A visit with the Integrity Commissioner

Posted on May 8th, 2012 No comments. The post is really that bad, huh?

So Sarah and I took a trip down to University Avenue to visit with Janet Leiper, the Integrity Commissioner for the City of Toronto. I’m pretty sure you can guess that the topic of discussion was our less than lustrous mayor and his continuing antics. Specifically, we were curious to know what steps could be taken to oust the man (and I use that word lightly), and what her office’s role could be in that.

Janet is a surprisingly youthful and slim woman (for someone who listens to the bitching and moaning of the city all day), and was very cordial in welcoming us to her office — something that rarely takes place (most people just call). It wasn’t a big space, shared only with her assistant Wendy, and was filled mostly with office supplies, bulky office equipment, books, desks, and one small round table around which we sat.

She began by opening a weighty volume, the City of Toronto Code of Conduct for Members of Council and explaining that this, for the most part, was the territory that she treads. Then she drew a three-slice pie diagram explaining that, out of the three slices of a Member’s responsibility, she was responsible for interpreting complaints related to their conduct (the other two being legal / criminal responsibilities, and political responsibilities). To put it another way, the Code of Conduct is what she’s responsible for admonishing. Should the matter be criminal or a failure of political responsibility, her role would be only to advise people to take it up with others under whom these jurisdictions fall.

The role of the Integrity Commissioner is, for the most part, to smooth over relations so that, for example, when some Council member is having a tiff with another member, she can recommend that the two apologize. Her recommendations are the definitive word on whether or not the Code of Conduct has been breached and, when it’s something big, her recommendation is brought to Council for a vote for action. Janet is also a lawyer (this gig is only a part-time role for her), so she is basically the professional vetting of whether or not the Code has been breached — if she says yes, there doesn’t need to be any question about it. However, if a member of Council breaks a rule beyond simply the Code, it’s taken one step higher to the courts, precisely why Rob Ford is being tackled by Clayton Ruby.

We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we were more than welcome to contact Janet’s office any time we felt that the Code of Conduct was being breached, and even if it wasn’t specifically spelled out “in the letter” of the code, we could go by “the spirit” of the document which is spelled out in the preamble. In other words, even if the thing doesn’t mention a specific infraction, there are certain overarching elements that cover what the Code is supposed to be about. These include:

  • Members of Council shall serve and be seen to serve their constituents in a conscientious and diligent manner;
  • Members of Council should be committed to performing their functions with integrity and to avoiding the improper use of the influence of their office, and conflicts of interest, both apparent and real;
  • Members of Council are expected to perform their duties in office and arrange their private affairs in a manner that promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny; and
  • Members of Council shall seek to serve the public interest by upholding both the letter and the spirit of the laws of the Federal Parliament and Ontario Legislature, and the laws and policies adopted by City Council

So let’s say you believe that the Mayor had a conflict of interest in using public money to fund his high school football team — start by having a gander of the Code of Conduct. If you can find anything specific covering such an action (or you believe the spirit of the thing has been breached), you should go right ahead and file a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner. That complaint can be private, or it can be formal (which will require an affidavit and some other paperwork), the second accusation obviously being the more serious one (and one that the Commissioner is able to discuss publicly). The Commissioner’s office will then investigate the complaint and provide a recommendation. That recommendation can be brought before Council for a vote, or she can recommend that you get a lawyer and they can take it from there.

In any event, the Office of the Integrity Commissioner is a great place to start if you think that members of Council have broken the rules. Just be sure to point out which part of the Code you think they’ve breached (she can’t actually recommend things like that, it would make her seem biased). Even if you’re not 100% sure, you can ask — that’s exactly why she’s there!

And, if I can share the one major take-away that this visit left me with: getting involved with the machinations of City Hall (or any level of government), is not at all difficult! Even if you don’t know exactly how to proceed with something like a complaint, all you have to do is ask and you will be directed to the right place. You’ll learn more about how the city works in 30 minutes than you could by reading all the newspapers around town, and along the way you’ll discover that most of these mechanisms are actually in place primarily for citizens, not just Council members, reporters, and others who would end up interpreting things for you.

And it’s exceedingly easy in most cases. I started with an email which resulted in an appointment for a phone call. We misunderstood and actually went down to the Integrity Commissioner’s office, but that’s usually way more effort than you’d have to put in.

We said our goodbyes, took the elevator down to street level, out onto University, and made our way up to discuss what we’d just learned over bevvies. While we didn’t actually do anything, the meeting emboldened us to take further steps to get our buffoon of a mayor under control. The bravado came from knowing we’re both just regular Joes off the street; we have no legal training, no lawyers, no money to back us, and no connections to support us, yet we have as much power to file a formal complaint that could oust the mayor (or any member of Council) as anyone else!

If I can recommend just one thing, if you’re frustrated with Mayor Ford or his minions, if things seem to be spinning wildly out of control, if City Hall seems to be working against you, the citizen, and not with you, don’t be afraid to get in touch with someone like the Integrity Commissioner and find out what steps to take to fix things. It’s easy, friendly, and even if you don’t get the answer you need right away, you’ll be pointed in the right direction.

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