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Politics
Yellowknife

Complaints filed about Yellowknife councillors Konge, Payne

Last modified: November 9, 2021 at 10:09am


Warning: The following article contains explicit language as seen in a comment posted to Facebook. 

Yellowknife residents have filed complaints against two city councillors regarding public comments perceived to violate the municipality’s code of conduct for its politicians. 

Several residents told Cabin Radio they had complained to the city’s integrity commissioner about Councillor Niels Konge after he compared a proof-of-vaccination requirement at municipal facilities to racial segregation during a council meeting on November 2.

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Mayor Rebecca Alty and the NWT’s Black Advocacy Coalition subsequently condemned the remarks. Konge then apologized in a statement to reporters.  

Those who filed complaints also cited Konge’s September comparison of small businesses’ struggles under pandemic restrictions to the Sixties Scoop, made in response to comments from a Sixties Scoop survivor.

In that case, Mayor Alty quickly pointed out the two were not comparable. Konge apologized for what he acknowledged was a “horrible comparison.” 

Complainants said they felt Konge’s remarks violated several sections of the city’s code of ethics for members of council. The document states councillors should “treat every person with dignity, understanding and respect,” perform their duties “in a manner that promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny,” and shall not speak “in a manner that is discriminatory,” among other rules. 

Meanwhile, a resident wrote to Cabin Radio regarding a separate comment Councillor Steve Payne recently posted to Facebook. The resident said they feel the comment encouraged violence against others.

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A redacted screenshot of a comment published by Steve Payne’s Facebook account.

A redacted screenshot shared with Cabin Radio shows a comment posted from Payne’s Facebook profile reading: “Bring a stick. Beat someone’s ass. Ignorant fucks.” 

The comment was published in response to a Facebook post from someone sharing their experience of racism in the city. The poster stated they had “never experienced more racism” than they had walking down the street in Yellowknife and that it had “all been from street vagrants.” 

The resident who wrote to Cabin Radio expressed concern that Payne’s comment violates the code of ethics, particularly a section regarding respectful interaction with members of the public, and one that states councillors should uphold “both the letter of the law and the spirit of laws and policies” from the federal, NWT, and city governments. The resident said they had filed a complaint with the city’s integrity commissioner. 

Payne did not respond to Cabin Radio’s requests for comment. 

The City of Yellowknife declined to respond to Cabin Radio’s questions about how many complaints have been made regarding either councillors Konge or Payne in the past week, saying complaints are filed with the integrity commissioner, whose office is at arm’s length from the municipality. Mayor Alty told CBC last week she was aware of at least one complaint about Konge.

When a complaint is filed against a member of council, the city’s integrity commissioner must decide whether to proceed with an investigation. If a complaint is sustained, the commissioner will report their findings and recommendations to council, which will also be made public. Council then has 90 days to consider and respond to the commissioner’s report. 

A representative for Sheldon Toner, who was appointed to a five-year term as the city’s integrity commissioner in September 2018, initially told Cabin Radio he could not comment on complaints because of privacy requirements – even to confirm the number of complaints received. Toner is away from his office until November 15.

However, in a second response after this article was first reported, a colleague wrote: “Mr Toner has advised that I can confirm that we have received numerous emails and inquiries and that we currently have approximately a half-dozen complaints under review, concerning more than one member of council.

“We are unable to disclose any further information such as parties involved or specifics of complaints.”

According to the latest annual report from Toner, no complaints were issued against councillors between September 26, 2019 and September 25, 2020.

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