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Council to split future of oversight roles

Same integrity commissioner for assistance and investigations could cause conflict, clerk says

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

After more than three years, Oshawa residents will now have an official place to lodge complaints against their municipal representatives.

A report that went before councillors during its meeting of Corporate Services on April 16 explains that the City of Oshawa will be looking at entering into the proper agreements to “piggy-back” on the Region of Durham’s contract for integrity commissioner services.

In December 2016, the region entered into a contract with Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP and lawyer Guy W. Giorno was appointed as the region’s integrity commissioner. Giorno reports directly to regional council until the end of 2021.

The commissioner’s office has an annual retainer cost of $900, and $239 per hour to investigate complaints, as well as for special projects including teaching seminars, public meetings or other assignments.

However, while the city will be using the region’s integrity commissioner for any future investigations into breaches of council’s Code of Conduct, they will be looking to acquire separate services for an advisory role to council.

According to a staff report, the reason for this is in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

“As there is a potential conflict between the investigative and advice-giving elements of this position, it is recommended that the City secure two separate contracts to provide these services, with the former being handled by the Region of Durham’s Integrity Commissioner services, while the latter may be sought through a competitive bid process,” the report reads.  “An Integrity Commissioner that provides advice should not be in a position to investigate, as any prior relationship that might impair or be perceived by the public to affect his or her objectivity. Further, members or directors may avoid seeking advice or be overly cautious in conveying relevant information to the Integrity Commissioner if that Integrity Commissioner were also to investigate.”

The decision on the integrity commissioner roles follows the creation of Oshawa council’s code of conduct in 2015, a set of rules which councillors are meant to abide by while carrying out their jobs. As well, if the city doesn’t appoint one now, they are required to do so in accordance with Bill 68 the Modernizing Ontario Municipal Legislation Act.

The city is also taking this time to update its code of conduct to include a few measures introduced alongside Bill 68, including items to address councillor gifts, benefits, and respectful conduct.

Most significantly, the updated code is set to include measures to address harassment and sexual harassment.

The move follows statements made by Councillor Amy McQuaid-England in October 2017 that during her time as a councillor she had repeatedly been the victim of sexual harassment.

“I have been inappropriately hit on, I’ve been asked to sit on people’s laps, I’ve had comments made about my appearance,” she said previously, adding that she has repeatedly encountered men “who have used their power to do things that are completely inappropriate.”

The new additions to the code are meant to create a “culture of awareness” the report reads, and will also include review and sensitivity training for members of council within two months of being sworn in as well as every two years, and it allows for reports of harassment to go directly to the integrity commissioner.

“I want to say thank you to staff for listening,” Councillor McQuaid-England says. “I believe it is important and I’m glad to see we’re going to be having training for new council members. I think that’s a huge step forward.”