WARNING- this story contains graphic and foul language which some may find offensive.
A City of Spruce Grove Councillor is apologizing after several residents questioned the professionalism of her activity on social media after being elected last fall.
Spruce Grove resident Spencer Bennett says he was prompted to speak out after a tweet from Councillor Erin Stevenson's personal twitter account on January 21st, 2018 stated "If you don't like what I have to say, or how I say it, you're free to unfollow me. But you don't get to tell what I can and can't say and call it something it's not. Take your hurt feelings elsewhere."
For Bennett, the issue is not just the language used but also the fact that Councillor Stevenson had clearly stated in her profile she is a member of Spruce Grove City Council and even links to another Twitter account listing her as "Councillor Erin Steven."
"If she was to say that to a minority group, or to the LGBTQ community, or the Aboriginal community or females or name your group, I just don't think that came across right," says Bennett of the 'take your hurt feelings elsewhere' tweet. "There comes a point where you need to have a little bit of tact. I was just concerned at her lack of tact and lack of respect."
Stevenson's tweeting history on the account since being elected quickly became the subject of discussion online with several others echoing Bennett's feelings of unprofessionalism and disrespect. Many of Stevenson's tweets have since been deleted so they are unable to be embedded here, but social media users were able to save them with screen shots.
In the screen shots below, Councillor Stevenson's personal account clearly acknowledges her position as a member of Spruce Grove City Council and includes tweets calling Conservative MP Candice Bergen "dense" and "immature" while also alluding to her being a "half wit." In a tweet posted earlier this month, on January 12th, Stevenson references a deleted tweet involving the provincial Official Opposition as "fucked" and says the United Conservative Party "should be ashamed" while also hash tagging and tagging the party directly:
In another series of captured tweets, Councillor Stevenson directly mentions leader of the Official Opposition in the province, Jason Kenney, saying "people won't vote for a liar" on January 13th, 2018. Another Conservative MP drew Councillor Stevenson's attention on December 21st, 2017, as she called Pierre Poilievre "pathetic," a "slimy scum bag" and someone "who will never know what it's like to have friends." In response to a tweet from UCP supporter Leah Wood expressing she felt no need to participate in the recent Women's March movement, Stevenson called her views "selfish and disgusting" and Wood herself "an entitled brat." Those tweets are below:
Councillor Stevenson later apologized to Wood publicly, two days after the "take your hurt feelings elsewhere" tweet. Wood responded:
When reached for comment, Corporate Communications Manager with the City of Spruce Grove, Jennifer Hetherington, provided the following statement:
"Ms. Stevenson was acting as an individual using her personal social media account not on behalf of council or as a representative of the City of Spruce Grove. Currently, council members in the performance of their duties are bound by the Municipal Government Act (MGA). The City is also working to develop a council code of conduct bylaw, as that's a requirement of the modernized [Municipal Government Act]."
The MGA mandates a conduct bylaw must be in place by July 23rd, 2018 and was part of the Modernized Municipal Government Act in May of 2016.
As for Councillor Stevenson, she's acknowledging an error and says she's reached out to those who have issued complaints- including Bennett- to apologize.
"I have [pause] admitted, I guess, that my language was a little strong and that we've agreed that I can dial it back a little bit," Councillor Stevenson tells One News. However, Stevenson also feels her self-described spiciness on social media has made her a target of harassment in her life both before and after being elected.
"This comes from a lot of frustration, right? There's a lot of people who, as a female politician, come after me."
In her conversation with One News, Councillor Stevenson admits a wide variety of her tweets had the potential to cause offence but she also is firm that her behaviour or opinions shouldn't be construed as potentially damaging to the City of Spruce Grove despite being an elected representative of the city.
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure, to be honest," says Councillor Stevenson when asked if the tweets could reflect badly on the city. "These tweets aren't in isolation. You can look at the tweet in isolation and put whatever spin you want on it. Those tweets and those stories and those comments are not in isolation. That's how Twitter works."
"It's very hard for me to say 'Hm, maybe I should have written a different sentence there.' So, context matters in this. The tweets, to me, before that matter and the tweets to me after matter," continued Councillor Stevenson. "It's very difficult to say whether or not that was appropriate for me without looking at the bigger picture. I don't think it's fair for people to narrow it in, to go in, to cherry pick- which is what they did- to go in and cherry pick particular tweets and leave out the entire context around it."
Councillor Stevenson says though she's continuing to apologize, she's locked both her personal and private Twitter profiles down in the interest of her own personal safety.
"This has become a lynch mob and it's not by residents of Spruce Grove. I will put it out there the residents of Spruce Grove have been wonderful, including those that disagreed and brought this forward. They've reached out to me, we've had amazing discussions, we've agreed to keep each other in check," an emotional Councillor Stevenson tells One News, but she does break down when speaking on the threats she says she's received.
"If I could show you some of the messages and the tweets and what they are somewhat threatening...," says Councillor Stevenson. "If you saw what people do to me, you would understand sometimes the frustration that I go through as a female politician and why I had to lock everything down because it was disgusting. It was vile. It's to the point where I have to put security cameras in my house."
Among the incidents, Councillor Stevenson describes receiving graphic images through blocked numbers, thinly veiled threats (i.e. "it would be a shame if something happened to you") and even detailed descriptions of her backyard. Councillor Stevenson feels these are attempts to silence her by those with extreme political views.
"Their political leanings are extreme right wing. I'm not talking about conservatives, I'm not even probably talking about even UCP members, this is not me worried about them at all. It is a very distinct group of people that are online and that's what they do," says Councillor Stevenson, saying the behaviour of those she identifies as online tormentors is similar to those who have gone after Premier Rachel Notley or Minister Sandra Jansen. Councillor Stevenson feels while people may be able to split her social media activity and her experiences of harassment, she cannot which could explain why she appears to target politicians right of centre on social media.
"Of course. And that's why I do sincerely apologize and I want to make sure, too, that when I'm- when I was tweeting about the UCP- I'm not talking about the individuals. A lot of it is the policies they're floating out there," confirms Councillor Stevenson. "Hindsight is 20/20. I could have done a better job of conversing."
To hear the full, unedited interview between One News and Spruce Grove Councillor Erin Stevenson, click play on the audio file below or click here.