This month the Provincial Government commenced consultation to gather public feedback on strengthening accountability for municipal council members. Members of the public are encouraged to participate by filling out an online survey by July 15, 2021, which can be found here:
The Province is specifically looking for feedback on:
- what changes or mechanisms are needed to better hold council members accountable for municipal code of conduct violations;
- how to more effectively enforce these codes;
- whether a broader range of penalties for violations of the codes of conduct are needed.
Municipalities are required to have a code of conduct in place for its Council members to ensure they maintain a safe and respectful workplace, but also to ensure they carry out their duties ethically and responsibly. Both members of the public and Council members can submit a code of conduct complaint, which is reviewed by an Integrity Commissioner. They in turn assess whether an infraction occurred and recommended an appropriate penalty.
I believe this consultation is a welcome development and I’m happy to explain why.
The review itself was prompted by an Integrity Commissioner report that found a member of Ottawa Council guilty of “incomprehensible incidents of harassment”. Five women submitted complaints pertaining to this Councillor, including former staff members, who were asked to go “braless” and hit on men at events or bars. It’s an alarming example of a contravention of the code of conduct where a member of Council clearly and overtly abused their position of authority. You can read about this case via https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/chiarelli-integrity-commissioner-harassment-1.5809522
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Preceding this case is an earlier case pertaining to a Brampton Regional Councillor who was found guilty of sexually harassing a woman while travelling for municipal business. In a cellphone recording, the complainant can be heard refusing his advances by saying “no” to the Councillor 74 times. The case was reported on here: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/07/31/brampton-integrity-commissioner-finds-councillor-gurpreet-dhillon-sexually-harassed-a-woman-while-in-turkey-in-2019.html
The most severe sanction an Integrity Commissioner can recommend is a three-month suspension of pay. Considering the severity of these examples, I question whether that sanction goes far enough.
Elected officials are stewards of the public’s trust. Their actions reflect on their respective communities and for this reason they must be held to a higher ethical standard than that of a public citizen. It is critical that accountability measures are in place for members who violate municipal codes of conduct.
So, I encourage you to take a moment to participate in the survey, share your feedback and opinions on this matter. It’s an opportunity to demand better of those who represent you and speak on behalf of your respective township or city. It’s also an opportunity to embolden accountability measures, but also your respective municipality, with the appropriate tools to deal with contraventions of the code. Because in some circumstances, such as the extreme and appalling examples mentioned above, the penalties just don’t align with the severity of the misconduct.