Mississauga Councillor Accused of Racially Insensitive Remarks about Police Officer
A Mississauga councillor has found herself in hot water after an incident in which she was alleged to have made "racially insensitive remarks" about a Peel police officer, suggesting the officer was promoted based on the colour of her skin and gender.
Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who also is a Peel Region councillor (and who has a history of colourful public statements), allegedly made these remarks in a series of texts with fellow Mississauga City Councillor Sue McFadden, the Chair of the Peel Police Services Board. The police officer in question is now deputy chief Ingrid Berkeley-Brown, who was appointed earlier this year.
Mississauga Ward 5 Coun. Carolyn Parrish during city council meeting
Late last year, the Malton area was dealing with the issue of a pending closure of the local police station at Westwood Square, which insauga.com documented. Critics of the closure said the station’s public location made it convenient for the community to get in touch with local law enforcement and, as the property manager there indicated, led to a reduced level of criminal activity.
However, the Peel police was looking to close the station because they found that doing so would yield budgetary savings of $500,000. During a community meeting held on February 15, in which Berkeley-Brown and Parrish were part of a panel answering questions from residents, the councillor found that Berkeley-Brown's answers seemed more focused on the monetary savings rather than the need for community safety.
Peel's Integrity Commissioner (IC), a firm called Principles Integrity, conducted an investigation over a complaint filed by the police board on April 6 over Parrish's conduct. The complaint was centred on a series of texts she sent to McFadden after the community meeting. The complaint included screenshots of the texts between Parrish and McFadden.
The three text messages at issue are the following:
"It seems being black and female qualifies people for promotion, which is dead wrong."
During the investigation, the IC heard concluded that Texts A and B were the same conversation, and not separate conversations as previously suggested. Upon reading Parrish’s texts, Coun. McFadden assumed she must have found out about Berkeley-Brown's promotion as deputy chief, and therefore was attempting to influence the selection process.
Neither councillor was able to provide the screen shots of any of the text messages which were sent immediately before or after the text messages were reviewed, and the service provider has advised that they do not retain the content of text messages. But the IC also said they were satisfied that no response or further exchange could mitigate the statements in the texts provided.
As a result of these findings, the IC concluded that Parrish violated the Ontario Human Rights Code and Peel Region's code of conduct, amongst other conclusions:The recommended remedy for Parrish's actions from the Commissioner was to dock her five days pay, as well as have a 'qualified individual' conduct sensitivity training, which at minimum includes training on sex and race-based biases.
Coun. Parrish responded with a sworn affidavit, a report from her own lawyers and a letter she wrote to Peel Regional Council.
"The Integrity Commissioner's report levies serious allegations, relies heavily on assumptions, distorts facts and omits key details while exaggerating the significance of others," Parrish said in her letter. "I was not aware of any police promotion process, much less any specific promotions when I sent the texts in question."
Indeed, the decision regarding the promotion of the two deputy chiefs was made in closed session on February 9 (officially announced February 23), and the community meeting took place on February 15. "How could I influence a process that had already been completed? In fact, the final report does not conclude that I was aware of the process," Parrish continued.
She also said the meeting was attended by around 100 people, and not 40 as suggested in the IC's report.
Regarding her opinion of Berkeley-Brown, Parrish said the officer "was there as a representative of the Peel Police and was unable to satisfactorily explain the rationale behind the decision to my constituents or, as importantly the agreed plan to maintain a police presence (a sub-office) at Westwood Square," alluding to Berkeley-Brown's focus on the $500,000 in savings from the station's closure.
Parrish does admit in her private conservations with McFadden the she used language "unbecoming of a councillor," but disputed that she had disparagued the character of the officer, which she contends would have been made clear if the full context of the text exchanges were included in the Integrity Commissioner's findings.
Coun. Parrish concluded her letter with an apology to Berkeley-Brown:
"I think it is equally wrong to judge a person's intent from one half of a text message conversation. The leaps to logic, rushes to judgement, and convenient omissions in this report lead to levying serious allegations without substance."
Regional Council is expected to meet on July 12 to discuss the report and determine whether to follow through with the recommendations on docking Parrish's pay and the subsequent need for sensitivity training.
The entire report from Principles Integrity, as well as Coun. Parrish's letter to Regional Council, the affidavit, and a report from her legal representative Borden Ladner Gervais can be read here, starting at page 240.
Parrish's comments did not go unnoticed on social media. Numerous comments condemning her statements came, including this stinging rebuke from Jam Gamble, a former Rogers TV personality:
This is not the first time that Parrish has gotten into trouble. Who could forget her infamous comments about the United States during the Iraq invasion of 2003, when she said on camera "Damn Americans, I hate those bastards." Parrish was a federal MP at the time, but that comment probably drew her more fans to her than detractors.
It doesn’t seem like the councillor exercised influence over Berkeley-Brown's appointment as deputy chief with those comments, since it was established that that occurred prior to the community meeting in which Parrish drew her conclusions about the officer. Parrish is not a member of the Police Board, and she raised her concerns to McFadden (the Board Chair) which was the proper thing to do.
However, with so much emphasis being placed on discrimination, privilege and fairness (which are crucially important discussions, to be sure), it’s fair to say she was inappropriate in her critique of the officer by bringing up race and gender. In her own text, Parrish had already made her point by saying the officer didn’t seem qualified in addressing her residents’ concerns. Adding that she was black and female (which she is) was an unnecessary add-on.
We live in 2018, and there’s no tolerance for statements that are racially insensitive, in speech or in writing.
Do you think Councillor Parrish should be reprimanded as the Integrity Commissioner suggests for making such remarks?
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