Ontario cities want more power for Integrity Commissioners

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Ontario municipalities want the powers of Integrity Commissioners strengthened so they can levy financial penalties and even remove from office council members who violate the Municipal Code of Conduct.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) approved a motion in February calling for expanded powers so Integrity Commissioners can better enforce compliance with the code of conduct. Those new powers include imposing monetary penalties for violators; suspending council members who are affecting the ability of Council to make necessary decisions in the interest of the public such as during an emergency; and the ability to request a judge to remove a councillor from office where continued and serious violations of the Code of Conduct have been documented.

Ontario Big City Mayors, an organization representing 29 Ontario cities with more than 100,000 residents (a group which includes Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering and Clarington), also chimed in the subject, adopting a four-point approach to allow for the judicial removal of a Member of Councillor at the recommendation of the Integrity Commissioner in cases of “egregious or repeated violations” of a Council Code of a Conduct.

The organization also resolved there should be “stronger consequences” for flagrant violations of a Code of Conduct under the Ontario Municipal Act that would allow for the removal of a council member who has been found on “clear and convincing evidence” to have committed serious misconduct.

The Code of Conduct governs the behaviour of elected officials (and staff), including conduct at meetings and with staff, improper use of influence, confidential information, gifts, benefits, services, and hospitality, and the use of regional property, services and other resources.

Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter said the debate was a “sensitive subject” to some councillors, but it also served as a reminder of the responsibilities handed to every councillor when they are elected.

“I was elected to serve the public and I am humbled every time I put on this chain of office,” he said. “It reminds me of the responsibility I have to the residents of this city.”

Guy Giorno, who has served as Durham’s Integrity Commissioner since 2017, also commented on the AMO report and cautioned council about giving too much power to Integrity Commissioners.

“Some stakeholders are advocating for a power to remove councillors from office - which essentially means overturning the results of a democratic election,” he said. “I do not believe that under any circumstance Integrity Commissioners should be given the power to unseat duly elected municipal councillors.”

Giorno also called for “legislated qualifications” to be required for Integrity Commissioners, noting there are no standards to prevent the appointment of an individual who has been convicted of a crime, or who has been subject to professional discipline for misappropriating client funds.

As the cost to municipalities is primarily complaint-driven and therefore out of municipal control, Giorno is also advocating that smaller municipalities be allowed to replace Integrity Commissioners with the provincial Integrity Commissioner, or a new provincial agency under Tribunals Ontario.

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