Special Report: Council Conduct

Councillor Threatens Integrity Commisioner Complaint Against Charity, Private Individual

The Integrity Commissioner was supposed to have been established to hold Council accountable for their conduct, not for Council to use in order to punish its critics.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 02, 2020

It's no surprise to anyone that Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead's ongoing behaviour is a source of concern. He routinely bullies staff, council colleagues and members of the public with impunity. But it's getting worse, and we need to talk about it.

On September 30, he threatened to deploy the Integrity Commissioner (IC) complaint process against the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, an independent charitable organization working to make Hamilton more inclusive and welcoming to everyone.

Screen capture of Tweet posted September 30, 2020 at 4:30 PM (Image Credit: Twitter)
Screen capture of Tweet posted September 30, 2020 at 4:30 PM (Image Credit: Twitter)

The tweet reads:

Curious does HCCI fall under the integrity commision just asking [sic]

It's difficult to overstate just how deeply troubling an abuse of power this is.

Mechanism for Oversight on Council Members

The IC position was created as an oversight mechanism to hold Councillors accountable for upholding the Council Code of Conduct, which govern's the acceptable conduct of a Council member.

The IC position for Hamilton was established under By-law 16-288 in order to receive and investigate complaints against members of Council, and to provide advice to Council members on matters of ethics and conduct.

Council also has a Code of Conduct for advisory committees and task forces.

The City's position is that the IC also has the authority to investigate complainst against members of advisory committees and task forces. It is not clear what this authority is based on, as the IC bylaw only refers to complaints against members of Council, and the Code of Conduct for advisory committees and task forces says nothing about the IC.

The Ontario Municipal Act defines the role and function of an IC in Section 223.3 to apply to members of council and local boards. It says nothing about advisory committees.

It Gets Worse

But even if it turns out to be technically valid for Council to use the IC to invstigate volunteers sitting on advisory committees, however much it might violate the spirit of this oversight mechanism, the IC was certainly not established in order to target independent community organizations!

And yet, here we are. The Integrity Commissioner just investigated a complaint against a volunteer member of an advisory committee after a complaint by Council, and on the same day that Council received the report, a Council member is already threatening to sic the Integrity Commissioner on a charity.

In a follow-up tweet, Whitehead even went so far as to threaten an investigation on a private citizen.

Screen capture of tweet posted September 30, 2020 at 5:06 PM (Image Credit: Twitter)
Screen capture of tweet posted September 30, 2020 at 5:06 PM (Image Credit: Twitter)

The tweet reads:

We are just beginning to understand that the integrity commissioner and independent body now has the ability to look investigate beyond council. it would be prudent to determine if you fall under expanded role . [sic]

How ominous and chilling is that threat? Perhaps anyone can be subject to an IC investigation, if Council decides they have authority to make a formal complaint against anyone who criticizes them.

Surely all reasonable people can agree that this is wholly unacceptable behaviour from a Councillor bound by the Council Code of Conduct. How ironic that he has weaponized an agency that is supposed to hold him accountable against the very people trying to hold him accountable.

This city is in civic disarray. The lifers on council are out of control. How many more times do they need to show us what they really are before we have a real think about whether we want them to be our leaders and representatives?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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