Integrity commissioner dismisses police association's complaint against councillor

· The Pulse

Integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel has dismissed a complaint filed by the president of the Edmonton Police Association against Coun. Michael Janz alleging that the councillor violated the council code of conduct.

S/Sgt. Michael Elliott made the complaint on Jan. 10, alleging that since he was elected to council, Janz had made a series of social media posts that violated the code. He also alleged that Janz had made decisions as a councillor that were biased, had made posts that were offensive and disrespectful of and to Edmonton Police Service members, and made misleading posts about police service members. Elliott said in his letter to Pytel that he requested a meeting with Janz prior to filing the complaint but received no response.

Elliott cited 24 tweets or interactions on Twitter made by Janz. Pytel assessed each one, and in a ruling obtained by Taproot, ruled that Janz did not breach the code with any of them.

"On balance, they fall within the realm of expressing an opinion on a topic of public interest," Pytel 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."

Though many of the tweets cited by Elliott were likes or retweets of posts made by others, some were posted by Janz himself. In a tweet posted on Dec. 17, 2021, Janz cited comments from Police Chief Dale McFee following council's vote on the 2022 budget and added, "Is fearmongering appropriate for a bureaucrat?" In her assessment, Pytel said "it is debatable that calling someone a 'bureaucrat' is disrespectful conduct lacking in decorum," and said the tweet was "commentary on a matter of public interest relating to policing, including funding and efficiencies."

She also ruled that it was outside her jurisdiction to make findings of bias or lack of impartiality, and she said councillors "should use caution when sharing commentary on social media as this could be deemed an indirect means of violating the code."

Portraits of S/Sgt. Michael Elliott in a police uniform and Coun. Michael Janz in a suit

Integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel has dismissed a complaint filed by S/Sgt. Michael Elliott, left, against Coun. Michael Janz.

"Following the conclusion of an investigation, I encourage restorative steps to be taken to prevent future complaints or investigations," Pytel wrote. "The outcomes are not to be viewed as wins or victories. 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."

In a prepared statement, Janz said he believes the complaint was made in retaliation for raising concerns about police spending and conduct. "I feel this was a blatant attempt at intimidation intended to silence an elected official in their first three months in office."

"I will continue to ask tough questions about their expenditures, misconduct, and commitment to anti-racism – just as I was elected to do," Janz said.

Taproot reached out to Elliott and the EPA for comment. Elliott indicated in an out-of-office reply that he would not be available. Sgt. Troy Forester, vice-president of the police association, said in an email that this was a matter for Elliott to respond to.

War of words on Twitter

Janz recently accused Elliott of using social media for political posturing. In an interview with MacEwan journalism student Dustin Scott published in The City Centre Magpie earlier this month, Janz suggested Elliott started frequently tweeting about violence and drug use on the LRT after council decided to redirect $10.9 million of the proposed increase in the police budget for 2022 to social services.

"He is going out of his way to make it look unsafe. They want their $11 million added back to the budget," Janz said in the article. "If you look at when the budget announcement was made and when Elliott started to tweet about the LRT, the motivation is pretty obvious."

At council's meeting on Feb. 24, during a discussion about a proposal for $3.9 million in funding to expand the Community Outreach Transit Team with the Edmonton Police Service as a partner, Janz once again cited tweets from Elliott as "frustrating."

"It feels like we've been subject to a full-court PR campaign about the safety of transit, and now we're being asked to put up for money for it," he said. "It feels really gross."

Janz said he would reluctantly support the proposal. "Had I not been subject to almost daily Twitter posts, Instagram posts ... I think I'd be a lot more receptive to it," he said. City council approved the plan unanimously.

Code of conduct to be reviewed this year

The complaint against Janz was one of nine received so far in 2022, Pytel reported to council in her annual report on Feb. 22.

Pytel said she frequently receives complaints related to social media. The previous council decided unanimously in February 2021 against pursuing a social media policy.

The current council could reconsider that decision. Last week, council voted unanimously to start the process of reconstituting its code of conduct subcommittee and will receive recommended changes to the code of conduct from Pytel later this year.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told CTV News that Pytel's report is evidence that the process of investigation works.

"The code of conduct is an instrument that council members follow to instill appropriate behaviour. It cannot be used as an instrument of intimidation or silencing legitimate criticism," he said in a statement cited by CTV.

Janz said he will be seeking an apology from the police association.

"We need to build an Edmonton police service that we can all be proud of. … That means being critical at times when it's merited," Janz said in Postmedia's story about the report.

Disclosure: Some of the posts Elliott objected to were retweets of posts made by Taproot co-founder and Speaking Municipally co-host Mack Male. One of them was commentary on a CTV story about Chief Dale McFee's budget presentation, and two of them were other accounts' retweets of Male's commentary on what the city's administration knows about police expenditures.