Stabbing gesture at Calgary city council not an ethical violation, integrity commissioner says

The city's integrity commissioner says Coun. Ward Sutherland did not violate council's code of ethical conduct by making a stabbing gesture behind the back of Coun. Druh Farrell.

Coun. Ward Sutherland pleased by the decision, calls investigation 'a waste of time and money'

Coun. Ward Sutherland makes a gesture behind the back of Coun. Druh Farrell that prompted a complaint to the city's integrity commissioner. 0:20

The city's integrity commissioner says Coun. Ward Sutherland did not violate council's code of ethical conduct by making a stabbing gesture behind the back of Coun. Druh Farrell.

"Whether or not the conduct was appropriate by other standards is not for me to decide," Allan Sulatycky said in a written decision.

Sulatycky said in his decision that the motion was not actually directed at Farrell but rather was made as part of an animated conversation Sutherland was having with another councillor, Andre Chabot, while Farrell was speaking.

A video of the stabbing motion includes just Sutherland and Farrell in the frame; Chabot is sitting off camera to the viewer's right.

Sulatycky said he did not find the video, itself, to be conclusive but came to his decision based on the "statutory declaration" Sutherland provided in explanation of his actions.

The declaration "has the same force as a statement under oath," Sulatycky noted.

"I therefore have to accord it considerable weight," the integrity commissioner wrote.

He also noted Chabot's account of the situation was "completely consistent" with Sutherland's.

Farrell respects decision

Farrell said she respects the decision by Sulatycky.

"I don't think it comes down to whether this behaviour was directed toward me or not, the actions were inappropriate and Calgarians expect a higher degree of professionalism at council," she said.

'Distracting or intimidating conduct'

The integrity commissioner's investigation was prompted by a complaint to his office from Coun. Brian Pincott.

Sulatycky said he has since received four more complaints involving "distracting or intimidating conduct" by council members during meetings.

He noted council's procedure bylaw prohibits council members from "carrying on a private conversation when another member is speaking" but that is not something he is in a position to rule on.

"Council has to work together for the sake of the city and, frankly, I'm tired of these distractions," said Farrell.

"And I have no doubt the majority of Calgarians are as well, and I look forward to more respectful behaviour at council. We have to remember, when we're in council chambers, cameras are rolling and we have members of the public who are waiting for their item to come before council."

In the future, Sulatycky said, such matters should be addressed during the meeting in which they occur and not in a complaint to him.

Sutherland, who did apologize in council for making the gesture, said he's pleased with the decision and agreed with the commissioner on that point.

"The chair [of the meeting] needs to manage the situation so you know, it really is a waste of time and money to go off to the integrity commissioner on a regular basis," he said.

"If you don't like something, say it at council."

With files from Scott Dippel