Peterborough mayor exonerated after telling anti-maskers to 'stay TF home'

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Peterborough, Ont., Mayor Diane Therrien tweeted this photo on April 22 to the leaders of anti-mask protests being held in her city. The tweet, which has been liked more than 2,000 times, was one of four that spurred an investigation into whether she violated the city's code of conduct. (Diane Therrien/Twitter - image credit)
Peterborough, Ont., Mayor Diane Therrien tweeted this photo on April 22 to the leaders of anti-mask protests being held in her city. The tweet, which has been liked more than 2,000 times, was one of four that spurred an investigation into whether she violated the city's code of conduct. (Diane Therrien/Twitter - image credit)

The mayor of Peterborough, Ont., did not contravene her municipality's code of conduct when she called a group of anti-lockdown advocates a "travelling clown convention" that should "stay TF home," according to the city's integrity commissioner.

In late April, Mayor Diane Therrien fired off a series of tweets ahead of an anti-lockdown rally in the city. Attendees included Randy Hillier, the independent MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, and Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People's Party of Canada.

Hillier and Bernier both spoke at the rally, held while Ontario was under a stay-at-home order due to the threat posed by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roughly 600 people attended, and both Bernier and Hillier were ticketed under the Reopening Ontario Act.

In one tweet, Therrien wrote "these clowns don't GAF about your well-being," adding anyone who was distressed by her language — but not by putting others at risk — could "GFY."

In another tweet, directed specifically at Hillier and Bernier, she attached a photo of herself making a V-shaped sign with her index and middle finger, captioned with the phrase "stay TF home."

Those tweets, among others, led to a complaint from a member of the public that alleged Therrien violated both the city's code of conduct and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with her "indecent, abusive or insulting words or expressions."

The complaint culminated in a 26-page report by integrity commissioner Guy Giorno, who helpfully explained some of the acronyms and gestures Therrien used while also ruling the mayor did not break any rules.

Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press
Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press

Tweets were 'personal'

Therrien's tweets were "personal and not governmental," Giorno wrote in his report, and therefore could not be subject to any provisions in the charter.

Giorno did note a 2018 case involving Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who was sued for violating three residents' charter rights after he blocked them on Twitter.

While Watson did eventually concede his Twitter account was public and unblocked the residents, there was "no indication that his circumstances were similar to Mayor Therrien's, and no court has ever ruled on that matter," Giorno wrote.

Therrien's tweets also didn't "rise to [the] standard" of harassment as defined under Peterborough's own code of conduct, he added.

Municipalities have significant power to investigate council members accused of violating codes of conduct, and Giorno said it was "inconceivable" the province "had in mind the dropping of F-bombs" when it handed them that authority.

"Residents offended by a council member's use of the F-word will take offence. Residents who want to applaud the language will applaud. Residents who don't care will remain indifferent," wrote Giorno.

"Nothing in an integrity commissioner report on the F-word is likely to add new information or to change anyone's mind."

'I said what I said'

In a statement quoted in Giorno's report, Therrien said she felt it was important to "send a strong message" about the risk the gatherings posed.

She said her language reflected "a non-elitist, accessible form of political speech, which I believe speaks to younger generations — my generation — and those who do not always engage in political discourse."

Therrien also sent two tweets after the report was made public: one with the words "Foul AF since 1986" and another stating, "I said what I said."

CBC requested an interview with Therrien on Friday but did not get a response before publication. The report is set to go to Peterborough city council on Monday.

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