Barrie BIA Chair resigns after use of racial slur, derogatory comments about homelessness
BARRIE, ONT. -- Barrie's downtown BIA chair resigned Monday hours before a council vote to remove him over offensive comments about people facing mental health and addiction issues and his use of a racial slur.
Rob Hamilton's resignation came hours before Barrie councillors were due to vote on a recommendation by the city's integrity commissioner to remove him from his post.
The integrity commissioner launched an investigation last month after a formal complaint about comments by the former mayor during a BIA meeting in September.
In a recording of that meeting, Hamilton objects to a comment that everyone downtown is a "worthy citizen of Barrie".
"That's not true. They're not a productive, contributing citizen," Hamilton interjected.
"The perception of our downtown is not a comfortable place…people are running around like a bunch of mau maus," Hamilton said.
In her report, integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig writes that mau-mau is a derogatory term used towards Black people dating back to a Kenyan rebellion against white colonialists.
"[Hamilton] ought to have reasonably known that the remarks he made at the BIA meeting with reference to residents of the city of Barrie were inappropriate, offensive, insulting or derogatory."
Hamilton told Craig he was not aware of the term's origins and did not intend to be derogatory, though she notes that's how they were received. Hamilton submitted an apology to Craig.
"Every human being, regardless of where they live or their personal circumstances, are worthy of respect and deserve to have access to the support they need, including those in our downtown core with addiction issues," Hamilton wrote.
Craig found that the apology does not absolve Hamilton of falling short of his ethical obligations under the City of Barrie Code of Conduct
Queen's University professor Bruce Berman has studied the Mau-Mau group for decades and says many people use the term without knowledge of its origins.
"It is a slur," said Berman told CTV News on Sunday. "It's an application of the British characterization of the mau-mau movement in Kenya from the 1950s, and it was described as savage, primitive violence directed at killing all white people."
The BIA's executive director Kelly McKenna offered the following statement Monday afternoon:
"I would like to thank all BIA Board Members from past, current and future Boards, who are small business owners and who volunteer their time and passion to help steer the vision of our downtown as a safe, enjoyable and prosperous part of the City of Barrie."
Advocacy group Supervised Consumption Saves Lives is calling for some form of regular mental illness awareness education.
Alyssa Wright, with the group doesn't feel like a one-time class is sufficient.
"That never changes any of the deep-seated addiction views that they developed over several years or a lifetime," Wright says. "What will make substantive changes is if there's ongoing training."
with files from Kraig Krause