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Vancouver council given opportunity to impose sanctions against Christine Boyle

Case connected to Boyle's public comments about mayor's communications director, Harrison Fleming.
OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle could face sanctions for breaching the code of conduct for public comments she made about Mayor Ken Sim’s communications director, Harrison Fleming.

Vancouver city council is being given the rare opportunity to publicly impose sanctions on one of its own members — Christine Boyle — as part of a process connected to a recent ruling by the integrity commissioner.

Three weeks ago, Lisa Southern said in her written decision that Boyle breached the city’s code of conduct for public comments she made in August regarding Mayor Ken Sim’s new communications director, Harrison Fleming.

Southern did not impose sanctions.

Now, Boyle could face public censure, a letter of reprimand or be forced to attend specific training or counselling, according to a staff report that goes before council at its Oct. 31 meeting at city hall.

Other possible sanctions include:

• a request that Boyle write a letter of apology.

• the publication of a letter of reprimand and a request for apology by Southern and Boyle’s written response.

• suspension or removal of Boyle’s appointment as deputy mayor.

• suspension or removal of Boyle from some or all council committees and bodies to which she was appointed by council.

Harrison Fleming is Mayor Ken Sim's communications director. Photo Mike Howell

'Top internet bullies'

The OneCity councillor made the comments against 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 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.

'Crossed a line'

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.

But Southern did not impose sanctions because Boyle had issued an apology in September via X. Boyle said she failed to uphold a high standard of respect and decorum as a public official, saying “certain parts of my comments crossed a line.”

The apology was pinned to her post on X, 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.

Glacier Media filed a story about the ruling. Boyle declined to comment at the time while Fleming said in an email that Southern’s report “speaks for itself” and that he was “satisfied with its conclusions and remedies.”

ABC Vancouver holds majority on council

Despite the positions of Southern and Fleming, council may accept the commissioner’s ruling regarding penalties, but is not required to do so. Council may reject Southern’s recommendation and impose any of the sanctions listed in the report.

Sim’s party — ABC Vancouver — controls council with eight of 11 votes.

A couple of days before news broke of the ruling against Boyle, Southern delivered another investigation report that cleared the councillor of any wrongdoing in publicly stating that she voted against a council decision to scrap the city’s living wage.

Sim had filed the complaint against Boyle, who spent $7,000 in legal fees to defend her position.

The meeting at city hall regarding possible sanctions begins at 9:30 a.m., Oct. 31.