The chair of the Downtown Barrie Business Improvement Association (BIA) has resigned after the city’s integrity commissioner found he used a racial slur and made derogatory comments about people experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues at a September 2020 meeting.
Rob Hamilton’s resignation comes just hours before Barrie city council is scheduled to vote on the integrity commissioner’s recommendations, which were released in a report this past Thursday.
The commissioner recommended for Hamilton to be removed as BIA chair and for council to reprimand him, among other things, including requiring him to undergo training on human rights and addiction as a condition of remaining on the BIA board.
According to Thursday’s report, Hamilton made offensive comments at a BIA board meeting on Sept. 22, 2020, when the topic of a downtown supervised consumption site came up.
A supervised consumption site is a health service in which people with substance use problems can inject drugs under the oversight of trained staff in a safe environment.
At the September 2020 meeting, Hamilton said the perception of downtown Barrie is that it’s “not a comfortable place” and that “people are running around like a bunch of Mau-Mau’s,” according to the integrity commissioner’s report.
The term “Mau-Mau” is considered racist and derogatory toward Black people. According to the report, it originates from the Kenyan rebellion against white, British colonizers in the 1950s.
“The English term reflects the historical British version of the actions of the Mau-Mau, a version that does not acknowledge the grievances of the Kikuyu or the atrocities committed against them,” the report read.
At the September meeting, the report read, one BIA board member said everyone who lives and walks in downtown Barrie is a worthy citizen, to which Hamilton responded, “(T)hat’s just not true(…). They are not a productive contributing citizen…are they worthy – yes…But if they’re screwing up other people…”
When Hamilton responded to the integrity commissioner complaint, he said his comments at September’s meeting were “inappropriate” and “not intended to be harmful.”
In a follow-up on April 9, Hamilton said he was “unaware” of the historical origins of the racial slur that was used.
“My use of the phrase was not intended to be derogatory. However, I do understand how it was received in that way and the harmful impact that has had regardless of my intent and I regret using the term,” Hamilton’s response read in the integrity commissioner report.
“I also fully regret my statement that suggested individuals with addictions issues in our downtown are unworthy citizens. I believe that every human being regardless of where they live or their personal circumstances are worthy of respect and deserve to have access to the support they need.”
Barrie’s integrity commissioner acknowledged Hamilton’s regrets and found he breached the city’s code of conduct.
The commissioner said Hamilton “ought to have reasonably known” that his remarks were “inappropriate, offensive, insulting or derogatory.”