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City councillor cleared in conduct complaint

‘I will continue to ask tough questions,’
Michael Janz pledges

Michael Janz talks to news media outside City Hall. A complaint about his conduct has been dismissed. (Dustin Scott)

If you dare question the police, if you dare question our budget, if you
dare question our conduct,
you could be facing sanctions. If you
question us, we’ll come for your job.
That’s what it feels like.
– Councillor Michael Janz at a Feb. 28 news conference 

By Dustin Scott

INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER Jamie Pytel has dismissed a code of conduct complaint against city councillor Michael Janz, which was brought forward by the president of the Edmonton Police Association, Staff Sgt. Michael Elliott.

Elliott filed the complaint Jan. 10., alleging that social media posts by Janz violated the “Council Code of Conduct,” Bylaw 18483. The complaint also alleges that Janz:

¤ “Has made decisions as a Councillor that are biased, not impartial, not fairly considering all relevant facts, opinions, and perspectives;

¤ “Has made social media posts that are offensive and disrespectful of and to EPS members who are City employees;

¤ “Made misleading posts about members of the EPS.”

Janz responded that he believes the complaint was brought forth in bad faith.

“Not only do I find it unusual that there are resources being put towards monitoring an elected official’s social media,” Janz said at a Feb. 28 news conference. “It is of great concern that our municipal police union sought a reprimand.

“I feel this was a blatant attempt at intimidation intended to silence an elected official in their first three months in office. I want Edmontonians to know it didn’t work, and I will continue to ask tough questions about their expenditures, misconduct, and commitment to anti-racism – just as I was elected to do.”

In his complaint, Elliot provided 24 instances where Janz tweeted, retweeted or liked a post that Elliot felt broke “the code.”

One of Elliott’s complaints accused Janz of “publicly ‘liking’” social media posts from “known critics of the EPS who are known for misrepresenting facts about the EPS and its members,” such as criminal defence attorney Tom Engel and activist Bashir Mohamed, who now lives in Victoria.

Edmonton Police Association president Michael Elliott brought the complaint against Janz. (Courtesy, Edmonton Journal)

Engel responded to the complaint with a tweet reminding the EPA of the decision in the Engel v Edmonton Police Association, 2017 ABQB 495 case, in which he was awarded $50,000 for defamation

Mohamed also complained about being characterized as a “known critic” in his Twitter thread.

Another one of the ‘liked’ tweets was from fellow councillor Aaron Paquette, though no complaint was made about Paquette’s social media activity.

“It poses a chill on us,” Janz said at the news conference. “This complaint raises major concerns about the conduct of the police association. If they are willing to try and intimidate elected officials, what do they do to ordinary citizens? This should be of serious concern to all elected officials and Edmontonians.”

In a written decision, Pytel dismissed each complaint.

“On balance, they fall within the realm of expressing an opinion on a topic of public interest,” she wrote. “I am of the view that it is not the role of the Integrity Commissioner to censor or interfere with political debate and commentary.

“I find that it is fair game for Council Members to let the public know their views on a matter that is coming before Council. This happens all the time and is part of transparent government,

“That does not mean they are not fulfilling their duties as a Councillor. In fact, in this instance, it is expected that Council will weigh in on issues of accountability and efficiencies in policing, which the Police Act confirms is within their mandate.”

However, Pytel found that the complaint was not made in bad faith.

‘There were no winners,
hopefully just some clarity’

She added that she hoped to encourage steps that could be taken to prevent future complaints or inquiries such as this.

“The outcomes are not to be viewed as wins or victories,” she wrote. “Both the Complainants and the Respondent appear passionate in their views on these matters which is entirely understandable, but there were no winners, hopefully just some clarity.”

Janz and Elliott have been engaged in a Twitter war since December, with Janz publicly accusing Elliott of using his Twitter account for political posturing to get back the $11 million re-allocated from the police budget to social services.

Janz said he has emailed Elliott for an “apology and a correction” and he says he is considering options for a “legal, political or legislative” response.

In a Jan. 20 article by CTV News Edmonton, Police Chief Dale McFee defended social media posts made by himself and members of the Edmonton Police Service, including a retweet of a video made by a person in Oregon who claimed progressive political policies were contributing to rising crime.

“It’s not an opinion; it’s a retweet just for people to educate themselves,” he said of the video.

The EPA has come under fire in recent years for flying the thin-blue-line flag outside its headquarters, which many feel is divisive and polarizing.

Also, last August, a court awarded franco-Albertan Mario Dube $22,250 in a civil suit against EPA vice-president Troy Forester and another officer. In her decision, Justice Jane Fagnan described the officers’ behaviour as “high-handed, malicious, arbitrary and highly reprehensible.”

Edmonton’s city council does not have a policy regarding social media, and Michael Janz has launched a website letting citizens know how they can hold the police accountable.

“We need to build an Edmonton police service that we can all be proud of,” Janz told the Edmonton Journal. “That means being critical at times when it’s merited.”

Elliott was unavailable to comment, and the EPA turned down interview requests.

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