Burlington Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns has issued a scathing media release criticizing a local news publisher. The full text of the release can be read here.
The release follows an incident at a campaign event on October 6th where police were called in reaction to the presence of Pepper Parr, editor, publisher and primary author of the Burlington Gazette website (burlingtongazette.ca), attending a campaign held by Kearns at the Freeman Station.
Kearns states that Parr was unwelcome at her event as a result of his prior “disgusting use of language designed to incite hurt and embarrassment”. At the event, she claims he “shoved his phone in my face in front of my children, family, friends and supporters telling me to ‘call the cop’s’ …. Which we did.”
Kearns further states that Parr was unwelcome after “he published a comment about me by a competitor that I should have my mouth duct-taped. He once again used this language directly in a more recent article – first hand. This is disgusting language and unacceptable on every accord.”
That article, published on Friday three days before Monday’s municipal election, included extensive criticism of Kearns’ role since she was elected in 2018. It included the comment “Maybe some growing up and a little less of the histrionics are in order. Some duct tape on the mouth would be a good start.”
The Gazette has published Parr’s own account of the event, and does not dispute that he refused to leave the event when requested.
The Burlington Gazette is a member of the National Newsmedia Council and has received federal funding to support a reporter under the Local Journalism Initiative. While journalists enjoy some legal privileges with regard to reporting and commenting on news, journalists have no inherent right to attend or observe privately organized events, whether held by private citizens or public figures.
Parr further acknowledges that he arranged to meet Keith Demoe, Kearns’ rival for the Ward 2 council seat, in the parking lot of the Kearns event and carried out the interview in view of the Kearns campaign supporters. Kearns claims Demoe “used only toxic misinformation and direct insult as the basis of his campaign. My family, children and supporters did not ask to be near this individual ever”.
Earlier in the campaign, The Gazette had published articles relating to a release of confidential information by Kearns concerning the budget the city has set to pay for the legal representation it will use in an Ontario Land Tribunal hearing. The redevelopment proposals for 2020 Lakeshore Road, site of the current Waterfront Hotel, were rejected by council earlier this year. The application by the developer includes proposals for several large new towers on Burlington’s waterfront.
Kearns released the legal budget information ‘inadvertently’, according to the city, which stated Kearns offered an apology and informed the Integrity Commissioner of the breach. The information contained in the breach—namely the $500,000 set as the city’s budget—would likely not have become widely known but for Kearns’ rival for the Ward 2 seat, Keith Demoe, informing the Gazette of the information he had received while present at a virtual meeting as a guest of the Burlington Downtown BIA, and his subsequent request to delegate to a council meeting in order to state his opinion about the breach. The BIA invites Ward 2 candidates to attend one of its meetings in every election year. It was at that meeting that Kearns released the legal budget information to BIA members.
Burlington City Hall and council has received criticism in recent months in the media (including from The 905er) for being too secretive and using closed sessions to restrict access to more information than strictly required by terms of the Municipal Act. The $500,000 figure for legal costs, agreed in closed session, is in line with the high costs of defending municipal decisions at the Ontario Land Tribunal, and there is no reason to believe the release will prejudice the city’s defence of their decision.
The argument between Kearns and Parr is the latest in a long line of serious allegations made by Burlington City Hall or Burlington councillors since the Burlington Gazette was founded in 2010.
Parr has been banned from Burlington City Hall property and City sponsored events since 2016, following a “workplace investigation” under the framework of Burlington’s Respect in the Workplace Policy and the Occupational Health and Safety Act into a “series of incidents involving women working at City Hall”.
The investigation found that Parr had engaged in “sexual and gender based harassment in the workplace”. As a result, the then City Manager took action to limit Parr’s access to City Property and interactions with staff. Parr was banned from attending council or standing committee meetings, and told to make an appointment with the City Manager or Director of Human Resources before attending City Hall or its Sims Square offices for any reason.
Parr’s access to city public events such as public meetings and consultations was not restricted, but he was banned from interacting directly with staff or councillors, or from taking photographs of staff unless they were willing to be photographed. Parr was warned that any further complaints received by the City would result in a complete ban from all city workplaces.
The restrictions on Parr’s access were originally to be reviewed after a year. That review would have taken place in November 2017. On October 30th 2017, Parr sent an email to then deputy city manager Mary Lou Tanner. In included the following sentence:
I have had developers tell me that you are using the time off to prepare you [sic] witch costume and broom for Tuesday night. Any comment— for attribution?Email from Pepper Parr to Deputy City Manager Mary Lou Tanner, October 30th 2017.
On November 20th, the date the original restrictions were to be reviewed, the City Manager contacted Parr to inform him that as a result of the “offensive and misogynist” email to Tanner, the ban would be continued indefinitely. Parr was still able to contact the City Manager to arrange in-person meetings, attend public city events, and report on publicly broadcast council meetings, subject to the restrictions noted.
Since 2017, Parr’s public comments in the Burlington Gazette have continued to result in accusations of inappropriate or gender-targeted language.
In 2018, former councillor Blair Lancaster stated she felt threatened by Parr in an article, and she cited that threat as part of the reason she chose not to attend a ward debate held ahead of that year’s election. Parr claimed he had no idea where he had threatened Lancaster, but on September 11th that year Parr had used the following words in an article about three incumbent councillors (two of whom were men), accompanied by an image of a guillotine:
Three of those seeking re-election: Sharman, Dennison and Lancaster are being dragged into the debates kicking and screaming.
Same thing happened in the French Revolution when the guillotine was put into almost daily use.Extract from Burlington Gazette article, September 5th 2018
On June 3rd 2021, Parr published an article under a headline that was subsequently revised. In changing the headline, Parr made the following statement:
In an earlier version of this story there was a headline that was inappropriate. It was revised. The production happens to be about sex being used as a weapon. The three members of council are part of the production. Apologies to anyone who was offended.Note added to Burlington Gazette article, June 3rd 2021
The headline as it appears today is “Meed Ward, Kearns and Nisan featured in production that uses sex as a weapon of humiliation in theatrical production at the Performing Arts Centre”. (Emphasis added.)
The Gazette is published using the popular WordPress blogging software. WordPress posts are given automatically generated URLs based on the post title. If the title is changed, the original URL remains, providing evidence of the author’s original intent. The original headline replaced by Parr was “Two council members Meed Ward and Kearns will use sex as a weapon of humiliation in theatrical production at the performing arts centre”. (Emphasis added.)
This headline related to a live streamed reading of Dangerous Liaisons put on by Burlington Performing Arts Centre on June 11th and 12th 2021 as part of their COVID-19 remote programming. Three members of council, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, Councillor Rory Nisan and Councillor Lisa Kearns, took part in an event to which healthcare workers were given complimentary tickets.
Parr denies the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by the City of Burlington, claims a lack of due process and has stated “the city really just wanted to restrict my access to information that any journalist is entitled to. The role of a journalist is to ask questions.” His five part account giving his side of the ban from Burlington City Hall is on The Burlington Gazette website. He has been involved in a legal action against the City of Burlington and the members of council who held office before 2018 to regain his access to city hall for several years.