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Councillor's views on Vancouver mayor's PR director 'disrespectful, arguably defamatory'

Christine Boyle apologized for her comments directed at Harrison Fleming.
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OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle has publicly apologized for comments made against Harrison Fleming, the communications director for Mayor Ken Sim.

Vancouver’s integrity commissioner has ruled that city councillor Christine Boyle breached the city’s code of conduct for public comments she made in August regarding Mayor Ken Sim’s new communications director.

The OneCity councillor's comments were directed at Harrison Fleming via Twitter (now known as X) and in an email that was circulated to people on her party's  mailing list. Fleming previously worked for the governments of Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta.

Boyle called Fleming “one of Kenney’s top Internet bullies, harassing opponents of the government as Kenney worked to deny climate change and to enable and empower anti-maskers and COVID deniers.”

She also retweeted a post from her party that said the Ontario government Fleming worked for was “in the middle of an $8 billion corruption scandal and is being investigated by the RCMP,” according to Lisa Southern’s report, which was posted Oct. 6 to the city’s website.

“While much of what [councillor] Boyle wrote [or reposted] falls within permissible speech, by writing that Mr. Fleming was ‘one of Jason Kenney’s top Internet bullies, harassing opponents of the government,’ [councillor] Boyle’s comments were disrespectful and arguably defamatory,” the commissioner said.

Southern said that such accusations were “problematic as they were personally directed and stated as fact versus opinion, and as such, constitute disrespectful conduct…” She ruled that Boyle violated the code of conduct.

'Respect and decorum'

Prior to Southern posting her ruling, Boyle issued an apology in September via X.

“As a public official, I have a duty to uphold a high standard of respect and decorum,” she wrote.

“In August, I failed to do so when discussing the hiring of the mayor’s newest team member, Harrison Fleming. On reflection, certain parts of my comments crossed a line. Where we disagree, we owe it to each other to disagree respectfully. I apologize to him and retract my statements.”

The apology was pinned to her post, as requested by the mayor, who filed the complaint.

Southern noted Boyle’s apology in her ruling, and the fact the councillor offered to apologize to Fleming in person. The commissioner said they were “remedies I would have made in this case,” and recommended no further penalties.

“Given they have already been implemented by [councillor] Boyle on her own initiative, I do not recommend any sanction,” Southern said.

Boyle declined comment Tuesday while Fleming said in an email that Southern’s report “speaks for itself” and that he was “satisfied with its conclusions and remedies.”

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Mayor Ken Sim has filed two complaints against OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle since the October 2022 election. Photo Mike Howell

Mayor's second complaint against Boyle

In his complaint, Sim said Boyle’s comments “denigrated” Fleming and accused him directly of past bullying and “implying that he has advanced and is complicit in anti-LGBTQ+ government policies, despite the staff member identifying as a gay man.”

It was Sim’s second complaint against the councillor since he was elected mayor in October 2022. Sim’s party, ABC Vancouver, swept the polls and now has eight of the 11 seats at city hall; Boyle is OneCity’s lone representative.

Sim filed a complaint in March against Boyle related to her publicly sharing that she voted to keep the city’s living wage, despite a majority of council voting at an in-camera meeting to scrap the policy.

Last week, Southern released a ruling that cleared Boyle of any wrongdoing.

Sim’s concern was that Boyle breached the code of conduct by disclosing how she voted. No other members of council shared how they voted, although Green Party Coun. Pete Fry posted on Twitter that he and colleague Adriane Carr support a living wage policy.

Boyle told Glacier Media last week that she spent $7,000 in legal fees on the case. It will be up to the rest of council to decide whether she should be indemnified for the costs.

However, even if an in-camera vote happens and Boyle does get reimbursed, the result cannot be shared publicly.

When Glacier Media filed a story about the case last week, former city councillor Colleen Hardwick shared via X that she was indemnified for costs related to a case in the last term involving then-mayor Kennedy Stewart.

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

X/@Howellings