Staff with the City of Fernie have issued a statement regarding online harassment of municipal employees, council members and the mayor.
At the start of November, city officials decided to limit comments on the official Fernie Facebook page in an attempt to limit inappropriate behaviour.
“The city has a legal obligation to ensure a safe and healthy work environment, not only for our employees but for council as well. One that is free of bullying and harassment,” said city staff. “Unfortunately, toxic posts on social media, while offensive online, sometimes spill over into the real world creating very real fears of physical harm.”
Officials point to a small group of people, and one person in particular for repeatedly engaging in inappropriate behaviour towards staff and Council.
According to city staff, RCMP was involved last year and one man was issued a nine-month recognizance order by a judge in October 2020. Officials said he has begun targeting Fernie staff once again, now that the term of the recognizance has expired.
“It’s become all too regular for the mayor, council, and staff, myself included, to discover our reputations being dragged through the mud on social media,” said CAO Michael Boronowski.
“This bullying online spills over into the real world too. It’s unacceptable that we’ve had to speak to our loved ones, our children, about what car to watch out for, or when not to go outside. It’s unacceptable that we have been followed from workplace to workplace, recorded while we work, or in our yards and homes, and followed as private citizens as we try to go about our lives in the community.”
City staff said another online platform is available for residents to engage with the municipality.
“Our goal is to make sure people feel safe engaging us in meaningful ways, so shifting people away from Facebook activism towards our Let’s Talk Fernie platform is an important step,” said Mayor Ange Qualizza.
“Being in public office and serving your community is an absolute privilege, and I ask that you help us keep our local online behaviour safe so people will continue to want to serve our community as your elected council. I also want to reaffirm my support for our continued commitment to a safe working environment for both staff and council.”
Officials feel that it is acceptable for residents to criticize the actions of elected officials, but bullying, harassing and other toxic behaviour, whether online or in the real world, is not acceptable.
“That people are made to feel unsafe at work, at home or out in our community is not okay – we all have a responsibility to do all that we can to prevent that from happening,” said city officials. “We are asking every member of our community to join us in turning our backs on online bullying and harassment.”
More: Let’s Talk Fernie