An embattled Niagara Region councillor has taken a leave of absence after a pornographic image was distributed as part of a reply-all e-mail sent from his government account.
Andy Petrowski, a St. Catharines, Ont., rep on regional council, faced pressure to resign this week from MP Chris Bittle and Alan Caslin, Niagara regional chair, after the e-mail was sent out. After a Wednesday meeting with Petrowski, Caslin said the scandal-ridden councillor is taking a “personal leave of absence.”
The region has also suspended Petrowski’s access to his regional email account and corporate devices.
The move comes after a rough week for the councillor, who made headlines after an image of a naked woman with her legs spread was sent to 95 recipients. Several fellow councillors agreed with Caslin’s call for resignation, saying the incident embarrassed the region on a national scale. One called it “the third or fourth last straw.”
Caslin wouldn’t say why Petrowski is taking leave. Petrowski didn’t respond to requests for comment and blocked a CBC News reporter who messaged him on Twitter.
The latest controversy started when a regional staffer emailed about work on St. Paul Street West over the Burgoyne Bridge, a contentious project worth nearly $100 million. Bruce Timms, a St. Catharines regional councillor, replied that it would be good to see final touches made on the bridge.
Petrowski replied: “There must have been a sale on these multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded, non-functional arches … guess who put these up in Ottawa?” he wrote. “You’re right if you said …. drum roll, please….’Pomerlau’ … what a joke!”
Attached to the email was the photo of the naked woman sitting in a chair.
Petrowski followed up in a second email four minutes later, saying, “I apologize to everyone for the previous e-mail just sent … this was sent in error as a terrible message by someone who was using my iPad I thought to send a private message. I am very sorry for this unacceptable and inappropriate transmission.”
Petrowski is already a divisive figure in Niagara politics.
He was the subject of a series of recent integrity commissioner investigations, and threatened to sue fellow councillors. In 2015, he tweeted that Barack Obama had a “perverted mind” for condoning same-sex marriages on the same day he sang Amazing Grace. He later apologized.
‘hello clown are you a tyrant?’
Some also called for him to resign from the police services board after comments about Syrian refugees and a proposal by then-U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
Petrowski said a refugee could enter the Eaton Centre with a machine gun and “wipe people out.” He eventually stepped down, saying he wanted to spend time with his elderly father.
Petrowski made more headlines last year when someone — he insists it was not him — texted Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeff McGuire from his cell phone saying “hello clown are you a tyrant?” the St. Catharines Standard has reported.
On Twitter, Petrowski describes himself as “Pro-Trump, Pro-Nationalism, Pro-Life, Pro-Jesus, Pro-Constitution, Pro-Speech, Anti-LEFT, Climate Change is Natural. #MAGA.”
Petrowski tweeted an apparent reference to the incident Tuesday, saying, “I wish we all were as perfect as the Liberal media #fakenews.”
No such thing as a leave of absence
David Siegel, a Brock University municipal politics expert, says under the Ontario Municipal Act, if Petrowski misses three months of meetings, regional council can declare the seat vacant. There’s technically no such thing as a councillor leave of absence.
“He and the chair can decide they’re going to call this a leave of absence, and that’s OK,” he said. “But it doesn’t have any kind of legislative understanding, and it doesn’t protect him from the three-month rule.”
There’s no way to make a sitting councillor resign, he said. Petrowski is serving his second term, and even if he’s unpopular with many, he has a shot at re-election next year.
St. Catharines residents elect six regional councillors, Siegel said. Voter turnout is typically low.
“When you think only 30 to 35 per cent of people voted in the first place, and you need to get enough votes to finish fifth or sixth, you can get in with a relatively small number of votes.”
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