Ombudsman finds municipality’s trespass order against councillor
unjust and excessive
TORONTO – NEWS – Barring a councillor from the local town hall for more than two years is “excessive and unjustly punitive,” Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé has found in his first investigation of a complaint about a municipality.
Mr. Dubé’s report, Counter Encounter, released online, deals with a complaint from a councillor in the Township of Red Rock – a municipality of less than 900 people in northwestern Ontario, some 115 km east of Thunder Bay – about a trespass order the township issued against him before he was elected.
The Ombudsman found that the proper procedures and protocols were not followed in this case. The issues started in the office of the Town Clerk, and continued from there with what seems to be more of a personal issue between individuals than any real threat.
At issue was the township’s response to Lewis Martin’s behaviour towards municipal staff on two days in September 2014, in filing his paperwork to run in that year’s municipal election. The township’s Deputy Clerk complained that Mr. Martin made her feel bullied and uncomfortable, and its Clerk/Chief Administrative Officer issued the trespass order after an error-riddled investigation that was “perfunctory and procedurally unfair,” the Ombudsman found.
There was “no evidence that he was violent or threatened violence,” and Coun. Martin has attended council meetings regularly since December 2014 with no further incidents, the Ombudsman notes – yet the trespass order not only remained in place, but was extended to the entire building that houses the municipal offices, including the only local public library.
Among the Ombudsman’s 11 recommendations are that Red Rock immediately rescind the trespass order, create a policy to apply to conduct by members of the public, revise its anti-harassment policy, create a trespass policy, adopt a code of conduct for council members, and appoint an integrity commissioner.
Red Rock Seems Mired in Denial?
Red Rock’s Mayor and CAO responded to the Ombudsman that they will not rescind the trespass order until Coun. Martin apologizes. The township even called police to remove him from the meeting at which council discussed the Ombudsman’s findings. Noting that all concerned appear to be “entrenched in their positions,”
Ombudsman Dubé warns that this “Threatens to undermine public confidence in the township’s administration” and is “A disservice to the citizens of Red Rock.”
Dubé also stressed that most complaints to his office are resolved without need for formal investigation. Since the expansion of the mandate of the Ombudsman’s office on January 1, 2016, it has received 4,387 complaints about municipalities; only four have led to investigations so far.
“The level of resistance we encountered during our early resolution efforts,” Mr. Dubé says in the report is what made the Red Rock investigation unusual and difficult.
The Ombudsman has issued one other report on a municipal investigation to date: In March, he reported on his investigation of systemic issues related to non-competitive procurements in the City of Brampton; in that case, the Ombudsman opted to launch the investigation after receiving a request from the city.
The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who investigates public complaints about provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, but are overwhelmingly accepted and implemented by public sector bodies, resulting in broad reforms to governance.