Municipal administration of Sainte-Pétronille | “Questionable” behavior, but not illegal, concludes the CMQ

(Quebec) An investigation report from the Quebec Municipal Commission (CMQ) concludes that Sainte-Pétronille may have engaged in “questionable” behavior by putting a tenth of its population on notice or even by threatening to withdraw funding from the local newspaper , but did not commit any “wrongful” act.

The 13-page report released Friday was produced after months of investigation. It arises from complaints made following a conflict between the municipal administration and citizens, which escalated. The small, idyllic municipality located on the island of Orléans even put 97 of its citizens on notice, and threatened the local newspaper Around the island.

But the Department of Municipal Integrity Investigations and Prosecutions concluded that although “questionable”, nothing in the municipality’s actions contravened the Act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoing regarding public bodies (LFDAROP).

The investigation concludes, as reported The Press in January, that a trivial matter of reimbursement of alcohol to volunteers had snowballed. The municipality’s decision to no longer “reimburse alcohol expenses to volunteers has generated significant discontent as well as mobilization which in no way justifies a certain number of excesses which cannot be tolerated by a municipality” .

The CMQ report is in fact very critical of the citizen reaction. Library volunteers adopted a “sometimes bellicose tone” in their emails. They went to war against the general director, learned that she had been sent back to the municipality of Val-des-Lacs, then some began a citizen investigation to find out the reasons.

“A former member of the council (of Val-des-Lacs) will subsequently peddle all kinds of allegations about the general director, some of which refer to serious conduct. However, according to the investigation, most of the information thus reported comes from hearsay and has not been validly verified by this former member of the council,” indicates the investigation report.

“From that moment on, all kinds of allusions, presumptions and speculations about the general director began to circulate in the small community that are not worth repeating. »

Citizens obtained the director’s dismissal letter through a request for access to information from Val-des-Lacs. They attach it to a petition. This, explains the CMQ, is the reason which pushed Sainte-Pétronille to send a formal notice last December to the 97 signatories.

“Even if the number of formal notices may seem excessive, the investigation tends to demonstrate that the Municipality had serious reasons to believe that these people held confidential and potentially damaging information relating to the general director. »

Threats against the newspaper

The municipal prosecutors, from the Therrien Couture Joli-Cœur law firm, even threatened to cut off the newspaper’s supplies Around the islandwho was preparing to publish a text on the filing of the petition.

“It is unacceptable that the newspaper uses public funds provided to it by local municipalities to publish articles with the aim of denigrating municipal employees and affecting the honor and integrity of municipal council members,” write the municipality’s lawyers in the formal notice.

This tactic will be sharply criticized by the Federation of Journalists of Quebec (FPJQ), which sees it as a “vulgar attempt at intimidation” with a “North Korean” feel.

This Sainte-Pétronille maneuver is the most criticized by the CMQ. “Although this position of the Municipality may be questionable, and we judge that it was venturing onto slippery ground by moving forward with such claims, this does not correspond to a reprehensible act within the meaning of the LFDAROP », concludes the CMQ. In short: there is nothing illegal here.

The investigation report, however, recommends that Sainte-Pétronille adopt “a media relations policy which clearly excludes any link between media coverage and the financing or purchase of advertising”.

The CMQ also recommends that the municipality be accompanied by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to prepare the municipal council meetings, which degenerated in the wake of this whole affair.

Some citizens went “so far as to violently and threateningly bang on the windows of the council chamber to the point of causing fear that they would shatter.”

The CMQ report anchors this affair in the broader context of the intimidation of elected officials. Because if the citizens of Sainte-Pétronille have the right in a democracy to make their disagreement known, “this does not justify some of the excesses demonstrated”.

“Elected officials are taken to task, and helpless in the face of the excesses and attacks they face,” the report indicates.

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