News

Regional council punishes Petrowski

By Bill Sawchuk, The Standard

St. Catharines Regional Coun. Andy Petrowski in a file photo.

St. Catharines Regional Coun. Andy Petrowski in a file photo.

Regional council has accepted integrity commissioner John Mascarin’s rulings that St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski violated council’s code of conduct on three separate occasions.

Two of the complaints involved Petrowski’s use of Twitter and were similar in nature. A third addressed Petrowski’s behaviour at meetings.

Some of the tweets in question dealt with religious issues. One finished by saying the Qur’an is not the truth and a book about a false prophet. Another compared Jesus and Muhammad and said Muhammad promoted warfare and violence, hatred, intolerance, misogyny, oppression and pedophilia.

Petrowski has steadfastly maintained that the code infringes on his freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“The discussion is can we use social media through the lens of the code of conduct?” St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik said at Thursday night’s council meeting.

“When I signed up to be mayor, I was giving up some of my rights so I could represent all of the people …

“(The code) isn’t saying you can’t use social media. It is saying to the individual, comply with the code. If you go through a mental checkbox, I think some of these will disappear.”

Council also approved Mascarin’s recommendation that Petrowski apologize and refrain from using his Twitter in ways that violate the code.

Petrowski said he will respond at the next full council meeting.

He told council he felt trapped by the current code of conduct, which is in the process of being revised.

“If you want to put me up on the cross, the people should be thinking, ‘Wow, is that the way the Niagara Region does its business?’” Petrowski said.

“Meanwhile, we are improving the code that will better reflect what the majority — that’s democracy — of what this council wants. This is all about public shaming and public silencing.”

An amendment to one of the sanctions would have suspended Petrowski from committees until he completes sensitivity training. It was deferred to the next meeting so council can get a decision on whether it would need a simple majority or a vote of two-thirds of councillors to pass.

The third complaint against Petrowski was about his behaviour at a special meeting in Pelham last year on the construction of a new community centre. Petrowski attempted to speak on behalf of a friend. When he was told he couldn’t speak, Petrowski walked past the sitting members of council and interrupted Mayor Dave Augustyn, who was addressing a delegate, and said, “Good job” and “Kicked off the agenda” before calling Augustyn a “disgusting mayor.”

Augustyn asked Petrowski to leave, but he continued to disturb the meeting. The mayor then requested the clerk escort Petrowski from the meeting. A video of the meeting showed Petrowski was already on his way out when Augustyn made the request.

Mascarin recommended, and council accepted, that Petrowski provide both an oral and writing apology to Augustyn, Pelham town council and the committee. He recommended the apology be delivered at a meeting of regional council.

Council also heard Thursday night about three complaints that were dismissed.

The first involved a complaint against Regional Chairman Alan Caslin by activist Ed Smith, a St. Catharines resident.

Earlier this year, Caslin wrote a letter asking Premier Kathleen Wynne to intervene with the Ministry of Natural Resources to clear up policy conflicts across provincial departments that impact on the proposed Thundering Waters development in Niagara Falls. Smith maintained Caslin didn’t have the support of council to write the letter.

Howard Elston, who took over the complaint because Mascarin's firm represents the Chinese developers, accepted Caslin’s position that the letter as within his duties as regional chair. He also wrote that Smith's interpretation was "disingenuous."

“I do not believe that his conduct can in any way be characterized as an abuse of his position as regional chair,” Elston wrote in his decision.

Complaints against St. Catharines Couns. Brian Heit and Kelly Edgar were also dismissed.

Complaints stemmed from the circulation of a 45-page document itled a Call for Accountability at the NPCA and alleged Edgar and Heit violated a number of code provisions.

Niagara Region’s code of conduct outlines a councillor’s responsibilities. It asks all members to observe seven main points, which include maintaining the highest standard of ethical conduct; avoiding any situation liable to give rise to a conflict of interest and taking into account the public character of their function.

bsawchuk@postmedia.com 



Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »