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Integrity Commissioner recommends sanctioning Councillor Stevenson for social media post

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Coun. Susan Stevenson could face a formal reprimand from her council colleagues following an investigation by London’s Integrity Commissioner.

On Friday afternoon, a 10-page report by Toronto-based lawyers Jeffrey A. Abrams and Janice Atwood-Petkovski of Principles Integrity determined that some of the councillor’s social media posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, violated the Council Code of Conduct.

In September, Stevenson posted photos of several homeless individuals accompanied by references to criminal activity and vandalism.

What followed was a deluge of complaints to the Integrity Commissioner from residents who felt her actions violated the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Following an investigation that included speaking with Stevenson, the Integrity Commissioner instead determined that she violated rule seven (discreditable conduct) of the Council Code of Conduct.

“Although she tried to obscure the individuals’ faces, the code requires council members to treat members of the public appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation. Although not blatantly an act of abuse or bullying, the photos inappropriately infringed the personal privacy of the individuals involved, reflecting a disregard for the impact the post could have on the individuals involved and the homeless community at large,” reads the report.

Ultimately, the Integrity Commissioner can only make recommendations.

Penalties imposed by city council range from a formal reprimand up to a suspension of pay for 90 days.

In this case, the Integrity Commissioner recommends that the sanction of a formal reprimand would be sufficient.

The report states that Stevenson was cooperative during the investigation but “her refusal to recognize the validity of our investigation – in particular, with respect to the complaints regarding posts of homeless individuals – and her insistence on the strict language as fatal to our report, belies a technical and unyielding approach.”

In the process of coming to this conclusion, the Integrity Commissioner did not adhere to the Code of Conduct for Members of council complaint protocol and found me in breach of the Code of Conduct prematurely and without due process," Stevenson said in a statement to CTV News London. 

Meanwhile, there will be no consequence for Stevenson’s repost of a US. news report that some complainants interpreted as a call to imprison homeless people.

In the Integrity Commissioner ruling, “We find that the re-tweet of the Smerconish article with the comment ‘London could be first’ should not be interpreted as advocating for arbitrary arrest of the homeless and therefore does not constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct.”

The report emphasizes that the rulings walk a difficult line because, “Councillors are entitled – in fact, expected, from time to time - to express controversial views and opinions without fear of contravention of the Code of Conduct.” 

Stevenson concluded, "There is a defined process for a reason and that process must be followed. The Integrity Commissioner did not comply with the complaint protocol. The first time I was made aware of an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner was the same time I was informed that they had already found me in breach of the Code of Conduct. They came to a conclusion prematurely without fair and necessary consideration of the facts, and have therefore compromised the entire process. Therefore, I reject the findings of their report."

 

THE FULL STATEMENT FROM COUN. STEVENSON

Early Friday evening Stevenson issued a a statement to CTV News London, which reads in full:

"In the process of coming to this conclusion, the Integrity Commissioner did not adhere to the Code of Conduct for Members of Council Complaint Protocol and found me in breach of the Code of Conduct prematurely and without due process.

My objection to this process pertains specifically to paragraphs 47-58 and 61 of the Integrity Commissioner's Report, in which they determine some actions “fell below the standard expected of members of Council”, specifically Rule 7 of the Code of Conduct.

In the Code of Conduct for Members of Council Complaint Protocol, it states:

5.1 The Integrity Commissioner will proceed as follows, except where otherwise required by the Public Inquiries Act, 2009:

a) serve the complaint and supporting material upon the Member whose conduct is in question with a request that a written response to the allegation by way of affidavit or otherwise be filed within ten business days;

b) serve a copy of the response provided upon the complainant with a request for a written reply within ten business days.

As the Member whose conduct was in question, I was not served the complaint nor any supporting material for the basis of the complaint before receiving the Preliminary Report. I was also not requested to file a written response to an allegation within ten business days.

While I was copied on the initial complaint sent to the Integrity Commissioner by the complainant, that is insufficient to comply with 5.1 of the Complaint Protocol. I have been copied on a number of complaints sent to the Integrity Commissioner, all of which I believe to be frivolous, vexatious, made in bad faith, outside of Integrity Commissioner’s jurisdiction, and/or without sufficient grounds for an investigation. As a Member subject to the Code of Conduct for Members of Council, I rely on the Integrity Commissioner's adherence to the Complaint Protocol in order to determine if and when I am required to participate in an investigation.

While Mr. Abrams and I had an in-person discussion on September 28th, it was not material to this apparent investigation. I initiated that conversation privately and proactively in an effort to better understand the subject matter of the Training Seminar. At no point was I informed that an investigation had been initiated; provided the complaint and its supporting material; nor was I requested to provide a written response. As the Member whose conduct was in question, I am entitled to all of those things as per the Complaint Protocol.

As the Integrity Commissioner for the City of London, Mr. Abrams and Ms. Atwood may believe that the Complaint Protocol is overly "prescriptive”, “legalistic”, and “simply unworkable”, but they were aware of that protocol before accepting the position and remain bound by that process. City Council is the legitimate authority that promulgates the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and the Complaint Protocol therein. It is not within the Integrity Commissioner's jurisdiction to selectively apply components of that by-law at their discretion. If they believe the Complaint Protocol as defined by Council is “simply unworkable”, they may consider issuing a formal recommendation to City Council that we amend our Code of Conduct or recuse themselves from this process altogether. In the absence of their recusal or a Council amendment, the Integrity Commissioner is bound to apply the Code of Conduct as written. That did not occur before issuing paragraphs 47-58 and 61 of their Report.

There is a defined process for a reason and that process must be followed. The Integrity Commissioner did not comply with the Complaint Protocol. The first time I was made aware of an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner was the same time I was informed that they had already found me in breach of the Code of Conduct. They came to a conclusion prematurely without fair and necessary consideration of the facts, and have therefore compromised the entire process. Therefore, I reject the findings of their report." 

The full London Integrity Commissioner's report can be read by clicking through the photo carousel below. 

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