Council dismisses sanctions against Judson

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

The Town of Fort Frances council dismissed the Integrity Commissioner’s recommended sanctions against Coun. Douglas Judson.

Darrell Matson, delegated commissioner to the Town of Fort Frances, made three recommendations to council members: that his report be received for information purposes, that Judson publicly acknowledge his lapse of judgment and issue a public apology, and that the report be made available to the public.

The 5 to 1 vote, with Coun. Mike Behan holding the vote of dissent, did not recognize the recommended sanction of having Judson issue a public apology.

However, all council members voted to accept Matson’s report to be received for information purposes while being made available to the public.

Judson emailed a statement, following the Committee of the Whole and regular council meeting, saying the result was a victory for common sense and the protection of political expression. 

The commissioner’s report was sparked when a complaint was submitted on Dec. 17, 2020, accusing Judson of breaching the municipal Code of Conduct by attributing an anonymous letter to the editor published in the Fort Frances Times to a “white senior citizen.”

Matson’s report was replete with screen grabs of Judson’s public social media accounts, in which he comments and writes his opinion of those opposing the effort to rename both Colonization Roads in Fort Frances.

The Integrity Commissioner found the complaints against Judson to be unsubstantiated, saying the essence of the commentary in the posts represents political commentary and opinion.

However, Matson did take exception with Judson reattributing a public statement by a “Flinders Place Resident” to a “White Senior Citizen.”

“There are a multitude of ways to express the same core political message without making discriminatory remarks,” Matson said. “Regardless of councillor Judson’s intention, this can be construed as insulting, disrespectful and disparaging to the member of the public.”

Matson added that changing the source of the quotation to a “white senior citizen” when, in fact, the letter to the editor was attributed to “Flinders Place resident” is unacceptable, understood in the context of the respondent string of social media posts on the subject.

“It amounts to an attempt to assert that the demographic opposing the renaming of Colonization Road are white senior citizens with no factual context,” Matson said in his presentation to council. “The social media post also implies that all white senior citizens are opposed to efforts at reconciliation. The fact that [Judson] attempts to associate an opposing view with one ethnicity, race and colour, as well a segment of the population described by age, amounted to discrimination towards a particular demographic.”

In response to Asher Honickman, Judson’s lawyer, Matson said the complainant resides somewhere in the area of Fort Frances, but is not a citizen of the town. Matson added that the complainant did not author a letter to the editor, anonymous or otherwise.

In voting against imposing the recommended sanctions, five councillors agreed to absolve Judson of the recommended sanction, but all had different reasons.

Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said he voted against the sanction to require an apology because he believes Judson would not apologize.

“Therefore trying to enforce this recommendation will be a waste of our time and the people’s money,” Wiedenhoeft said. “And we as a council have so much more important and meaningful work to do.”

Coun. Andrew Hallikas also voted against imposing the recommended sanctions. Hallikas said he has difficulty with the fact that the original complaint was anonymous.

“I did not construe Councillor Judson’s substitution of ‘a Flinders Place resident’ and substituting ‘a white senior citizen’ as being discriminatory to all white senior citizens,” Hallikas said. “And nor did I feel he was implying something derogatory about white senior citizens that he was referring to.”

Hallikas added that while he would neither have made similar comments, nor taken the same tone on social media, Judson is still entitled to his own political opinion and expression.

But Hallikas also said he did not appreciate the tone of the letter all council members received from Judson’s lawyer.

“I found that the letter contained all manner of legal threats if council were to adopt the commissioner’s findings. This is before we had a chance to even read the findings,” Hallikas said. “I found that letter to be inappropriate and uncalled for. We’re trying to do the very best for the constituents and they can certainly competently and impartially fulfill their elected duties without threat of legal action by a lawyer.”

Coun. Wendy Brunetta said while she believes Judson’s comments offended some members of the community, she decided to vote against sanctioning Judson because this is his first term on council. Brunetta said Judson is still on a huge learning curve.

Coun. John McTaggart, who also chaired the Committee of the Whole meeting, said he does not condone Judson’s way of getting his message out.

However, McTaggart said in voting to dismiss the recommended sanctions, he took into account that Judson belongs to a different generation that has a different way of getting their message out.

Fort Frances Mayor June Caul voted to dismiss the sanction, but provided no comment.

Judson said this conclusion “was only reached after a hearing fraught with significant due process concerns and rampant procedural errors.” He added that “for the record I will never apologize for being a strong voice on reconciliation and equity issues facing people in our community.”

Judson also said in the statement that he will be seeking amendments to the Town of Fort Frances Code of Conduct in order to “fairly and economically weed out vexatious complaints and attacks on political expression, to clarify procedure, and to save taxpayers money.”

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