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City spins wheels on gay e-mail

Read the full text of controversial city e-mail below

“If you refuse to take a dump in a public bathroom or piss in a parking lot, you crave a deep homosexual relationship.” So says an e-mail forwarded among a number of city staffers during the fall of 2006.

An investigation is taking place within Ottawa City Hall to determine if a number of city employees misused their work e-mail accounts to circulate a homophobic e-mail titled, “Gentlemen, it’s time for your annual ‘Am I gay?’ self examination.”

A copy of the e-mail obtained by Capital Xtra shows that a supervisor in the surface operations branch of the Public Works And Services department initially forwarded the e-mail to a co-worker within the branch, who then passed it along to three other city employees. The e-mails were sent on Oct 30, 2006; the e-mails prove they were city employees at the time, but it is not clear whether they were sent from their work or their private e-mail accounts.

According to Michael Fitzpatrick, a senior media relations officer for the city, the length of time that has passed since the e-mails were sent complicates the investigation.

“It’s almost a bit like a spider web. As I recall, it is dated to last October, so it’s not going to be as easy as if it was last week. One person sent it to maybe four people, and then what did they do with it? Then what did those people do with it? I don’t know when the investigation will end,” says Fitzpatrick.

The incident was first reported May 20. At the time, River Councillor Maria McRae called for an immediate review of the e-mails and disciplinary action against those who sent them, taking particular offence to the fact that the e-mails were sent by senior staff.

McRae also made headlines in Capital Xtra in April when the councillor received a single complaint regarding the content of the newspaper and its availability at a Hunt Club community centre, and forwarded the complaints to top city staff inquiring to the possibility of limiting its distribution in community centres. Any steps to limit the distribution of community newspapers were eventually deemed illegal by the city’s lawyers and no further action was taken.

McRae declined to be interviewed about the e-mails, citing the ongoing investigation. “I can tell you that I am doing my best to ensure that this matter is taken seriously,” she told Capital Xtra. “Richard Hewitt, Deputy City Manager of Public Works and Services, has assured Council that this is indeed the case.”

Hewitt did not respond to interview requests at press time.

The e-mail was brought to the attention of the city by an unnamed employee. Because of privacy laws, there are limitations to what an employer can do when investigating or monitoring the use of company e-mail accounts. But Fitzpatrick says that the e-mail that was brought forward was sufficient in providing due cause for the Internet technology and Internet technology security departments of the city to investigate.

All employees with an e-mail address through the city must adhere to a code of conduct, which includes “not bringing any embarrassment to the city.” The investigation will determine if the surface operations branch employees violated the city’s e-mail usage policy, and just how many employees it reached.