Arnprior mayor broke code of conduct with pamphlet on racism: integrity head

·4 min read
Walter Stack, mayor of Arnprior, Ont., in a YouTube video posted Oct. 16, 2020. The integrity commissioner says Stack breached two codes of conduct in his opinion letter arguing why he doesn't believe systemic racism exists in Arnprior. (Town of Arnprior/Youtube - image credit)
Walter Stack, mayor of Arnprior, Ont., in a YouTube video posted Oct. 16, 2020. The integrity commissioner says Stack breached two codes of conduct in his opinion letter arguing why he doesn't believe systemic racism exists in Arnprior. (Town of Arnprior/Youtube - image credit)

The mayor has breached the Arnprior, Ont., code of conduct after penning an opinion letter to residents about systemic racism, says the town's integrity commissioner.

In his letter titled "My Opinion" and sent to local mailboxes in January, Mayor Walter Stack argues why he doesn't believe systemic racism exists in his town after hearing "input from both sides on the topic."

The letter follows a CBC Ottawa series on racism in the Ottawa Valley, where Black and Indigenous people and people of colour (BIPOC) shared their experiences with racism and called on local leaders to do something about it.

In one story, Stack told CBC he doesn't believe there's systemic racism in Arnprior and suggested racist incidents there are isolated — which prompted petitions calling for the town to apologize.

In his report dated March 8, integrity commissioner William Hunter says Stack breached two codes of conduct in his letter.

"The letter was not simply an explanation of his position; it made judgmental and critical comments about another member of council, referred to two members of the community, and failed to treat the named persons with dignity and understanding," reads the report.

Hunter recommended Stack gets "reprimanded" for the breach.

Page 1 of Stack's opinion letter sent to residents of Arnprior.
Page 1 of Stack's opinion letter sent to residents of Arnprior.(Ottawa Valley Against Racial Discrimination/Facebook)

Councillor questions why she was in report

Coun. Lisa McGee, who was named a dozen times in the report, says she's "very disappointed" with the commissioner's review.

"It's not the penalty I'm struggling with ... I'm disappointed in the report itself, and what I see as multiple failures in the investigation and reporting process," said McGee in an email to CBC.

In investigating whether Stack breached the code of conduct, Hunter refers several times to McGee's separate conduct review after she criticized the mayor on Facebook, after the mayor released a plan following CBC's series on racism in the Ottawa Valley.

I feel like I am being investigated all over again. - Coun. Lisa McGee

In December, McGee wrote: "Let me get this straight ... He [Stack] blindsides Council with his "plan" on Monday, fails to apologize to the BIPOC community for his CBC blunder, turns his racist shovel into a backhoe, and leaves Council shocked and unprepared to deal with a plan we haven't seen."

In his review of McGee's code of conduct, Hunter recommended she get 30 days' suspension without pay, but that was voted down by council in February.

"In my opinion, that decision of council influences my recommendation respecting the complaints against Mayor Stack," Hunter writes in the latest report. "[The mayor's] breach of the Code of Conduct was much less egregious than Councillor McGee's."

"Look, I messed up with my post, and I own it. What I refuse to wear is the suggestion that it had a worse impact, or that it was more egregious when compared to the mail out sent to all residents," said McGee.

"The fact that my investigation and my name is used so frequently in this report is equally concerning. I feel like I am being investigated all over again."

Report itself biased, says resident

Sophie Smith-Doré, an Arnprior resident who's Ojibway, was one of the people named in Stack's opinion letter and later complained to the commissioner. She questions the integrity commissioner's own bias in his report.

Sophie Smith-Doré, shown at an anti-racism rally in Almonte, Ont., says the recommendation to reprimand the mayor is not enough.
Sophie Smith-Doré, shown at an anti-racism rally in Almonte, Ont., says the recommendation to reprimand the mayor is not enough.(Submitted by Sophie Smith-Doré)

"Bluntly, my initial reaction is a white man judged another white man with his unconscious bias," said Smith-Doré.

She pointed out a line in the report where Hunter writes the mayor failed to treat people he named in his letter with dignity and understanding "even though they may have not extended the same courtesy to him."

The report also says "these women had been publicly communicating their unflattering views" on Stack's position on systemic racism to CBC and social media.

"That's an emotion and not a fact," she said.

Smith-Doré said Hunter's recommendation to reprimand Stack is not good enough.

"The reprimand was ridiculous," she said, adding that a group of residents will take this report to the Ontario ombudsman for review.

CBC News asked the integrity commissioner for an interview, but Hunter said he didn't want to answer questions until the council meeting Monday.

Stack and the town's spokesperson did not respond to CBC's request for an interview.