York Region council voted 13-8 to reject new rules for councillors blocking citizens on social media.
Staff and the integrity commissioner put together a proposed code of conduct change that would have specified under what conditions councillors could block citizens on sites like Facebook. This came in response to a resident complaint against a Richmond Hill councillor and issues that arose around the complaint.
That councillor, Carmine Perrelli of Richmond Hill, called the staff recommendation “ridiculous.” He said he blocked the person on Twitter for calling him a “shyster” and a “COVIDIot.”
“Putting a policy like this in place just makes it more susceptible to being abused,” he said. “I will not support any policy where an integrity commissioner is going to decide how I advertise my message.”
The proposed policy stated councillors may need to limit user access, and valid reasons include inciting hatred, posting illegal content, polling disinformation, trolling, spamming and harassment. The policy said councillors should “attempt to preserve as much of a user’s access to information and expression as possible,” and if blocking, keep a record of it.
Perrelli said the integrity commissioner found him in violation of the code of conduct, despite the specific policy not existing yet. He said the complaint cost approximately $350,000 to handle locally.
“This is what’s going to happen at the region if we implement this. Every troll, every hater, every person who opposed our political agenda is going to make a code of conduct complaint,” he said.
The original complaint came when Perrelli criticized provincial public health measures that put York Region in a grey lockdown zone in 2021. The complainant alleged he was blocked after criticized Perrelli's position.
The integrity commissioner found Perrelli to be in violation of the code of conduct for the move, though offered no penalty since there was no specificity about social media in the policy.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor supported the policy change, though said it should have stronger language that councillors should attempt to keep their social media as open as possible. He pushed back at that opposition to the policy and said the cost possibility “seems hard to believe.”
He also specified the differences between muting someone to avoid seeing their posts and blocking them so they cannot see what their elected officials say.
“Every resident should be entitled to read our thoughts and our real-time positions on issues,” Taylor said.
But Newmarket deputy Mayor Tom Vegh also disagreed with the policy proposal.
“People have many ways of contacting us,” Vegh said. “It’s unnecessary at the regional level. I think it’s covered at the local level adequately.”
Newmarket’s council code of conduct bylaw specifies not to publish dishonest or defamatory comments on social media or release confidential information using it but does not specify anything regarding blocking.
Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt agreed it is a local issue, given that citizens tend to want to speak to local issues rather than regional ones.
“I block trolls. I just do. If you want to complain and go to the integrity commissioner, go for it. It’s going to actually reveal who you are,” he said.
Multiple councillors spoke to a desire to interact with residents outside social media.
Chairman Wayne Emmerson voted against the policy and said it is based on one instance, when there are other times councillors have blocked residents without issue.
“Social media is more bad than good,” he said.