Video released of altercation between Wood Buffalo mayor and councillor

CBC News has obtained video of an exchange between the mayor of Wood Buffalo and a municipal councillor that resulted in an ethics investigation and prompted a public apology.

The video, obtained through a freedom of information request, shows Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott touching Coun. Keith McGrath at least three times over one minute and 30 seconds during a tense interaction.

The exchange happened during council’s June 25 in-camera meeting and was the subject of an investigation from the municipality’s integrity commissioner Jim Peacock. 

Peacock found that Scott used profane language and raised his voice, which resulted in McGrath leaving the meeting, and the mayor trying to physically stop him from doing so. Some of the witnesses described the incident as an “assault.”

Peacock wrote that the actions were “abusive” toward the councillor.

Security footage from the seventh floor of the municipal building shows McGrath walking to the elevators at 3:44p.m. He is followed closely by Scott. 

McGrath walks into an open elevator, but exits when Scott follows him. 

McGrath walks briskly out to the lobby, where Scott appears to put his hand on McGrath — who flings his arm to stop the contact. 

The two then leave the room and aren’t seen for about a minute. When they return to the elevators McGrath can be seen holding his hand up to put distance between himself and Scott. 

Mayor Don Scott apologized to Coun. Keith McGrath, councillors, employees of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and residents. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

McGrath tries to access the elevators to leave, but Scott corrals him, attempting to lead him toward the lobby. 

Scott touches McGrath several more times before McGrath leaves via the stairs. 

McGrath declined comment and Scott has not yet responded to CBC’s request for comment. CBC News attempted to contact all members of council but only three councillors agreed to an interview. 

Coun. Sheila Lalonde was in the in-camera meeting when the incident between Scott and McGrath started. She said the situation was incredibly tense and left her uneasy. 

“Even now before I go into the council building for any council meetings or anything I ask God for protection before I walk into work,” said Lalonde. 

“This is the only job where I asked for protection.”

Councillors were given the integrity commissioner’s recommendations on Oct. 22. Integrity commissioner Peacock recommended council vote for the mayor to issue a public apology and be publicly reprimanded. 

Councillors voted in favour of the apology, but not to publicly reprimand Scott. 

Lalonde was one of the councillors who did vote in favour of publicly reprimanding him, and was “choked” when five councillors voted against it.

(Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

“It sends a very bad message that there are two sets of rules and if you’re in an elected position you can assault somebody and only have to say I’m sorry,” said Lalonde. 

She said she feels as though Wood Buffalo council is now “the laughing stock of Alberta.” 

“The mayor is a representation of our community. And when he is not behaving properly in council… it reflects badly on us.”

Lalonde has never seen the video of what happened near the elevators. 

Coun. Mike Allen was also at the meeting in question. He said that since the incident council has been “working a lot more closely.” 

“I just want to move forward and we have two more years left in this term and we have a lot of work to do. I just want to roll up my sleeves and get it done,” he said. 

Coun. Verna Murphy said she was disappointed the other councillors didn’t vote in favour of a public reprimand. 

“If we’re going to pay an integrity commissioner and we’re going to spend taxpayers’ money doing that, why would we just turn around and dismiss the work that’s already done,” said Murphy. 

“It was really more for a statement to the employees of the RMWB who witnessed this and to the general public that this type of behaviour is not okay.”

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