There’s no denying the city’s homelessness crisis is dire for many people, but the severe picture that Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini helped paint on social media last weekend was false.
This, according to city staff members when pressed on various points Vagnini, mayoral candidate Bob Johnston and a homeless man who went by “Roger” made in a recent YouTube video.
Posted to YouTube on Saturday, they claim in the video that:
- Two frozen bodies were pulled out of downtown tents two to three weeks ago.
- A woman froze to death in a tent outside of Tom Davies Square last Thursday.
- There was a double stabbing at a shelter in the city recently.
- The city has been evicting people from their tents.
- There’s $300 million “sitting there” in a city bank ready to be used to aid in the city’s homelessness crisis.
All of these claims were refuted by city staff during Tuesday’s finance and administration committee meeting, during which Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc asked them to clarify these points.
“I’m lost for words,” Leduc said after the meeting, during which Vagnini maintained his video’s accuracy despite having every one of its key points refuted.
“In my personal opinion, he shouldn’t even be representing Sudbury,” Leduc said. “What’s he doing on the police board? … If this is how he’s representing our homeless population, how is he representing the city with false information?”
During Tuesday’s meeting, the city’s director of children and social services, Tyler Campbell, addressed most of Leduc’s questions.
“I can say there have been no stabbings in our shelter system in Greater Sudbury within the last few months, that’s for sure,” he said, adding that there also haven’t been any deaths in recent weeks.
There have also been no forced evictions, however, he clarified that there is a process to clean up abandoned tents. A notice is posted to what appear to be abandoned, unlivable tents, which provides 24-hours’ notice for any potential occupants to clarify their intentions. In the event someone claims they are still residing in the tent, it is not removed.
Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 17 there were six cold-related calls in the city, according to Joseph Nicholls, the chief of Fire and Paramedic Services for the City of Greater Sudbury.
Four of these people were from no fixed address. Of the six in total, four were taken to Health Sciences North, one was taken into the care of police and another refused transport. In 2020, EMS received 28 calls of various types to Memorial Park and in 2021 they received 95 calls.
On Wednesday, a Greater Sudbury Police service spokesperson clarified that they haven’t responded to or received a call regarding a sudden death in the Memorial Park area since Nov. 3.
As for the idea Vagnini shared that there are hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in a city bank account available for use, Ed Stankiewicz, the city’s executive director of Finance, Assets and Fleets, clarified to Sudbury.com that Vagnini’s claim is simply not true.
There’s approximately $570 million in the city’s investment portfolio, most of which is earmarked for specific capital projects or set aside in reserves and trust funds, which are also set aside for specific purposes.
Although approximately $30 million might be considered unaccounted for, he clarified that even this isn’t money up for grabs.
“That money is used to fund the operation expenses on a daily basis – the salaries and benefits, purchase of materials,” he said.
Despite having various points refuted and allegations he’s spreading misinformation lodged against him, Vagnini remained insistent following Tuesday’s meeting that he is correct.
“It’s kind of like Christopher Columbus,” he said. “I’m going in, saying the world is round and everyone says I’m nuts.”
Earlier this month, Vagnini launched a weekly livestreamed meeting series on Facebook called “Vagnini’s Coach’s Corner,” which he described as a venue for people to get factual information about the municipality.
In December, city council voted to have city administration pursue a social media policy for the city’s elected officials, which is expected to come forward during a future meeting.
With Vagnini’s latest video, Leduc said he’s now even more supportive of a policy coming forward.
Vagnini faces backlash for handling of Memorial Park situation
During Tuesday’s meeting, Vagnini shared a story about something he witnessed on Saturday night in which a woman may have been assaulted.
“There’s one big large tent where I was there on Saturday night, and there was about eight gentlemen in the tent and they were yelling at an individual woman, and she got out of the tent and ran for her life when other two people from the shelter tried to get her to come back into the shelter and she just kept running.”
Mayor Brian Bigger responded to the story by asking whether Vagnini reported the matter to police.
“I have a meeting tomorrow morning with the police board and that’s going to be the first question I ask,” Vagnini responded.
Leduc was fired up about Vagnini’s response when Sudbury.com reached out to him after the meeting and was particularly concerned by the “ran for her life” part of the story.
Regardless of what organization you’re affiliated with, he said, “A normal human being would have called 911 automatically.”
In conversation with Sudbury.com after Tuesday’s meeting, Vagnini shared a few different accounts for how he handled the matter. He initially said that he did phone the police. At another point, he said that he did not. Pressed on the matter later on, he declined to comment on whether he phoned the police.
“Me, as a police board member, I can’t go to police officers and talk to them, I have to go through the board or the chief or deputy chief,” he said.
Vagnini explained that if he were to witness a crime taking place he could not phone 911 due to his being on the police board.
Presented with a rhetorical situation in which he witnesses someone getting mugged, he described his likely approach as follows: “I would slip a text to the chief, or the deputy, and as long as we have permission then I could call the staff sergeant on duty.”
This is not the required procedure for police board members.
Like anyone else, they should phone 911, GSPS told Sudbury.com when we asked for clarity on this point.
“Any community member who witnesses crime in progress or who is a victim of a crime is encouraged to call 9-1-1 during an emergency,” a Greater Sudbury Police Service spokesperson clarified in emailed correspondence with Sudbury.com.