Councillor Allan Hunter has apologized for an offensive image posted to his Twitter account on September 5th.
In an exclusive interview, Councillor Hunter said he was very sorry he posted the image, and explained that he had not meant to post it without commentary decrying it.
"I owe an apology to all of the citizens of Airdrie because my handling of it was terrible. The intent was to put it out there with a stop order. In other words, quit sending me garbage, quit sending me vile things, and obviously that piece didn't get in there."
Hunter explained that he is routinely sent intolerant images, including Confederate flags and swastikas. Hunter was frustrated by those images, which he said distracts him from legitimate correspondences about the community and City business. He explained that he meant to post the image with a caption asking people to stop sending him offensive imagery, and that he would block anyone that continued to do so.
Hunter said what happened next was simply a mistake that he attributed to his lack of skill with social media. The offensive image, which he said he'd received via Twitter, was posted to his own Twitter account without any accompanying explanation.
That ignited a social media controversy. People began questioning Hunter's post, with many pointing out that the image prominently featured a symbol associated with the Strasserism, a strand of Nazism. The post was then deleted without an explanation, fueling the controversy further. Later, Hunter posted a series of screenshots to his Twitter account which he said was meant to clarify the original intent of his post, but which some on social media saw as a deflection.
One concerned citizen, who wished to remain anonymous, said the post was more concerning than offensive. He was originally filled with questions when the image was posted without an explanation. That turned to concern when it was removed without any answers. He said that it is important for public figures to remember that their lives are often under scrutiny.
"I do believe that when you're in the public eye, when you're in Council or law enforcement or public service, government, school, I believe you're held to a higher standard."
Hunter said that he was not aware of the significance of the image's main symbol when he posted it.
"I can't stress enough, my apologies to the citizens. They expect better of me. Certainly, that will never happen again. And I owe an apology for first looking at that image and really not understanding the significance of it. I should have done a little more diligence."
Hunter also said he should have handled the post with more caution. He quickly admitted he is not the best at social media. When he realized what was happening, he was aghast.
"I have every intention of, when I see individuals, apologizing face to face if they really are offended, because that was not my intent. This was to say, 'Stop doing this'. Couldn't the internet be full of nice things? Couldn't the internet be full of, 'Hey, someone's hurting in our community, can we reach out and help them?'"
Hunter explained that he is committed to not having an incident like this happen again. He was especially upset over scrutiny directed at or pain caused to his family.
Some residents felt that an apology was not sufficient in this case. Resident Kevin Hughes said he was more than offended by the original image, but felt it pointed to a trend with Hunter.
"It's a pattern of behavior and a pattern of his social media presence that I have a problem with. And it's not just Allan Hunter. If it was Fred Burley, if it was the mayor, Peter Brown, I would be saying the same thing. It needs to be understood that they represent this city 24/7. With social media the way it is today, whatever they tweet, whatever they post on Facebook represents the city. Whether they're trying to tweet as a public citizen or not, they represent Airdrie 24/7."
Hughes said Hunter should be held accountable for the post, but didn't feel it was his place to say what form that should take. He also said that the whole incident illustrates the need for a Council code of conduct that specifically addresses social media.
Council's current code of conduct is silent on social media. Sharon Pollyck, Director of the City Manager's Office, explained that the current code of conduct, which was formalized in 2015, is actually silent on all Councillors' communication. A proposed code of conduct does not address social media specifically, but does address communication generally. Pollyck said social media would fall under that umbrella. That code of conduct is currently tabled pending legal review, and will be brought forward again at the next City Council meeting on September 18.
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