Standing by your colleague is one thing. Being an apologist for driving drunk is quite another.
“I am taking these charges very seriously and I will continue to cooperate with the legal process.” —Ana Bailão
“We’ve all had a bad night.” —Doug Ford
Today city councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) held a press conference to address impaired-driving charges that were laid early yesterday morning. She declined, on the advice of her lawyer, to comment on the details of her case, and she assured her constituents she would continue working hard for them.
Though a great many people may find that response frustrating, on the whole it is not an unreasonable one. Bailão told reporters today she is pleading not guilty. While many are calling on her to apologize, she is entitled to avail herself of the safeguards and securities afforded by our legal system and to defend herself in court. If Bailão has done nothing wrong, she has nothing to apologize for. We do not have all the facts before us, and we shouldn’t convict her before a full airing of those facts.
The councillors who lined up beside her today, who underplayed and sometimes entirely dismissed the severity of impaired driving—not in this case, about which we don’t yet know enough, but as a general practice—are another matter entirely.
One can understand, psychologically, why they are inclined to stand with Bailão today. City council is a fraught, tense, intense environment, and for all that they spew invective at one another when they disagree, councillors tend to share a kind of mutual sympathy—the sort of affinity that comes with going through something gruelling together. If not quite friends, they are at least bound by common experiences and develop a corresponding camaraderie.
To that extent—that is, as individuals who spend up to 12 hours a day working together and are offering support during a difficult situation—they are simply acting as good people do when someone they know makes a mistake, or is in trouble, and nobody is quite sure which yet. As a basic human impulse it is laudable. (Cynics will suggest, instead, that this is motivated by a “there but for the grace of God…” sense of protectionism. That may be true as well, but surely there are plenty of politicians who would take this kind of opportunity to slam an opponent out of false moral outrage in an attempt to score points with the electorate. No councillors have done so, and it is to their credit.)
But these are not just people who share a workplace showing a colleague they will help her through a rough time. These are elected officials whose actions, attitudes, and decisions shape our shared city. They are leaders in our community. And they have an obligation to condemn behaviour that endangers the public.
We do not know yet if Bailão was impaired while driving. We do know that impaired driving kills thousands of people each year. The councillors who are dismissing her case as a matter of a bad night—which suggests they think not that she’s innocent but that she’s guilty and we just shouldn’t worry about it too much—are failing as leaders right now. This is not a romantic affair gone bad, one the media is prying into out of prurient interest. This is a question of public safety.
By all means, councillors, as private individuals support your colleague as she deals with this situation. Help her cope, and help her come through this in the best possible way—free of suspicion if she is exonerated, and treating this with the seriousness it deserves if convicted. But as a public official, you must take a stand on the issue of impaired driving writ large. Support for Bailão cannot take the form of excusing behaviour that gets people killed every day or calling the severity of the dangers it involves into question.
It is, in fact, possible to do both at once: support a colleague through a rough time and condemn the behaviour of which they are, whether rightly or wrongly, accused. Some councillors were careful to draw that distinction today. Many of them were not. They owe their constituents, and all of us, better.