Mayor Maja Tait is taking a stand against harassment in and out of the District of Sooke’s council chamber and online, following continuous allegations from some members of the public.
As a result, Tait said the district will take disciplinary measures, corrective action, “or any other appropriate action as it is required” under provincial law against those looking to defame, or otherwise harass, a councillor or district official.
“For years I’ve witnessed disrespect towards our staff and I’m not tolerating it any longer,” she said. “It’s serious business that impacts people’s lives, so it needs to be treated with a certain level of seriousness.”
This is the second time a member of district council has publicly spoken out against harassment of council members and city officials in the last six months.
In February, Coun. Kerrie Reay complained about vitriolic attacks on social media.
Tait said council and management of the district will “vigorously address” any complaints that are formally launched with the municipality concerning any persons who are elected or appointed to act for the municipality.
A week after the announcement, a scanned copy of a confidential letter from Tait addressed to a regular council critic surfaced online highlighting the district’s seriousness in dealing with unfounded public accusations.
“We have reviewed a number of public statements that you have made about municipal staff, and we have concluded that some of these are untrue, and have affected the reputation of council and staff,” Tait wrote in the letter, adding that there’s a line between constructive comments and baseless criticism.
“We do want people to express their viewpoints with us, some things are emotional and some people are passionate about it, and I appreciate that, but there is an expectation of respect,” she said. “If you’re attacking somebody, then I don’t know what your issue is with the business that we’re trying to do.”
The response comes soon after Tait said she will take it upon herself to defend allegations regarding district issues, as she is the only lawful authority to do so.
“As a councillor, as a mayor, I can speak up and I can challenge a member of the public on what’s been said, but staff don’t have that ability,” she said, adding that public discussion doesn’t need to come to this.
“It just doesn’t showcase Sooke in a positive light. It’s not about liking or not liking people, it’s just, if you have a comment about the agenda, let’s talk about the business of the agenda and leave any sort of personal feelings out of it.”
Coun. Rick Kasper made a similar note in March that he wouldn’t stand for ongoing verbal attacks either; online, in the council chamber, or otherwise.
“It gets to the point where you have to say, ‘now hold on here’ … the council chamber is to be treated with respect, it’s not a place for a lynch mob to show up,” he said, adding that harassment in the workplace (city hall) is covered under Work Safe B.C. regulations.
Still, Kasper noted that sometimes for the outside world looking in, it doesn’t necessarily add anything positive to the town’s image.
“Anybody from the outside world looking at some of the behaviour that I’ve witnessed during my tenure as a council member, sometimes it can be viewed as a bit of a zoo.”
While councillors and staff cannot speak out during council meetings, Kasper said that should things progress any further, he’ll take legal action.
“As far as Rick Kasper is concerned, I wouldn’t hesitate,” Kasper said. “We actually swore an oath in office to abide by the laws. As an elected official, I have no choice.”
Concerning specific harassment complaints received by the district, Tait said these are being processed according to the harassment and bullying policy, and any offending member of the public will be dealt with in answer to the policy with applicable laws.