Integrity Commissioner recommends North Kent councillor receive three-month salary suspension
By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Integrity Commissioner for Chatham-Kent is recommending that North-Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville’s pay be docked for 90 days.
According to a 47-page report prepared by Mary Ellen Bench, the sanction relates to social media posts made by Jubenville’s, plus her behaviour. The commissioner said both at times are in violation of two sections of C-K Council’s Code of Conduct.
The councillor does not agree with the commissioner’s findings.
“I absolutely disagree with the report. It infringes on my Charter Rights and is filled with half-truths, untruths and subjective opinions,” Jubenville, who has retained counsel, said in an e-mail.
In the report, Bench explained she had received “many complaints” about Jubenville’s actions in the period from April to June 2023.
The document indicates the chain of events leading to the inquiry began with C-K council denying Life in Motion – the educational arm of Right to Life Kent – the opportunity to fly its flag at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre.
Subsequently, at the April 24 council meeting, Jubenville brought forward a motion that would allow only three government flags to be flown at municipal sites – the Canadian flag, the Ontario flag and the C-K’s municipal flag.
However, council, in a 12-to-5 vote, defeated the motion.
Bench goes on to say she received an additional complaint May 2 in conjunction with comments made by Jubenville on social media relating to flying the Pride flag and the Canadian flag at Blenheim District High School. On her Facebook page, Jubenville stated it wasn’t an “accepted practice,” and advised those who felt “impassioned about this to please, respectfully” let high school officials know.
Days later, a man was cautioned by Chatham-Kent police after threats were made against the school about taking down the Pride flag.
In the report’s conclusion, Bench states that Jubenville breached the code by “engaging in behaviour that unduly used her influence as a public official and did so to be intimidating and use bully tactics to silence her critics.”
Bench noted that while not all of Jubenville’s posts violated the conduct code, some were concerning.
“The nature of certain complaints and the response of the councillor however, require me to complete a formal investigation and report to council,” said Bench in the report.
The report says the complainants – the commissioner is keeping their identities anonymous – cover a number of objections to Jubenville’s words, ranging from singling out other councillors, to targeting the 2SLGTBQ community, to creating a toxic work environment within council.
Bench also points out that somewhere along the way, media reports made the flag issue synonymous with the Pride flag, indicating Jubenville is opposed to the 2SLGTBQ community.
However, Jubenville has stated publicly she’s is not against anyone in the gay community and “loves” people within it.
In the report, Bench said she believes Jubenville “was aware of the power she wields through her use of social media and the influence she has on her supporters,” citing comments she made to the media as examples that demonstrates this, especially when Coun. Jubenville “exercises her voice to call others to action.”
Bench further stated Jubenville “used the influence of her office to promote causes that were important to her and in doing so failed to uphold the high standard of ethical behaviour” council members are required to adhere to under the current rules.
The code states that no member of council shall use the influence of her or his office for any purpose other than for the exercise of her or his official duties.
Bench said that she had reached out to Jubenville in April following the Life in Motion flag flap in an attempt to resolve the matter. The commissioner said the councillor was open to discussion and removed some of the posts in question, but refused to remove others.
Jubenville also made posts decrying a workshop for Lambton Kent District School Board teachers to learn how to facilitate a Drag Queen story time, tying such events to the “normalization of pedophilia,” the report said.
To that end, Jubenville received a number of online messages that wished her dead but did not threaten specific acts of violence against her. She has also received a great deal of support from online followers.
Some of those supporters even sent messages to Bench, despite the fact the probe was not made public and only Jubenville knew. The commissioner also received six phone calls.
One of the messages sent to Bench said the commissioner’s “harassment of Coun. Jubenville” was “disgusting and contemptible.”
Another stated that the “real violence will be incited if this investigation results in her being disciplined or shut down by this finding.”
In her conclusion, Bench has not prohibited Jubenville from using social media in the future, but she said the first-term councillor should use her social media presence “responsibly” to uphold the values laid out in the code of conduct rules.
Jubenville has repeatedly told media outlets that flag flying is a matter of fairness and that municipal sites should raise all special interest flags or none at all.
A response from Toronto lawyer Michael Alexander, who is acting as counsel for Jubenville on the matter, was also included in the report.
Alexander’s letter states that Jubenville’s comments are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and censuring her is a “violation of the Charter and a betrayal of our democratic way of life, and it would enable the true enemies of freedom – the complainants and their supporters – to take control of public discourse.”
According to Alexander, the IC report’s recommendations will “violate Ms. Jubenville’s right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Currently, Chatham-Kent has no official flag flying policy and whatever flag flies is up to the discretion of the mayor’s office. However, a policy is in the works. A motion made by Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew has asked administration to explore the issue and return a report to council this fall.
The matter of Jubenville’s pay suspension is expected to come before council at the Aug. 14 meeting as the first order of business. Council as a whole will vote on the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendations.
Jubenville disagreed with the proposed disciplinary action.
“The three month suspension of pay is absolutely not fair, nor justified,” she said. “If I actually committed the breaches of conduct that I am accused of, I would humbly concede. That is not the case.”
The Commissioner states it is “council’s role to set the policy, direction and vision for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, and when a member of council does not agree with that direction, that member is expected to accept it.”