allegations against the borough mayor came to light, Perez said his party has been concerned not only with the way Plante has handled the situation, but also with the lack of transparency. 

Coun. Lionel Perez, leader of Montreal's official opposition, speaks with reporters soon after Mayor Valérie Plante's announcement. (CBC)

For 10 weeks, Perez said the opposition has been asking for more details, but no answers were provided.

Perez questioned the effectiveness of separating the borough mayor from staff by moving her to city hall when there are other ways, such as telephone, to harass employees.

Rather than handling the problem internally, Perez said it should have been brought to the province for proper mediation.

Quebec's municipal commission is "the only institution that has the authority to suspend or investigate elected officials in Quebec," said Perez. He added that the city comptroller has no authority over elected officials.

Plante's methods only prolonged the matter, said Perez. "She's shown a lack of judgment in this case."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension mayor Giuliana Fumagalli was barred from speaking with all 500 borough employees. In fact, she's only barred from contacting borough officials.
    Aug 03, 2018 4:50 PM ET

With files from Jay Turnbull

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