'Systemic problems' with city councillor conduct found in report Calgary fought to keep secret

The City of Calgary has lost its fight to keep a lid on an investigator's report on misconduct by several city councillors, which found disrespectful behaviour and discrimination or harassment in their workplaces.

City and accused councillors battled for years to prevent report from being released publicly

The city resisted a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request filed by CBC News to release details of the investigation for three years. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The City of Calgary has lost its fight to keep a lid on an investigator's report on misconduct by several city councillors.

The investigator found there were substantiated complaints of disrespectful behaviour and discrimination or harassment in their workplaces.

For three years, the city resisted a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request filed by CBC News to see the details of the 2014 investigation, which was done by a Calgary lawyer.

The outside investigator was called by the city auditor following complaints from staff who work in the councillors' offices to the city's whistleblower program.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta recently ordered the city to release the report, which cost the city $76,000.

The report concludes the problems in the councillors' offices in 2014 were "sufficiently widespread to sustain a finding of systemic problems in the workplace."

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta recently ordered the City of Calgary to release the report. However, details of misbehaviour and the identities of those deemed at fault were redacted. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

There were substantiated breaches of council's Respectful Workplace policy by several council members and that took its toll on the staff, according to the investigator, Calgary lawyer Bill Armstrong.

"Council staff feel that they have no options in the face of such conduct other than to quit or put up with unwelcome comments and actions" by a number of city councillors, writes Armstrong, who is a senior partner at the law firm of Norton Rose Fulbright.

However, specific details of the misbehaviour remain a mystery, as do the identities of all but one of the councillors found to be at fault.

The city was permitted to redact names of most of the elected officials involved in order to protect the identities of the complainants. 

The details of the misconduct by the city councillors has also been withheld by the privacy commissioner but only to protect the identities of whistleblowers.

Disrespectful behaviour, discrimination or harassment

The substantiated breaches fall into two categories.

There were examples of disrespectful behaviour as well as examples of discrimination/harassment, which could include sexual harassment, according to the report.

The report states disrespectful behaviour could include:

  • Conduct, written or verbal comments, actions or gestures that are humiliating, offensive, hurtful or belittling.
  • Hostile or unwanted behaviour.
  • Bullying or intimidation.
  • Abusing authority.
  • Yelling or shouting.

It could also include any action that results in a harmful or poisoned work environment

The report states discrimination/harassment includes:

  • Inappropriate behaviour.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Unwelcome remarks, jokes, taunts, suggestions or speculations about a person's body, attire, sex life, etc. 

The report concluded that none of the policy breaches involved the use of alcohol and there was no criminal activity found.

In January 2015, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said publicly he had heard complaints about councillors being drunk on the job. But that was not a factor in this investigation.

There was one complaint against a councillor that was found to be unsubstantiated.

Of the 14 councillors in office at the time of the investigation, 10 of them were re-elected last fall.

Current councillors who were in office during 2014 investigation:

Ward SutherlandGian-Carlo Carra
Joe MaglioccaRay Jones
Sean ChuShane Keating
Druh FarrellDiane Colley-Urquhart
Evan WoolleyPeter Demong

City officials fought to keep all of the report secret for years, refusing to provide the report through the FOIP process.

Under provincial law, specific information can be exempted in replying to a FOIP request. The exemptions include things such as third-party information, information that is covered by solicitor-client privilege and information that would identify informants in a law enforcement investigation.

Some of the councillors hired lawyers to argue their names and actions should not be released in responding to CBC News's request.

Through an inquiry conducted by the information and privacy commissioner, they argued the councilllors' names should not be released through the FOIP process.

The lawyers took the position that their clients could potentially suffer the loss of their jobs, damage to their reputations, financial harm, psychological harm or damage to their personal lives. 

Only one councillor went public

Only one councillor, Evan Woolley, who represents the inner-city Ward 8, consented to having his name released in the report.

Even though Woolley waived his privacy rights and the finding against him was minor in nature, the city's legal department still resisted disclosure. It argued that releasing his name could help identify others.

The information and privacy commissioner disagreed with the city and ordered Woolley's name be released, saying the disclosure would not affect anyone else.

Woolley told CBC News he was swept up into the investigation after he became angry and yelled at a staff member in 2014.

"There was a single incident in which I basically got mad at someone and I apologized for that," he said.

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley was the only councillor who consented to having his name released in the report — a move the city's legal department still resisted. (CBC)

The incident prompted a complaint to the city's whistleblower program, which is to be used for reporting any wrongdoing by council or city employees.

Woolley said he had no problem with the city releasing his name as he wanted to be open and transparent.

However, Woolley said he does not know who the other councillors were, how many were found to have acted inappropriately or what they did.

The last city council was briefed in 2014 on the results of the investigation, but Woolley said he hadn't seen the report.

"I have no knowledge of what those other incidents were so I can't comment."

When asked if he thinks his colleagues or former colleagues should have also released their names, Woolley would only say: "I have no knowledge of what those other incidents were so I can't comment."

No sanctions approved by council

Lori Williams, a political studies professor at Mount Royal University, said the findings of the investigation are serious. 

Williams said the lack of information about the misconduct leaves voters in the dark about their elected officials, while the city's secrecy does a disservice to both Calgary's reputation and the elected officials who were not subjects of the investigation.

"We know that there are 10 people on the current council that could have been the subject of this investigation. One of them has self-identified and has taken responsibility and is being transparent about what was going on, leaving nine people potentially tainted." 

Lori Williams is a political science professor with Mount Royal University in Calgary. She says the city's secrecy regarding the report does a disservice to elected officials who were not subjects in the investigation. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Beyond the court of public opinion, she said only council itself can sanction council members who violate rules. 

In this case, while council was briefed on the findings of the investigation, members weren't told who was investigated, nor what they did. 

No council member was reported publicly to have been punished by council. Several council members told CBC News no sanctions were approved.

Williams said the incident also raises questions about how council can possibly decide to sanction one of its members if even its members aren't given the details of the misconduct.

Council's conduct rules have been tightened since 2014 and council approved the creation of an integrity commissioner to investigate complaints filed against elected officials. That person can report publicly on any substantiated allegations of misconduct by council members. 

Coun. Jyoti Gondek was first elected last fall so she wasn't on council when the investigation happened in 2014.

She said she doesn't know whether any of her council colleagues were part of the investigation.

She also doesn't believe an elected official could have their identity protected today, given the changes made at city hall since 2014 and the fall-out from the #metoo movement.

"I believe in today's environment, people will be expected to step forward and take responsibility for their actions," said Gondek.