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Vancouver mayor acted in 'discriminatory manner' towards new mom, integrity commissioner finds

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A report by the City of Vancouver’s integrity commissioner ruled Mayor Ken Sim created a discriminatory work environment when he did not provide a park board commissioner and new mother with “reasonable opportunity” to attend a meeting.

The report stemmed from a member of the public issuing a complaint about a Dec. 5 meeting where independent commissioner Laura Christensen, “was denied the opportunity to attend the meeting virtually, which was discriminatory given that she was on maternity leave.”

On Dec. 5, Sim held an in-person meeting with the park board to discuss his plans to dismantle it, before announcing the decision publicly the following day.

According to Sim’s response detailed in the report, all six park board commissioners were aware of the meeting, had been sent a calendar invite the month prior, and received a telephone call the week before as a reminder. Sim was under the impression Christensen received the call and voice mail.

Christensen said she did not.

“I was really hurt to be cut out of that,” she said. “To be told that you don’t get to have this information, you don’t get to have a say and we don’t care about your opinion was really hurtful.”

‘Discriminatory manner’

Christensen had given birth to a child one month prior and said when she first heard about the meeting, it lacked details regarding what it was about.

“It really seemed like a regular meeting that didn’t seem terribly important,” she said.

According to the report, Christensen said Sim’s office and employees of his ABC party understood in-person meetings were a challenge for her, and noted that shortly after the birth of her child, she was welcome to call into meetings.

Following the Dec. 5 meeting, Christensen said she did not receive any communication from Sim’s office until Dec. 6, when his chief of staff sent her an email saying she “chose” to not support Sim and was “not welcome at the press conference or transitional planning meeting,” as per the report.

Integrity Commissioner Lisa Southern ruled that “what happened was not merely a failure to communicate. Mayor Sim communicated with one group of people and excluded another person in a discriminatory manner.”

Southern added the decision should not be interpreted as a finding that there was deliberate or intentional discrimination on the part of the mayor.

“There was no evidence that the exclusions found in this investigation that gave rise to a breach were done on purpose or by design by Mayor Sim,” the report said.

Mayor apologizes

Christensen said Sim called her Wednesday evening to apologize.

“I’m disappointed that it’s taken the integrity commissioner report for him to actually pick up the phone over the last two months to apologize,” she said.

In a statement to CTV News, Sim said: “While the report concludes that there was no deliberate or intentional bias, it emphasizes the importance of considering the impact of actions, regardless of intent. As a person of colour, and a member of a multicultural family, I have always been deeply committed to inclusion, diversity, and human rights."

Christensen is one of many working mothers in B.C. politics who have faced criticism for bringing their children to work. On Monday, MLA Bowinn Ma was told to “stay home and be a mother,” after her child was seen in the legislature. 

Christensen said it feels like working mothers can’t win.

“If you bring your baby to work like Bowinn Ma, you’re criticized,” she said. “If you don’t bring your baby to work, you’re also criticized.”

The report concluded with a number of recommendations, including a letter of reprimand from council addressed to Sim, a request from council that Sim issue a letter of apology to Christensen, further training for council on human rights obligations and training for the mayor’s employees.  

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