Montreal

'We want the truth': NDG residents rally behind borough Mayor Sue Montgomery

A school bus will be rolling up to Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough offices tonight, bringing citizens who want to show support for their borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, who was kicked out of Projet Montréal.

Citizens rent school bus to bring supporters to Monday's council meeting

Sue Montgomery, borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, says the demand that she dismiss her chief of staff has not only been a case of sexism, but a case of a whistleblower being silenced. (Radio-Canada)

A citizens' group has rented a school bus to bring them to the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough office on Monday night.

They plan to show up en masse to demonstrate their support for their borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, who was kicked out of Projet Montréal following a harassment investigation into her chief of staff by the city's comptroller general.

"Bring your smiles, banners, posters, and let's have fun and show the city that CDN–NDG is listening," Alex Montagano said in a Facebook post that outlines the nine-stop route the bus will take through NDG.

"We demand truth and respect."

Montgomery, who was elected in 2017, is standing firm on her decision not to fire her chief of staff, Annalisa Harris, as she has not been shown more than just the conclusions of the comptroller general's report.

Montgomery said she won't go against labour laws and Montreal's own policy by firing an employee without due process.

Access to information request

Montgomery filed an access to information request with the city Friday, insisting Montreal hand over that report. 

City spokesperson Gabrielle Fontaine-Giroux said Montgomery wasn't given access to the report because the borough mayor was named in it, described as being "willfully blind in one of the psychological harassment files." 

The city is therefore legally obligated to protect identities and preserve the anonymity of witnesses, she said.

Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who represents the Snowdon district, has argued the comptroller followed procedure by explaining his findings and recommendations to all the parties involved and it is "not credible to claim 'no due process.'"

He said, under law, the city comptroller does not release reports publicly.

But Montgomery isn't the only one who wants to see the report.

"We want the truth. We want everything to come out. We want to be able to judge the information," said Neal Mukherjee, an NDG resident who will be on the bus Monday.

Mukherjee said he wasn't always a supporter of Montgomery's politics, but in light of recent events, he said he's "done a complete 180." 

Supporting Montgomery in 'her quest'

Citing former borough Mayor Michael Applebaum's corruption conviction, Mukherjee said the borough has seen its fair share of trouble, and now he is concerned about how much pushback Montgomery and her staff have been getting for asking bureaucrats questions about basic subjects like budgets.

But Mukherjee said he isn't getting on the bus just to show support for the embattled borough mayor. He said it's important that people attend the meeting "just to see what's going on."

Montagano has been helping to organize the bus trip through NDG, starting at 5:30 p.m. from 4635 Westmore Ave. and heading east on Sherbrooke Street toward Décarie Boulevard.

Borough Mayor Sue Montgomery, right, is no longer part of Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante's political party. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"The message that we're trying to get out is we support Sue in her quest for the truth," he said.

"What we're seeing right now is a battle being waged between the centre city, our borough and also our bureaucracy."

Montagano, active on social media and in the community, said the controversy has inspired a social movement.

"People are getting engaged. People are listening. And people of CDN-NDG need to listen," he said.

"I really think that we need to be more involved in our municipal affairs to guarantee and ensure that we're being respected; we're given what we need."

He said the bus will be available to anybody who wants to attend the meeting, regardless of their political stripe.

A whistleblower was silenced, Montgomery says

Montgomery said the fact that citizens are so engaged — that they care about each other and their community — is something she loves about Côte-Des-Neiges—NDG.

"That is excellent for democracy, and I am so happy that people are coming out Monday night," she said. "I just hope we have room for all of them."

Montgomery, a former journalist, said she hasn't given up her fight for the facts when it comes to the accusations against her 27-year-old chief of staff.

"Here is a young woman who is pushing for answers, wanting information, and a man twice her age bullied her and that was brought up in the investigation, but it wasn't taken seriously," she said. "Now she is being accused of harassing someone."

Though she declined to name the senior staff member, Montgomery said she believes he didn't like "the fact that we were asking for information that I, as mayor, have the right to have."

She said the Projet Montréal administration's insistence that she fire Harris is an effort to silence a whistleblower.

She said elected officials and their political staff should be able to tell bureaucrats to do their job — and to question them — without being slapped with a harassment charge. 

"This is a city, as we all know, that has been ruled by male bureaucrats for decades," she said.

"I think there's absolutely sexism going on here, and I think we're shaking the cage of the old boys' club, finally."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isaac Olson has been a Montreal-area journalist for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @Isaac_J_Olson

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