Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Not quite zero tolerance: The shove

You can’t walk into a Hamilton facility without seeing those big “Zero Tolerance for Violence” signs. But talk, words and signs are cheap. We now know that a certain amount of violence is tolerated by the City of Hamilton. Whether you favour Ward 12 councillor Lloyd Ferguson and are in the “cut the guy a break” corner, or whether you think independent journalist, Joey Coleman, deserves justice for being shoved, we can unite knowing there’s some tolerating going on.

Around this time last year, Coun. Ferguson shoved Coleman about a metre’s length because he felt Coleman was infringing on his private conversation. It took a year for the city’s integrity commissioner, Earl Basse to submit a report on the incident. He decided that Ferguson violated the code of conduct but he didn’t recommend any punitive steps. "Zero” punitive measures, you might say. The public then pressured council to seek justice and good on them.

The shove apologists have claimed the two forgave each other and that settled the matter. And it’s true that Ferguson apologized to Coleman and he accepted it; however, forgiveness shouldn’t be equated with justice. Our society runs smoother when people have consequences to their actions and receive punishments, whether big or small, those that fit the crime. It’s a deterrent and satisfies our innate sense of fairness. It’s much easier to make peace when we feel treated fairly. The fact is, shoving is deliberate and those who are violent in any way weigh it against the power and rank of their victims.

Later, after public pressure, Ferguson self-sanctioned himself, promising to donate $1,000 to an Ancaster charity and stepping down from the hiring committee for the new integrity commissioner. But who can feel gratified with the offender choosing his punishment?

The shove is now being investigated by the OPP. It’s an unfortunate step and some might see this as another example of our leanings towards a more litigious, hypersensitive culture, but the problem is the alternative: going through the workplace with its inept and bias decisions. There’s no taking the politics out of the workplace and especially out of council chambers. The bottom line is that we can’t count on our employers to do the right thing.

Workplaces craft policies that sound great but flop in practise. Canadian sites that discourage workplace violence and bullying have loads of preventative measures but little information for what to do when it occurs. Integrity commissioners are given a job title so lofty they’re doomed to fail, as ours did. Without interviewing Coleman and witnesses the process nosedived.

Those who think it’s not a big deal should consider this: entry level employees would have been dismissed immediately. The city has condoned unwanted touching, whether it is violent or lecherous. Those who are experiencing harassment right now will hesitate to come forward. Those who practice self-restraint and respect policies and flashy signs, as Coleman did, are treated as trouble makers.

I’m not sure what an equitable punishment should be, but Ferguson shouldn’t decide it. I trust the OPP will work it out. My support is with Coleman, as it would be if Ferguson were shoved. But it’s time for a math lesson at city council. Zero tolerance means nil, nada, zip, zilch. It means no tolerance whatsoever for shoving. This is a code of conduct failure. So much for all that fancy signage.

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