Public Conduct Policy becomes bylaw

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Town of Fort Frances has equipped itself with a new set of rules for dealing with potential bad actors in the public realm.

During the previous regular meeting of town council on Monday, March 27, 2023, council approved bylaw 22-23, which saw the town adopt a new Public Conduct Policy for staff, administration and council members. Coming into force the same day, the new policy outlines the ways in which the town can deal with unreasonable behaviours and vexatious actions from the public, particularly if they are deemed to potentially “consume a disproportionate amount of Town time and resources,” as per the text of the Policy.

“This policy will guide staff and volunteers to identify situations that meet the criteria of unreasonably persistent, frivolous and/or vexatious, and the associated actions that may be taken in such circumstances,” the policy reads.

“The goal of this policy is to promote a positive, safe, and supportive environment for interactions between members of the public and Town staff that will encourage respect, commitment, and considerate relationships. This policy also aims to provide measures that be may taken when behaviour or actions become inappropriate.”

The policy states that it will apply to all members of the public who are deemed to be behaving or acting unreasonably as defined within the document itself. The policy notes that each individual occurrence of some action or behaviour that could be seen as unreasonable, frivolous or vexatious will be handled with “a flexible and balanced approach,” and will take the context of the occurrence and individual’s previous actions into consideration.

Within the document, “frivolous” is defined as a complaint or request that has “no serious purpose or value” or is in regards to a matter that is deemed “so trivial or meritless on its face that investigation would be disproportionate in terms of time and cost.” “Vexatious” is defined as a complaint or request for service that has been initiated with the intent to simply embarrass or annoy the recipient, as well as potentially being part of a pattern of conduct by the requester or complainant that amounts to an abuse of the town’s complaint or request for service processes.

“’Unreasonable’ means behaviour/conduct that is unacceptable in all circumstances regardless of how stressed, angry, or frustrated the individual is because it compromises the health, safety, and/or security of Members of Council, staff, other service users, or the individual themselves,” the policy reads.

The policy also provides several examples of actions, requests or complaints that could be found in violation of the policy, and includes scenarios such as:

  • Requests for information that the requester/complainant has already seen, or clear intention to reopen issues that have already been considered,
  • Where complying with a request would impose a significant burden on the Town in terms of expense and negatively impact the ability to provide timely service to others,
  • Bring[ing] complaints concerning an issue that is substantially similar to an issue that staff have previously investigated and concluded and no new information is being introduced,
  • Refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of assistance, and
  • Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff with lengthy phone calls; emails to numerous staff; or frequent detailed letters, and expecting detailed responses.

Any reports made by staff, supervisors or members of administration and council will be investigated and reviewed in order to determine the validity and severity of the offending behaviour. Repeated or significant offences could then lead to a warning or subsequent application of a restriction, which could include limiting that individuals correspondence with staff or member of council to a particular format, time or duration, limiting or regulating the individual’s use of Town services, or pursuing legal action including the issuance of a Notice of Trespass.

The policy notes that a letter of notification for restrictions will include a review date for the matter, generally every three to six months after the restriction is initially imposed, and those who are notified of a restriction have the ability to appeal by writing the clerk and CAO within ten business days from the date the letter was issued.