Tuesday, May 28, 2024

St. Mary’s councillor sanctioned for violating code of conduct

Everett Baker apologizes to local business for Facebook comment

  • August 2 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

SHERBROOKE – St. Mary’s Councillor Everett Baker has issued an apology to the owner of a Sherbrooke café for making a comment on Facebook that some felt was homophobic and was found to violate the municipality’s code of conduct last week.

In an official statement following an emergency meeting of council for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s on July 27, Warden Greg Wier reported that Baker’s comment about a recent ‘dinner and drag’ show at Beanie’s Bistro was “deemed harmful” to the reputation of the municipality.

“However,” he added, “in light of Councillor Baker agreeing to write an apology letter to the [affected] business in a form satisfactory to the municipal council, council decides that no further sanctions are needed.”

Council also unanimously passed a resolution stipulating that it “supports any business conducting lawful events — including Beanie’s Bistro dinner and drag event — and does not support discrimination according to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

In his apology, Baker — who represents District 7, Liscomb and area — said that while “there was absolutely no offence intended by that statement... I do realize that putting it on your [Facebook] site would naturally look as though it was meant to be hateful... I’m so sorry I caused any discomfort.”

But council’s decision and Baker’s apology have left Beanie’s proprietor, Tammie Vautour, unsatisfied and worried about the future of her restaurant where, she says, business has suffered. “I’ve lost money over the past two days,” she said on July 28. “There are regulars who should be in my seats but who aren’t [because] they’re avoiding the controversy.”

Meanwhile, local realtor and gay entertainer Jake Chisholm — who, at Vautour’s request, arranged to have his friend Tyler Thompson perform as ‘Miranda Wrights’ at Beanie’s on July 24, and later brought Baker’s Facebook comment to the attention of municipal authorities —told The Journal in a text message that he was “struggling” with how to proceed.

Baker set off the controversy on July 25, when — reacting to Vautour’s Facebook report on Miranda’s sold-out success the night before — he posted: “Sorry, won’t be entering your establishment anymore.”

The comment prompted Sherbrooke’s Saturday community market promoter Gabriela Schupbach, among several others, to fire back. “Everett,” she posted on Facebook, “You are making yourself and your district look really bad! I didn’t think you had this kind of hatred in you and I’m very disappointed. I’m available to talk about it.”

Two days later — in a letter addressed to the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s — Chisholm demanded that Baker quit his seat on council.

“I know a homophobic comment when I see one,” he wrote. “We (Saint Mary’s) are a community, struggling immensely to bring new business, residents and events to our hamlet on the Eastern Shore. With Mr. Baker’s comments, we might as well close up shop and call it a day. He needs to voluntarily resign as a consequence of his actions and reflect on this incident.”

Council spent approximately 50 minutes behind closed doors discussing the matter before emerging with its decisions. According to St. Mary’s solicitor Peter Rogers, who spoke following the in-camera session, the municipality’s legal options with respect to code of conduct violations were limited.

“Although the Department of Municipal Affairs has encouraged municipalities to adopt codes of conduct, they haven’t really provided the tools to sanction council members who are found in violation of those codes,” he said. “Really, the biggest sanction that’s available is simply a public announcement that a finding of a violation has been made.”

Regarding Baker, he said, “If you think about it, Councilor Baker, like any other councillor who’s charged with a code of conduct violation, has been elected to represent [his] district, and it would be disenfranchising to the voters of that district to do something like suspend them. Council doesn’t have those powers. As I understand it, the provincial government is working on legislation to figure out how to come up with sanctions that work and, indeed, to help all municipalities with the process. And, at the moment, we’re having to do [this] with no legislative guidance.”

Rogers added the only alternative available to the municipality would have been to remove Baker from any council committees to which he’s been appointed. Even so, he said, that could also be “disenfranchising the voters of his electoral district.”

According to Vautour, St. Mary’s Chief Financial Officer Marian Fraser delivered Baker’s letter of apology, displaying his signature, personally on July 28. It read, in whole:

“To the owners, staff and customers of Beanie’s Bistro, I, Everett G. Baker wish to sincerely apologize for any and all offence I may have caused by the statement I put on your site. There was absolutely no offence intended by that statement. It was strictly a statement that I would have made to any establishment I did not intend to enter again. Having said that, I do realize that putting it on your site would naturally look as though it was meant to be hateful. I would never condone racism, bigotry or homophobia, so in that light I hope that you could accept my sincerest apology. I’m so sorry I caused any discomfort.”

Baker did not respond to The Journal’s request for further comment by press time. In an email to the Journal on July 29, however, his council colleague Beulah Malloy (District 4, Indian Harbour Lake and Sonora area) said, “I am very supportive of Tammie and her business.”