The toxicity that has become habitual at the municipal council table is now reaching a boiling point and spilling over into the current election campaign, as one camp is not running for re-election but is actively calling for voters not to re-elect members of the other camp. On a Facebook page titled West Nipissing Politics, whose administrators include Mayor Joanne Savage and Councillor Lise Sénécal, both have publicly endorsed new candidates and denounced incumbent candidates, with councilors Denis Sénécal and Yvon Duhaime posting much the same message that West Nipissing needs a totally new council.
While the mayor insists the page is a tool to share “factual information” about local politics, there have been complaints of people being blocked from access because they do not share the same political opinions, and some of the posts and comments have been hateful – one even leading to a complaint filed with police.
Current councillor and candidate for ward 6, Roland Larabie, says “when you’re in politics you have to have thick skin,” as receiving complaints and negative comments is just a part of the job. However, the recent comment that caused him to file a complaint, made by a person calling themselves Gerry Blackwells, went much further and included defamatory statements about his wife and son.
The Facebook comment also received criticism from people within the West Nipissing Politics group where it was posted, and has since been removed. Mayor Savage says that the post broke the group rules by not being about politics, and agrees that it was defamatory. “We’re not there to create harm to any individual, so comments like that are going be removed,” she says, adding that the individual who made the post was informed that such comments were not acceptable. The comment, a response to an accusatory post by Denis Sénécal about Larabie, did stay for several days however, and at least one person who complained about it was blocked from the group.
The complaint to police will require them to investigate as there is suspicion the profile of Gerry Blackwells is a fake account or front for someone else. Larabie says he was referred to an officer in Sudbury who handles online investigations.
The Tribune reached out to the OPP to ask about the case. “I can tell you that the investigation will be thorough,” assures Carlo Berardi, Regional Media Services Coordinator for the OPP, though he couldn’t reveal information on operational techniques for tracking down seemingly anonymous online profiles. Berardi also couldn’t speak to Larabie’s complaint specifically, but says that “if there are criminal charges, then we will release a name and a court date.”
Larabie was told much the same by the OPP when he made the complaint, and he says regardless of criminal charges, the OPP would find a name behind the possibly anonymous account so that he can pursue the matter in Civil court. “Either way it’s going to move forward,” says the councillor intent on finding “Gerry Blackwells” and bringing this person to account.
Administration shuts down political posturing at meetings
After the Sept. 20 meeting devolved into a shouting match and had to be shut down, and upon reading some of the toxic rhetoric on social media, the town’s administration decided it would no longer allow additions to meeting agendas that would serve any kind of political agenda during the election campaign. This also comes as the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is still attending all council meetings and investigating the current council’s behaviour.