Integrity investigation finds Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim discriminated against Park Board commissioner

The City of Vancouver’s Integrity Commissioner has found Mayor Ken Sim discriminated against Park Board Commissioner Laura Christensen, after she was left out of a critical meeting on the board’s future.

The report says the integrity complaint came from a member of the public. CityNews obtained the 11-page report ahead of its publication. It details how Christensen wasn’t able to dial in to an in-person meeting on Dec. 5, despite the fact that she was at home caring for her newborn child. It was at that meeting that Sim told the ABC Park Board commissioners that he would be moving to dismantle the elected body.

“Mayor Sim’s actions created a distinction based on Commissioner Christensen’s sex and family status, and this had an adverse impact on her. He knew Commissioner Christensen had a newborn,” Integrity Commissioner Lisa Southern wrote. “Previously, her situation had been accommodated by allowing her to attend meetings remotely because attending in person in the later stages of pregnancy or with a newborn were challenging.”

“However, despite this and despite the importance of the December 5 Meeting to the Park Board, Mayor Sim did not make reasonable efforts to ensure Commissioner Christensen knew the Meeting was important and there could be consequences for her if she did not attend. He also did not make reasonable efforts to ensure she knew the Meeting could not be attended remotely as she had been permitted to do on previous occasions or could not be attended remotely without her first signing an NDA,” Southern continued.

Sim told the Integrity Office that all six ABC commisioners — which included Christensen at the time — were aware of the meeting, saying they had all received emails, calendar invites, and follow-up phone calls.

“All communications emphasized that it was an in-person meeting and there was no link for Teams or Zoom. The reason for this was that all present were required to sign an NDA that was in effect until the start of the press conference,” Sim said.

Speaking to CityNews, Christensen says that was never made clear to her. She claims no effort was made after the Dec. 5 meeting to have her sign an NDA so she could be given the same information and opportunity to respond that other commissioners got.

“I don’t think I was treated very well,” she said.

“I had a one-month-old baby, so I was pretty stressed out about the whole experience. I felt excluded, cut-out, ignored, that they would cut me out of the news conference and transition team without ever asking my opinion.”

Christensen now sits as an indepdent commissioner, alongside fellow former ABC colleagues Scott Jensen and Brennan Bastyovanszky. Jensen and Bastyovanszky were also excluded from the news conference and transition team, reportedly because of their opposition to Sim’s plan, both men have suggested.

Other ABC commissioners Jas Virdi, Angela Haer, and Marie-Claire Howard support the move to dismantle the Vancouver Park Board and remain with the party.

Christensen says she’s happy with the outcome of the investigation.

“[Southern] has imposed the maximum sanctions that are available under the Code of Conduct in these circumstances. I think that really speaks to the importance of creating an inclusive work environment for women and parents. An apology is nice, but I think this is bigger than just an apology. I hope this shows that women and mothers have a place in politics and in the work force — and that it’s important that women in politics are accomodated,” she said.

In a statement to CityNews, Sim says he acknowledges the findings of the investigation.

“As a person of colour, and a member of a multicultural family, I have always been deeply committed to inclusion, diversity, and human rights. I have always enthusiastically participated in all educational sessions hosted by the Office of the Integrity Commissioner on these crucial topics,” he said.

“In response to the recommendations, I have already reached out to Park Board Commissioner Laura Christensen to offer my sincere apology, demonstrating my commitment to addressing concerns raised.”

Christensen confirms Sim called her to apologize but says that happened only after the investigation was wrapped up.

“The fact that it has taken an integrity commissioner report to call me and apologize — I think — speaks to some of the challenges that we face,” she said.

Southern made it clear in her report that the finding does not mean that Sim intentionally discriminated against Christensen.

“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. To the contrary, Mayor Sim has demonstrated, consistently, his commitment to inclusion, diversity, and human rights, and has attended all educational sessions that the Office of the Integrity Commissioner has hosted on these topics,” she wrote.

“However, it is well established in human rights law that intent is not required for a finding of discrimination.”

City council has now been ordered to write a letter of reprimand to the mayor. Sim and council must also issue a public letter of apology to Christensen.

Southern’s recommendations also call for council and the mayor’s staff to undergo further training on human rights obligations.

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