Tonight, City Council met in closed session for over two hours and emerged to take a divisive 9-to-7 vote on the Ticats’ lease in the new football stadium.
It was a tense and heated debate. When it was over, I was heading to a news conference on the Ticats lease when Councillor Lloyd Ferguson physically grabbed me and shoved me because he wished to speak to a person I was standing near.
The following is what happened.
At approximately 10:45pm Wednesday evening, I was following the City’s Corporate Communications Manager to a press conference.
The conference was originally scheduled for a meeting room in the City Councillors area and was being moved into the City Manager’s Boardroom, a non-public area.
I had to follow the Manager to get into this Boardroom.
The Manager was stopped by Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark. The two began a conversation.
I stepped back and was standing approximately three metres from their conversation, holding my tripod – with camera attached – over my right shoulder.
Behind me, from the Councillors offices, a visibly agitated Councillor Lloyd Ferguson walked in front of me saying – to either the Manager or Councillor Clark – “I need to talk to you about something”.
Immediately, Ferguson looked at me and aggressively told me to get away from the area.
Before I had a chance to move, Ferguson turned around, strongly clenched my upper right arm and shoved me with force.
He did not let go of his grip, continuing to clench me and strengthening his grip as he very angrily stated with a threatening tone that I wasn’t welcome to stand where I had been, stating further that he didn’t want me eavesdropping upon his conversation, looking at my camera.
The camera was turned off, the shutter was closed, and I was only carrying it because I was moving locations for a press conference.
I quickly regained my footing, my composure, and stood my ground.
I told him to not touch me, that he had no right to use force against me, and we exchanged heated words.
Councillors Clark intervened, and as Councillor Ferguson left the building, I stated very clearly to him that I didn’t have to take his “shit”. That was the strongest language I used during the exchange.
Earlier in the evening, during the Council meeting, Councillor Ferguson came to me angry about a tweet I had made about the Governance Committee choosing to meet at the same as another major committee; preventing the meeting from being streamed.
I referenced that the Governance Committee inherited the responsibilities of the disbanded Accountability and Transparency Committee.
Council’s new “accountability and transparency” committee is meeting Monday. Picked a time that conflicts with a more important mtg. #fail
— Joey Coleman (@JoeyColeman) February 26, 2014
Ferguson was angry about the reference to accountability and transparency, demanding that I stop referencing the committee now that it is disbanded. I told him I stand by the tweet and that it is accurate.
The argument ended when the Deputy Mayor had to stop the Council meeting and request Ferguson return to his seat.
Ferguson has expressed numerous times his frustration at my “targeting” the Accountability and Transparency Committee to make its agendas public.
These conversations have become heated on numerous occasions and I’ve stood my behind my position that all City Council committees and sub-committees should be both accountable and transparent to the public.
I felt Councillor Ferguson’s demeanour in these conversations was intimidating in the past, but no more so that what is usual for the culture of City Hall.
Today’s use of physical force by Councillor Ferguson is unacceptable.
I hope to be able to accept a public apology, properly given, by Councillor Ferguson.
I’m prepared to close the book on this incident with that.
City Hall has a problem, a major problem with its culture that intimidation and bullying is tolerated.
I’ve encountered this numerous time over the past three years as I’ve tried to cover public meetings. I’ve been harassed and bullied by frivolous complaints that – for example – I’m covering too many meetings and at City Hall too many hours each day. The complainants have been allowed to keep their anonymity without consequence.
I’ve had to turn to the Ontario Ombudsman to get City Hall to agree to release agendas for public meetings, after much interference and bullying behaviour from an influential minority at City Hall.
Despite all this harassment and bullying, I’m still covering City Hall. Tonight’s incident won’t change that.
What I do hope is that tonight’s incident begins a serious conversation at City Hall about bullying and violence.
This is the discussion we need to have, the question is: Will City Council have it?