As polarization grows, municipalities weigh citizens’ code of conduct in response to disrespect and threats towards elected officials.
As the levels of polarisation and divisiveness in western societies intensify, the impact is being felt locally. Specifically, representatives of municipal and regional governments are contending with an uptick in aggressive, abusive behaviour when interacting with the public. In response, Wayne Redekop, who currently serves as the Mayor of Fort Erie, as well as the Niagara Regional Councillor for the Town, has brought forward a resolution that will consider the enactment of a Citizen’s Code of Conduct.
“We were in a corporate services meeting, and the issue came up about how it’s been observed that people are being disrespectful toward each other in the community,” Redekop shared in a recent interview with The Niagara Independent. “We’re seeing a real rise in the making of threats, particularly online threats, as well as vandalism against local officials,” he explained. “Elected representatives are obligated to listen to the concerns of citizens, as they should be… but there is no need for people to be threatened in the process. “It is completely unacceptable.”
Redekop sees the rise of social media and the circulating of misinformation as a key contributing factor to the rise in derogatory conduct. “I don’t have the time or the inclination to be active on social media,” he said. “However, there are many people who may choose to use it,” he continued. “And they seem to utilise the anonymity of these channels to their advantage.”
“Moreover, it is startling to see the amount of misinformation that is out there, and even more startling what people appear willing to believe… including those who should know better.”
Looking ahead to the future, Redekop believes that the preservation of civil conduct is essential to the health of any democracy. “You and I can disagree on any range of issues, but we have to do it respectfully,” he said. “The day you remove civility from society you no longer have a civilization.”
Jim Bradley, who currently serves as the Chair of Niagara Regional Council, also had some key thoughts to share. “We encourage residents of Niagara to communicate with us,” Bradley shared in a recent sit-down with The Niagara Independent. “The public has a right to express their views on various issues… this is not a problem at all,” he added. “There is a concern, however, because there have been some incidents of bullying, with the threat of violence” “This, of course, is a serious matter.”
Bradley says that in addition to mitigating threatening behaviour toward elected officials, it is also imperative to ensure that the chambers of council themselves remain a safe place for a debate and discussion to take place. “People have been harassed coming into meetings,” he said. “People of good will are telling us that they don’t want this… it is important to residents that their views are able to be shared and considered, but in a respectful manner.”
When asked about potential next steps regarding a Code of Conduct, Bradley said that it is still very early in the process. “We’re currently at the preliminary deliberation stage,” he said. “Nobody has made up their mind on this, one way or another,” he continued. “If we were to decide to move forward on the initiative, we will do so in such a way that also addresses any understandable apprehension on the part of residents.” “People should feel reassured that they will continue to have access to their elected representatives, and can dialogue with them about the various issues that are impacting their families and communities.”
Nick Redekop completed his Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Labour Studies at Brock University. He has previously served in municipal and federal politics. In his free time, Nick enjoys following sports, taking part in outdoor activities, and reading biographies. Nick resides in Niagara Falls