The debate on social media at York Regional Council on 30 June 2022 has received less coverage than it deserves.   

Background: At issue is whether elected officials whose salaries come out of public funds have the right to arbitrarily block constituents from reading and commenting on their Tweets and social media posts without giving reasons. (The key definitions of blocking; muting; spamming; trolling and Open Social Media are here in the proposed new guidelines.) The Regional Clerk’s commentary is here. You can watch the debate here.

After reviewing the case of Carmine Perrelli, the boorish and aggressive regional councillor from Richmond Hill, York Region’s Integrity Commissioner recommended the Region’s Code of Conduct should be revised to incorporate social media guidelines.

In the event, the recommendations were rejected by a margin of 13-8 after a debate in which it soon became clear half the members didn’t know what they were talking about. (You can read the debate, and view it, by clicking “Read More” at the bottom).

For the inclusion of social media in the Regional Code of Conduct:

Jack Heath (Markham)

Mayor John Taylor (Newmarket)

Joe Li (Markham)

Mayor Tom Mrakas (Aurora)

Mayor Steve Pellegrini (King)

Mayor Margaret Quirk (Georgina)

Mayor David West (Richmond Hill)

Joe DiPaola (Richmond Hill)

Against the inclusion of social media in the Regional Code of Conduct:

Linda Jackson (Vaughan)

Jim Jones (Markham)

Mayor Iain Lovatt (Whitchurch-Stouffville

Carmine Perrelli (Richmond Hill)

Gino Rosati (Vaughan)

Mayor Frank Scarpitti (Markham)

Tom Vegh (Newmarket)

Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan)

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson (elected by Council not by voters at large)

Mario Ferri (Vaughan)

Robert Grossi (Georgina)

Mayor Virginia Hackson (East Gwillimbury)

Don Hamilton (Markham)

Perrelli the victim

Carmine Perrelli was his usual blustering self, complaining he was the victim of an Integrity Commissioner who had found him guilty of contravening a policy "that did not even exist".

Of course, this is precisely why the Integrity Commissioner recommended the Regional Council revise its Code of Conduct - to incorporate guidelines on social media.

Perrelli claims that 50 complaints about him had been referred to the Integrity Commissioner who found only three violations!

Taking us all for fools, Perrelli says he has never blocked anyone:

“My staff decide who needs to be blocked.”

He believes Integrity Commissioners are getting above themselves and need to be taken down a peg or two. And Codes of Conduct need to be revamped to

“take away the ability to use it as a weapon”

On Codes of Conduct, York Regional Council came very late to the party, only agreeing one in 2019 after the Province insisted all municipalities should have one

Frank "slippery-slope" Scarpitti 

The sonorous and long-winded baritone, Markham Mayor, Frank “slippery-slope” Scarpitti, always had reservations about a Code of Conduct. But, then again, he had reservations about broadcasting meetings of the Regional Council. He felt people could manipulate the images of councillors and use them “politically”. He believed an audio-feed was good enough.

Scarpitti is the Regional Council’s leading “slippery-slope” theorist. If you want to tax empty properties then whatever next? The authorities will soon be deciding if you are selfishly occupying property that is too large for your needs. Scarpitti says you better watch out:

“If someone's an empty nester, a single widow in a single family home, are we going to start saying that's way too much space for someone and they should be taxed because they're not fully (occupying it)?” 

Scarpitti’s meandering observations equate quaint, old-fashioned paper newsletters and flyers with weightless interactive social media where opinions can be exchanged in nano seconds.

If the Code of Conduct is amended he is wondering where is it all going to end.  Will big brother be telling him he can’t put some comments straight into junk? Or telling him how to interact with people? Or whether he should return a phone call?  His laboured arguments are absurd but, as usual, he is heard in respectful silence. 

They don't have a clue

Newmarket’s John Taylor tells his colleagues what is becoming painfully obvious. Some of them didn’t have a clue what blocking means in practice.

“Blocking means your constituents can’t see you – your comments, thoughts and ideas as an elected official.”

And Taylor believes, as I do, that is wrong. 

Newmarket’s Deputy Mayor, the ineffective Tom Vegh, who is so often on the opposite side of the argument to Taylor, tells us:

“Social media is very much like a newsletter. We publish it more frequently and nobody would suggest that anybody, be it a friend or a foe, has a right to put things in your newsletter.”

Straw Man

This is Vegh setting up a straw man. No-one is suggesting for one moment that anyone wandering in off the street should have a column in Vegh’s newsletter.

He says a social media policy is unnecessary at regional level. Not too long ago many of his colleagues were arguing the Region didn’t need a Code of Conduct on the grounds it would only duplicate what was already there at local level.

Tom Vegh is a huge disappointment. Vegh, with a Twitter following of 884, tells his colleagues there is no reason for constituents to put their comments on his site:

“except for the fact that I have a few thousand followers and that person may only have a few dozen followers. So they want to get their point across more broadly. So in other words piggy back and get a free ad in the Toronto Star.”

"I don't even have a staffer"

Markham’s Linda Jackson, the developer’s friend, says her social media sites are personal – but hers, like all the others, trade on her elected status. And that is the key point. Jackson, Vegh, Scarpitti and the rest are our representatives and should not be able to block us from seeing what they are posting without giving reasons. She says:

“I personally do all my own social media. I don’t even have a staffer. I do my own. It’s me.”

Her comatose Twitter account shows 50 Tweets since July 2018. She has 33 followers. I’m not surprised she doesn’t have a staffer. 

She was also against a Code of Conduct.

Richmond Hill’s Joe DiPaola who ran against Carmine Perrelli a few months ago for Mayor of Richmond Hill (both losing to David West) takes a swipe at Perrelli but without mentioning him by name:

“We have councillors that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on communications and thousands on boosting posts that get to 80,000 people…90% (of the comments) are deleted or hidden, not shown… It completely distorts what the general public is feeling or what they’d like to comment about. This policy doesn’t even address that.”

DiPaola tells his colleagues that if they are going to block constituents from seeing what they are posting they better have 

“a good, valid, justifiable reason for doing so.”

Unfortunately, but entirely predictably, York Regional Council in a 13-8 vote disagrees.

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From Newmarket Today on 30 June 2022: York Region politicians reject social media rules for themselves

York Regional Council 30 June 2022: The debate on Social Media and the Code of Conduct.

Jack Heath (Markham):  I read this very carefully and I read the recommendations from the Clerk and then I read attachment one. I actually think this is very good. I think there's been a lot of thought (put into this). I would love to hear a little bit more from the clerk as to the thought and the effort to examine how other jurisdictions have handled it. I'd like to hear a little bit more about that.

On the second page of what's going into the Code of Conduct there's a listing: 

“To protect themselves and other users on Social Media, Members of Council may need to modify user’s access. Some valid reasons for doing so include, but are not limited to…”.

“Not limited to” (is) very important. 

“Posting illegal content that incites hatred, discrimination or is otherwise abusive.”

That means to us and other members of the public - and that has happened. We've seen it as well (with) members of council themselves. Abusive to the member of council (by) posting disinformation. I'm reading stuff in the paper today in the Toronto Star about disinformation and how difficult it is to deal with.

Disinformation in my view is a growing concern and it's certainly something that I think that members of council should have the ability to react to in this kind of fashion. Trolling, spamming, harassment. I’d venture to say that at least… certainly I know one or two others who have been harassed on social media including myself. 

I just think the work’s been done and the recommendation here is really good and I commend the clerk. I do have that question: How did we develop this? Did you look at other areas? You know…  this municipality has done this and that (municipality has done that) etc etc I'd like a little bit more on that.

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson: Go ahead Mr Clerk 

Regional Clerk Christopher Raynor: We did have an information report that came forward in October 2021 which was our staff’s attempt to convey what's happening elsewhere and the general message on that was it was a bit of a mixed bag.

There was several different types of approaches that were in play - whether it was Information Commissioner guidance in cases of municipalities. We did also highlight (a) Federal MP's attempt to develop her own – or set expectations I guess - in terms of interaction or her social media accounts.

“Arbitrary Blocking”

So what we did really is just try to distill all the best bits and pieces that we've seen in other areas and crystallize that into some suggestions for the Code of Conduct and the focus of the intent of these amendments is to try and clarify this issue around arbitrary blocking.

So the Integrity Commissioner report that kicked off this whole debate and discussion around social media really hinged on whether blocking somebody would be considered arbitrary or not. Staff have endeavoured here today with these amendments to clarify some expectations, I suppose, to council and to set out some suggested approaches in terms of how council members would interact with members of the public who are running afoul of typical conventions around social media and information that would be collected in the event that members of council wished to completely block somebody.

“They generally agreed with the approach”

We did consult with the Integrity Commissioner on the proposed amendments here and the Integrity Commissioner did provide actually a paragraph essentially of commentary in the report which suggested that they generally agreed with the approach here.

I think they would. I'm speculating (and) maybe speaking for them. I think they would have probably come forward with something… maybe added a little bit of strength to it… but they were generally OK with the suggested approach particularly in terms of the information that council members would collect before blocking somebody.

If council members follow the guidelines here, they collect the information and have certain interactions with members of the public before blocking them it's likely to lead to a favorable outcome with the Integrity Commissioner should there be a subsequent complaint because council members would essentially be able to demonstrate that the blocking was not quote unquote “arbitrary”. Thank you.

Jack Heath (Markham): Mr. Chair I do want to commend the Clerk but also the Integrity Commissioner. I am not sure the right word is arbitrary. To me arbitrary means something like:  “Oh my God… my list has got 2,000 names on it and I can't handle it so I'm gonna take everybody from “N” to “Z” off the list.

That to me would be real arbitrary as opposed to responding to Mrs X or Mr Y without getting evidence that shows that there’s a reason for it. And that really is the caution that's in the report from the Integrity Commissioner - that if you're going to do something, take a photo of the screen as you saw it from Mrs X or Mr Y. Let them know that’s not just right… you can’t abuse people etc and so I'm taking you off the list because of what you posted. 

I don't know if the word arbitrary is right but I think the recommendation from our clerk and from the Integrity Commissioner is very good advice so I certainly support (it).

Regional Chair: Thank you. Mayor Taylor.

Mayor John Taylor (Newmarket): Thanks very much. I'm really pleased to see this here and some might recall that I urged us not (to) shy away from having a social media policy, even though it's difficult to really pin one down. Because it's such a fluid format and an emerging use still, even though it's not that new. 

I very much like what is in front of us but I’d like to see it a little bit stronger. I'm a little bit concerned that, when you read this, it could appear to some, certainly a little bit to me, it seems like we're setting up a legitimate formula and format for blocking.

And I accept that the Integrity Commissioner is saying that there are some justifiable cases - and I think that's the good part of this. I think we should recognize that. But I think, for example, if I can, Mr Chair, the opening paragraph… and while it's not lengthy and detailed… but the opening paragraph does go so far as saying:

“Members of Council should ensure that such accounts promote healthy discussion and debate and are free from discrimination and harassment.”

which is a very proactive statement and a very clear statement of aspirational intent. 

But we don't have an equivalent that says we should strive to have that - our social media sites - as open and as accessible as possible and seek only to limit or block in circumstances where no other option is available. 

“The Town Square”

I think we need something that speaks strongly to that idea of the Town Square and that there is a responsibility among elected officials to do everything we can to keep this open. And the reason I say that is because with this system - certainly with the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling that says it can't be arbitrary -  well now we can say, as Councillor Heath pointed out, illegal content, disinformation, trolling, spamming, harassment. One of those occurred (and) that's why I'm blocking this person and now it's no longer arbitrary. Everything is good. 

But really what it says there are some valid reasons for doing so (blocking). What they're saying (is we can) modify the users access not block. That could be it. Modify could be just to remove a piece of misinformation (or) it could be to mute. There are many different tools that are appropriate that don’t go to a full block. 

“They can’t see you”

Block means they can’t see you – your comments, thoughts and ideas as an elected official on positions. And so there's nuance there - and I guess we can't pin those nuances down, but I would suggest we amend this to include an aspirational statement along with that one that I read… that says that as elected officials we seek to maintain a site open and accessible to all and seek:

“to modify the user’s access only in the most the most egregious or extreme circumstances”

But something to that effect. Nowhere in this does it say - it alludes to and it suggests – open social media sites have been likened to a Town Square where everyone has free access. But we don't say it should be. 

It's just sort of saying that some people have seen it that way. I think we should have that slightly stronger aspirational statement. I'm not sure in the end (that) somebody still can't, if they want to go: 

“OK. That person said something false. I can now block them because it's legitimate. I'll record it and we're good to go.”

But I would still like to move an amendment to have an aspirational statement similar to the one I indicated. 

Regional Chair: Councillor Perrelli and then I have Mayor Scarpitti. 

Carmine Perrelli (Richmond Hill): Mr. Chairman, I couldn't disagree more. 

I remind Members of Council that the Integrity Commissioner found that when I blocked someone from my social media for calling me a shyster and a Covidiot this integrity Commissioner determined that I violated their Code of Conduct - a Code of Conduct that didn’t exist.

And the recommendation was “no penalty”. 

Now I want you, my colleagues, to think about that for a minute. There was no policy on social media, yet the Integrity Commissioner found me guilty of violating a policy that did not exist. 

Now we want to give the Integrity Commissioner the power to decide when it's arbitrary or not arbitrary. I'm not gonna give the Integrity Commissioner that kind of power. 

This is a ridiculous recommendation, Mr. Chairman. Our social media is our means of advertisement for us to get our message out. It is not a Town Square open to debate for everyone. If we want to have a Town Square will have a Town Square. This is the modern-day equivalent of sending out a flyer door to door. We don't put dissenting opinions on that. We don't put our haters’ opinions on that. Putting a policy like this in place just makes it more susceptible to being abused. 

“Integrity Commissioners in some jurisdictions abuse their role”

The Integrity Commissioner, remember, who made this recommendation has found me guilty. And I'll repeat it again, because it needs repeating, found me guilty of a policy that did not exist. I will not give them the power to abuse that office because yes, Mr. Chairman, I do believe that the Integrity Commissioners in some jurisdictions abuse their role as an Integrity Commissioner and this has gotten far… way too far out of (indistinct). 

Our social media is for us to advertise our messages and we should have the sole decision to block them. If someone feels that they have been discriminated against then we have the Human Rights Act. They can take us to human rights. If they feel that we have committed some kind of a crime, they can call the authorities, the police. If they feel that we've done something in violation of Occupational Health and Safety Act or the Labour Act they can go to there. But to simply say that the Integrity Commissioner will investigate… listen to the financial consequences, Mr. Chairman and my colleagues, of someone making a complaint that I blocked on my social media and the thousands and thousands, I daresay tens of thousands of dollars that it would cost the residents of the region and/or the municipalities on an ongoing basis. This is ripe for abuse. 

It will be a tool that is used to weaponize against us as elected officials. This is not a serious matter, Mr. Chairman, that needs to be included into the Code of Conduct and for those reasons I will not support any policy where an Integrity Commissioner is going to decide how I advertise my message. They will not make that determination, Mr. Chairman. Those are my comments. Thank you. 

Regional Chair: Thank you, Sir. Mayor Scarpitti.

Mayor Frank Scarpitti (Markham): This is an interesting discussion to have on social media day so I'm glad you highlighted that. 

Mr Chair, I can't support this recommendation either. I think this is overreach. Some might even describe it as censorship. Maybe. I don't know. Of a different kind. 

To the best of my knowledge – and I’ve been on social media for some time - I've not blocked anyone and I’ve had some pretty interesting comments over the years on different issues. I think my staff may have blocked a couple of people that were on the edge of the nature of the comments, but I have not blocked anyone. 

I think it is healthy to perhaps get feedback when one puts some information out there and you know hear those different points of view. I think it's even healthy for the community to hear. 

Oh well, yeah. Mayor Scarpitti is proud he did this, but here's another view that someone else has in the community 

and I hadn't thought about that perspective.  So, I think some of that discussion is healthy.

“Members of Council put out Newsletters”

And (here is) the reason I can't support it. I think some of the comments that have been made are right-on. Members of Council put out newsletters and I always find it a bit interesting to find out what's in there.

But I also find interesting what's not in there. How they voted on certain things, How they say one thing in one newsletter and then vote another way when the issue comes before Council. No-one has the ability, in any sort of form there (in a newsletter), to question. 

Well then, if you believe that, why did you do this or, you know, whatever the comments might be. 

I find this particularly interesting because I don't believe – not that my opinion would change - but I think a lot of these resources are basically supported through local municipalities and not the region at all. So to actually have some policy related to a resource that the region isn't directly involved in I also find a little interesting as well. 

At the end of the day people do take different levels of engagement on social media. I can’t remember, it was a couple of months ago, someone put something out on social media which I actually thought was positive news and I wanted to say it was positive but the user actually didn't allow for comments to be attached. 

I’m gonna find that setting one day. I don't know if I'll ever use it but I didn't know if that was available. But nonetheless it was that person’s prerogative to say I am gonna push information out. If someone thinks I’m great because of it, fine. If someone thinks I’m the lousiest representative because of it, but that person decided they don't allow public comments on their social media. 

“Corporate account… different story”

At the end of the day, there are other ways that we communicate with the public. Now if this was the social media account of the region, the corporate account, well different story. Because that is the public square. Just like our meetings are. Fortunately, and I do it too, we all chair different meetings, we have to cut people off after their five minutes. We give them the five minutes to come here and reflect those perspectives and opinions which again are part of the political process.

I just think this is going too far. At the end of the day, we use these tools to share information with the public, like I said. I’ve had some pretty disparaging comments but at the end of the day most of the times with those people don't realize (is that) those comments do more damage to them that they do maybe to me because people see the true person when they make them and probably understand that they haven't taken any time to truly understand the issue of the day. 

“This just goes too far”. LindaTweet

So I think if we are gonna have this then we’ve got to move into newsletters. What are we gonna be required to put in there? Who decides what’s in and what’s out of a newsletter? This just goes too far and I think that at the end of the day if I ever decide to block anyone – and to the best of my knowledge I haven’t personally – but that would be a decision that I choose to. That would be like you now dictating:

Well, no, you can’t automatically have this person’s email go to junk mail

If you’ve chosen to do that now all of a sudden are you going to dictate how I prioritize the constituents that I serve? I just think this is stepping too far. At the end of the day, if someone has a reason, whatever it may be, it’s their way of communicating. At the end of the day if the constituency feel

“Hey, I never got a chance to voice my opinion with this Member of Council. Or they don't give me the opportunity to express information or share points of view.”

Then, you know what? The public gets to decide collectively how good a job we do, taking all the different opinions and they are all valid. We just have to somehow take all of that and mesh it into the reports we get from Staff, our own thinking, different perspectives and, collectively again, it's not me or you or anyone else, collectively the majority of hands go up and through that process is bumpy, and can be at times, we reach a conclusion. 

I just think this is going too far. I wouldn't want anyone else to dictate to me, as an elected representative who is accountable to all of the people, not just one particular person or a particular group, to determine how I interact with people. 

“I love to talk with people”

We make these decisions all the time related to a whole bunch of things not just social media. And my point is that we're going to start doing it here, then we better start doing it with everything. Do you have to take a meeting with someone? How many times do you have to return a phone call? How many times do you have to stop on the street if someone is coming and wanting to talk to you? I love to talk with people. Maybe that's evident, but still. They are showing up here. You gotta give them a certain amount of time. 

At the end of the day we make judgment calls and the people make judgement calls on us, whether we are interacting with them appropriately, providing information, and then also hearing the feedback in a number of forums not just social media. 

If I relied on social media to make my decisions - Holy Mackeral! That’s not what I rely on. It is nice to hear from people. Nice to hear the different points of view. It actually sometimes gives me some insight as to how much time they’ve been taking to become knowledgeable about the issue. Because I can tell by their comments. 

“How far does this go?”

So I just think if we start here, there's a whole (lot of) other areas (where) we can say:

This is how you should appropriately be allocating your time to emails; to phone calls; to stopping on the street when you're filling up gas and someone stops you and wants to talk to you about something. Like how far does this go?

To just single out social media about how we interact with the public is a narrow view. To be honest with you it should be left to us to decide how we interact with constituents. At the end of the day, constituents will judge us on what's real, what's fake, what gets sanitised. 

As I said, I always find it interesting when I see newsletters about what’s in and what’s not there. That tells the whole story. And we get an opportunity every four years to further clarify what positions and how we react with the public. And so I can't support this recommendation. Thank you.

Regional Chair: Councillor Jackson.

Linda Jackson (Markham): Thank you Mr Chair, very quickly. I couldn’t agree more with the comments made by Councillor Perrelli and Mayor Scarpitti. A lot of the comments I was going to make have already been said. I do agree it is a slippery slope. We do have our own Integrity Commissioners and we have to remember that these aren’t corporate social media accounts. They are personal. 

I personally do all my own social media. I don’t even have a staffer. I do my own. It’s me.

I think we are respectful. We’ve had this discussion in Vaughan and I think we are all adults but we also have to remember there are a lot of trolls out there who hide behind fake twitter accounts, who spread hate, not just lies (but) hate, and I think that if they are doing that we should have the right to be able to deal with them in the manner that we feel appropriate to us.

Mayor Scarpitti is quite right with respect to our constituents (who) will judge us every four years and this year on October 24 so, Mr Chairman, I cannot support this motion. 

Regional Chair: Mayor Lovatt

Mayor Iain Lovatt (Whitchurch-Stouffville): I’ll be brief. The only reason this is before us is because a resident of Richmond Hill came up here as a deputant to complain about being blocked by Councillor Perrelli. 

This is a local issue. This is not a regional issue. All of our interactions – I’ll speak for myself – all my interactions on social media are related to Whitchurch-Stouffville and I rarely get comments from people about regional issues on my social media account. 

I’m very up front. I block trolls. I just do. If they wanna complain or go to the Integrity Commissioner then go for it. … which is the whole intention because, as Councillor Jackson just said, trolls disseminate hate and disparaging comments from their keyboard. They think they are protected. If you wanna complain you actually have to come out and make a complaint against me, I’m all for it.

I had a … who I thought was a troll reach out to me just two days ago and I unblocked him. It’s a resident of my community. If I know that that’s the case then let’s have a dialogue. The amount of spam that we get and the hate that’s sent round, I think this is a local issue and I won’t be supporting this recommendation. Thank you.

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson: Thank you. Councillor Vegh.

Tom Vegh (Newmarket): Thank you very much. I shall try to be very brief also as much of what I was planning to say has been said. Social media is very much like a newsletter. We publish it much more frequently and nobody would suggest that anybody, be it a friend or a foe, has a right to put things into your newsletter.  

People have many ways of contacting us - not just commenting on our social media.  We’ve seen that with our York Regional Official Plan.

People have written us quite thoughtful emails. Letters to express their views in support of the official plan or in opposition to it. People can phone me at any time. Also, locally, we do all have our codes of conduct that require us to act in a professional civil manner. 

I think all these things are covered. I think if the Region goes ahead with this type of code of conduct focussed on social media you may very well have someone, for whatever reason, complain to your local municipality and if they are not successful they think that they can elevate it to the Region – as some sort is this some sort of Supreme Court or something.

And what’s being presented here which is certainly thoughtful - no doubt about it – and I appreciate all the work that's went in [sic] there but they are not mirroring exactly what we have locally. It begs the question what trumps what? 

“I have a few thousand followers”

I think quite frankly that it is unnecessary at the regional level. I think this is covered at the local level quite adequately.  I also think people place their comments… communicate with me in many ways. If they insist on doing social media they can put it on their site. There is no reason for them to put it on my site except for the fact that I have a few thousand followers and that person may only have a few dozen followers. So they want to get their point across more broadly. So in other words piggy back and a free ad in the Toronto Star. 

“It’s totally unnecessary” 

The bottom line is I think this is already covered locally. I appreciate the effort that has gone into this but I think it's totally unnecessary and so I will not be supporting it for that reason. 

We did see what happened in Richmond Hill and correct me if I was wrong but the first complaint was made to Richmond Hill Council and that complaint was unsuccessful so that person decided to appeal as to what they saw was a higher authority. Quite frankly, I don't see the Region as a higher authority in this area. I think it can be dealt with locally and we have mechanisms in place to do that if an issue comes up.

But again I want to stress, not being able to write onto my social media… go ahead write on your own. Write me a letter. You know, there are many many ways you can express yourself. And I’ll just leave it at that. For those reasons I can't support it - not because I don't think it's good, I just think it's unnecessary and can cause complications, quite frankly, going forward. Unnecessary complications.

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson:  Before I go to Councillor Perrelli and John Taylor for the second time…  just to say this is what council asked because of one person that came and wanted us to get a social media (policy) in our code of conduct. I agree with all of you. You know, this is something you can do on your own if you…and you have been.

“Social media is more bad than good”

Some have been blocking. They told me: “Yeah I blocked him.” I blocked. It never came up here. It came to this table but never came to your own table. Never went locally. As I said social media is more bad than good.

Anyway… second time round. This took a long time if you remember a few months ago when we talked about this social media and blocking and that took a long time. So we’ll go through it but the Clerk has provided the information the Council asked for… so Councillor Perrelli and Mayor Taylor and then we may have to break for lunch and go into camera and I need to be able to give the public an idea when we’re coming back to do the more critical thing of the Regional Official Plan. 

Carmine Perrelli (Richmond Hill): Thank you Chairman. I wasn’t planning on speaking a second time but for two reasons I will. Number one I want to extend my reasons for voting against this and number two I wanna thank my council colleagues who are in support of my thoughts about this issue.

The first thing I'd like to state is that, like Mayor Scarpitti, I personally, like, I've never blocked anyone. My staff decides who is needs to be blocked or whose comments need to be removed.

Number 2. I'm not allowed to go on those trolls’ websites or their social media. They arbitrarily blocked me because they don't want me to speak against what their message is (that) they are trying to get out.

And imagine a field of play where they control all they want on my social media I can even comment even though I've made attempts… for example on a site called “Next Door” where I commented that they may be legal statements, threatening statements, and they won’t remove them.  So we have an uphill battle trying to keep misinformation off of their website. 

“Not gonna happen”

And now I have to allow their misinformation on my website. Not gonna happen. I think it was Mayor Movall who stated that about a local issue. He is absolutely right. My lawyer – and I’ll get to my lawyers in a minute - my lawyers stated that it was a local issue and it really should have been dealt with in Richmond Hill. 

And yet the Integrity Commissioner of the Region found it appropriate to deal with at the regional level. And I say this for this reason: the cost.   In this report - and I admit I didn't read the entire thing – but I skimmed through it. I don't see any reference to the financial implications of putting this policy in (indistinct). 

I will hazard to guess and I'd bet anybody here that the second we implement this policy we will get dozens and dozens if not hundreds of complaints. And if we were to adopt the policy - because I understand this recommendation came forward from consultation with other jurisdictions - I'll cite for you the jurisdiction of the City of Toronto when they have an indemnity by-law which allows any member of council up to $25,000 to defend a code of conduct complaint. $25,000. 

“About fifty different allegations against me”

I’ll get a little bit personal. At the city of Richmond Hill there have been about 50 different allegations against me for violation of the Code of Conduct. The integrity commissioner in the City of Richmond Hill found three violations. I won't get into the details because I have to keep that private at this time.

I can tell you they are all ridiculous. Three out of the 50 allegations. I'm gonna tell you now how much it cost the city of Richmond Hill. I can confirm my lawyer’s fees but I can't confirm the Integrity Commissioner’s fees as of yet. It's approximately - I hope everybody is sitting down -$350,000 for ridiculous, frivolous and vexatious acts by using the Integrity Commissioner and the Code of Conduct as a weapon.

$350,000. I may be off by a few dollars. This is what is going to happen at the Region if we implement this. Every troll. Every hater. Every person who opposes our political agenda is going to make a code of conduct…

For two reasons. One… if we don't have an indemnity by-law at the Region that would cover us we would have to spend that money. Ladies and gentlemen of Regional Council if we don't have an indemnity bylaw be prepared to use all of your salaries every year in this fashion or allow trolls to take over your social media or, even worse, discourage you from spreading your information using social media for fear that you are going to be attacked.

“Financially harmful”

What we should do at the regional level and the municipal level is revamp every code of conduct and take away the ability to use it as a weapon. And to Councillor Vegh’s comment where he says he won’t support it because it is unnecessary, I go a little bit further. I won't support it because it's harmful. It’s financially harmful. It's harmful to getting our message out. It's harmful to discourage people from entering the political arena for fear that they spend all of their time fighting these frivolous and vexatious attacks because they know they are used effectively as a weapon.

Again, we don't have the financial implications of this. And I would suggest that with 21 members - of which most of us have agreed that we have blocked people on our social media for what we believe to be valid reasons – we don’t do it willy-nilly. I don't block people whose votes I'm trying to get at some point. We block people because they are a nuisance and they are harassing us and spreading misinformation. They are being illegal in some way or another. And the cost of that - 21 of us strong soon to be 22 - one complaint even a year amounts to half a million dollars or more.  The investigation… of course at the end as Mayor Lovatt has said: “Bring it on!”

I know I have nothing to worry about because I've done nothing wrong. That's not the point. The point is if the Integrity Commissioner takes the complaint - which I'd love to get into a discussion about that one day as well - but if the Integrity Commissioner takes the complaint which they will be justified (in so doing) if we approve this document, then automatically it is going to cost money and I would rather spend my time my money not fighting frivolous and vexatious attacks on us as elected officials. Thank you Mr Chairman.

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson: Thank you. Mayor Taylor.

Mayor John Taylor (Newmarket): Having a policy that encourages us to be open on social media to our residents and, if we do choose to limit somebody, to document it (and this is) somehow going to end up in half a million dollars in costs and the end of democracy almost seems hard to believe.

I guess we can say the public will judge us at election time so we don't need to discuss or worry about this. But then why even have a Code of Conduct? 

They will judge us at election time and we can extrapolate that to all kinds of other decisions that we make because they’ll judge us at election time.

“Completely misunderstood”

What we're dealing with here and I’ll be really honest… I think it's (being) completely misunderstood. This is not a social media policy. This is a blocking in social media policy. And the best way to explain it is that I suspect virtually everybody here has a website - or a website at election times at least. But a website. How many people have blocked anybody from access to that website. None. Because you can't. 

Now, because Facebook or other social media sites provide you with a tool to do so, (it) creates a unique circumstance and many people’s main form of communication now is Facebook, more so than even a website. Some have stopped websites because Facebook is the means for communication.

And here’s the mistake. Everybody spoke about it. Every single person – I’m sorry respectfully – every single one of you spoke about their spreading hate the posting misinformation (and that) I shouldn't have to wake up and see what they're saying and posting horrible hateful things on my site. That's not what blocking is. 

“You can mute a person”

You can mute a person. If they do it once and only once you can remove the comment. If they do it all the time you can mute them. Blocking is refusing them access to your statements, thoughts and comment as an elected official.

In a very common dominant form called Facebook in particular. That’s what you’re doing when blocking. That's why blocking is being addressed here specifically and it is a very different thing from… Every reason everybody gave (for blocking) is not addressed here. You can do that through other tools. And they talk about this and hopefully we do those sparingly as well. 

But any and all of that can be addressed. Muting somebody means they can at least still at least read what you're saying and thinking and I would go so far as to say that everyone of us that posted things on Facebook that we have not posted in the newspaper or written about in the newspaper or not necessary posted on our website. Because it is real-time and we are doing it daily. Often our thoughts and reactions, ideas and issues. 

It's an important point. Every resident should be entitled to read our thoughts and our real-time positions on issues. That is what blocking is. I feel like we missed that point. And that is why we have in front of us a policy on blocking on social media. There are all kinds of things that are covered in social media. This is not the same as saying that I don’t have to read another e-mail. I can refuse a meeting from somebody a third time because they're coming in yelling at me. I don't have to talk to somebody at the gas station.

“Blocking… means they can’t hear you”

That’s called muting. Or removing a comment. This is blocking which means they can’t hear you.  They can't hear you they can't see and read and understand what you're saying to 99% of the rest of the community on what you felt about something that occurred yesterday at the council meeting or an emerging issue.

And I hope some people are listening to the logic of what I am saying. I'm sorry but it is pretty solid as opposed to the conjecture around what's upsetting and bothering us and how much it could cost us. 

It could cost lots of money?  I don't know how many other members of this Council have fifty Integrity Commissioner complaints. I certainly haven't. So I don't think my extrapolation will cost people that money.

We need to see this for what it is. It is a blocking policy and people should have… anybody no matter what you think of what they say or write which you can stop by muting… They should have access to your thoughts and ideas and feelings as an elected official on issues of the day. Thank you.

Regional Chair: Councillor Grossi.

Mayor John Taylor: I’ll now unmute myself.

Councillor Rob Grossi (Georgina):  I was one of the ones that sat at this table many years ago when there was no such thing as social media… when social media was a telephone as an elected official that may have rang late night or early in the morning to bring your attention to something that someone wasn’t happy with.

It's interesting. This report and the whole issue of social media that we are celebrating… I guess today is social media day. Maybe what we should do is celebrate the other 364 days as “talk to your friends and neighbours in person day” because people don’t do that anymore. 

And if they want to talk to you about an issue that you, as an elected official, they can talk to me when (indistinct). My children used to complain your said you were only going to the store for 10 minutes why did it take you three hours?

“I’m not a fan of social media”

Well, you know, I was accessible and I still am accessible. And quite frankly I'm not a fan of social media. I try to stay away from it as much as I possibly can. Because does it does more harm than good. So if we can then I would suggest to you Mr Chairman or anybody else… Let’s celebrate a “talk to your neighbour day” at some point in time. And if you do that every Friday or every Thursday or every day of the year… we can celebrate social media day one day out of the year… and we can talk about it here for six hours and how it’s good or how it’s bad or whatever it is… 

I would put forward a motion at some point in time to celebrate “talking to a person and looking into them in the eyes and asking for their opinion and giving yours”. 

Regional Chair:  I think that is a day. Talk to neighbour day and speak to someone. Don't wave actually speak to them. Councillor Rosati I'm gonna (call) a couple more then I'm gonna call the motion 'cause we’re gonna break for lunch.

I'll be honest with you this has been gone around around around around and let's just go for it once and for all. We have a Regional Official Plan to deal with but go ahead Councillor Rosati. 

Gino Rosati (Vaughan): Mr. Chairman that's what I was gonna say I think we should talk to our neighbours every day not just on Fridays. I think if we allow everybody to talk more than once we're gonna be here for the rest of the day because it's gonna go back and forth as everyone makes their points. We have a choice. Let’s vote on this item or let’s defer it. I don't know what the majority of Council will feel as some have not spoken but I feel Mayor Scarpitti spoke at length and made very valid points (about) the comparison to other issues. 

So this is not one issue about blocking. It is a lot more than that and that's why I think… that, yes, it deserves this discussion… but it has to be looked at in a broad way and I do wanna emphasize there is the local level. The Region is not an appeal body from local decisions and this point was well made as well. And I think that is very, very valid but not for now.

But I encourage you to limit this discussion otherwise we're going to have people who want to speak three, four or five times. Maybe it should be deferred to the new Council. 

Mayor Frank Scarpitti (Markham): I will make this brief Mr. Chair taking my cue from Regional Councillor Rosati. There are a lot of other issues on today’s agenda. I wanna go point by point. I know what blocking is. As I said I’ve never blocked anyone. Even my staff… They may have muted trolls that have something to say (but) it's always not anything that contributes to the discussion… that it made comments that that are unrelated so they chose to do that. It's not a long list maybe two to three people.

“What next?”

I guess the issue that I have is what's next? Are you gonna tell me who I have to send my e-mail blasts to? Are you gonna tell me who I have to give my newsletter to?  That in essence is the same thing. It is. You can't say one form is a way of making sure that everybody hears your message. 

But what about those methods of communicating what your position is? So people judge us on our job, our ability to communicate. Tell them I don't run away from anybody. I meet with the people that are unhappy about things, have questions about things. I go to ratepayer association meetings and that's all fair game. But to be able to say 

“you must go here. If you're invited you must go there” 

Well, at the end of the day that's the same thing here. I think it's more than the broad perspective on how we choose to communicate with our residents and organisations. And, as I say, we make those judgment calls every day and we’ll be judged on that too. Thank you.

Regional Chair: Councillor Heath. More comments. Go ahead.

Jack Heath (Markham): Thank you Mr. Chairman. No I am not going to make another comment. I think I’ve spoken on the subject long enough. I just wanted a recorded vote so that we can say yes or no and see where we all stand. 

Regional Chair: I haven’t got a motion on the floor yet. Are you prepared to put the motion on the floor, Councillor Heath?

Jack Health (Markham): Yes.  

Regional Chair: I’ll put the motion on the floor to revise the Code of Conduct to incorporate the social media guidelines. I need a seconder to that motion. Mayor Taylor? Thank you. Now we have a recorded vote, Mr Clerk. Oh sorry! Councillor DiPaola, go ahead.

Councillor DiPaola (Richmond Hill): I just wanted to add that I am going to support the recommendation. I think it's not too onerous on us to document and provide explanation why would be blocking anyone. I think the problem is… because if you're a good actor and good actors are really harmed by trolls. And people who spread hate or misinformation online. But if you're a bad actor the social media can be used by you to spread bad information or misinformation or manipulate the process toward your agenda.

“Deleted or hidden”

We have councillors that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on communications and thousands on boosting posts that get to 80,000 people. Now every time they are putting out a post and hundreds of comments come but 90% are deleted or hidden, not shown, and only 10% to 5% or a small amount of the commentary are actually displayed. And it completely distorts what the general public is feeling or what they’d like to comment about.

This policy doesn’t even address that. We're talking about eliminating people from receiving information. Eliminating people from even being able to view what you're putting out there publicly as an elected official. 

And if you're going to do so I think you should have a good, valid, justifiable reason for doing so. Thank you.

Regional Chair: So I don't see anyone on my on my queue or any different people coming up with their hands so to move by Councillor Heath and seconded by Mayor Taylor. Councillor Heath asked for a recorded vote. Mr Clerk please.

For the inclusion of social media in the Regional Code of Conduct:

Jack Heath (Markham)

Mayor John Taylor (Newmarket)

Joe Li (Markham)

Mayor Tom Mrakas (Aurora)

Mayor Steve Pellegrini (King)

Mayor Margaret Quirk (Georgina)

Mayor David West (Richmond Hill)

Joe DiPaola (Richmond Hill)

Against the inclusion of social media in the Regional Code of Conduct

Linda Jackson (Vaughan)

Jim Jones (Markham)

Mayor Iain Lovatt (Whitchurch-Stouffville

Carmine Perrelli (Richmond Hill)

Gino Rosati (Vaughan)

Mayor Frank Scarpitti (Markham)

Tom Vegh (Newmarket)

Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan)

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson (elected by Council not by voters at large)

Mario Ferri (Vaughan)

Robert Grossi (Georgina)

Mayor Virginia Hackson (East Gwillimbury)

Don Hamilton (Markham)

For inclusion: 8

Against inclusion: 13