By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After being docked three months’ pay by Chatham-Kent council two months ago, Coun. Rhonda Jubenville is taking the matter to court.
Her lawyer has filed an application for a judicial review regarding a probe by Chatham-Kent’s integrity commissioner (IC) into the North Kent councillor’s conduct and subsequent sanctions taken by council.
The 24-page document, prepared by Jubenville’s counsel, Toronto lawyer Michael Alexander, is expected to be served to the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and IC Mary Ellen Bench in the near future, but this had not occurred as of press time.
The application was filed in London.
According to Alexander, the application takes issue with the way Bench concluded that Jubenville had breached council’s code of conduct, stating all of the facts around the case were not made available to council when they rendered the decision to dock Jubenville’s pay for a three-month period. The sanction, which passed Aug. 14 in a 13-3 vote, was the toughest penalty available to them.
Alexander said the decision by Bench to protect the identities of those who filed complaints with the IC – while omitting all the background facts relating to the investigation – influenced council’s decision to apply sanctions against the Ward 4 councillor.
Bench’s decision to not fully disclose all the facts of the investigation prevented council from making an objective decision in Jubenville’s case, Alexander told The Voice.
“This is contrary to the most basic principles of law,” Alexander stated, adding that it boils down to one individual ruling the code of conduct was violated.
“Essentially, it’s one person saying ‘take my word for it, yes there is a problem,’” Alexander explained. “This could ultimately be a political attack and an attempt to shut down her (Jubenville’s) right to freedom of expression.”
Under administrative law, there cannot be bias, Alexander added, noting he believes the facts in the IC case regarding Jubenville are insufficient.
Plus, he stressed, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms supersedes the municipal code of conduct, Alexander explained.
“I think that a court will overrule the decision of the integrity commissioner and council,” he said, noting the issue is province wide, and a similar case involving a municipal councillor is before the courts in Pickering.
The integrity commissioner’s initial investigation into Jubenville’s actions began in April 2023 following social media posts made by the councillor after an unsuccessful motion to fly only government flags on municipally owned properties. Jubenville’s request came after a decision by Chatham-Kent to not hoist the Life in Motion flag at the Civic Centre. Life in Motion is the educational arm of the pro-life group Right to Life Kent.
In May, another flag flap took place, this time at Blenheim District High School. The school was flying the Pride flag on the same pole as Canada’s Maple Leaf. On her Facebook page, Jubenville urged those who disagreed with flying the Pride flag to contact the school to let them know they were against it.
It was later determined that threats were made against school officials about the Pride flag, and one man was cautioned by Chatham-Kent police.
In her 47-page report to council, Bench determined Jubenville to have breached two sections of the code based on social media posts and her behaviour, saying the first-term councillor had used her influence to bully and silence her critics.
Bench stated she believed Jubenville “was aware” of her influence as a councillor when posting on social media.
When speaking with The Voice, Jubenville said she is hoping a judicial review into her case will determine the integrity commissioner’s report to be false.
“I’m also hoping it will point out flaws in the integrity commission process,” Jubenville said. “If it (the judicial review) is found in our favour, it’s hoped this will not happen to any other councillor.”
There are other matters of concern, she said, claiming some members of council have made “defamatory” comments about her. She has filed a complaint about this with Bench but according to Alexander, the integrity commissioner has declined to investigate.
Jubenville will have 30 days to submit her legal brief and evidence to the court after the notice of judicial review is served on Bench and council. A court hearing will subsequently be scheduled in London to be heard in Divisional Court. which is part of the Superior Court of Ontario.
A judicial review is overseen by a three-judge panel.