Hamilton

Court dismisses LGBTQ committee chair's complaint against integrity commissioner

An Ontario court has dismissed an application for a judicial review of a Hamilton integrity commissioner investigation into the conduct of the chair of Hamilton’s LGBTQ advisory committee. 

City council voted to reprimand Cameron Kroetsch in 2020 following an integrity commissioner report

Cameron Kroetsch says he's disappointed with the result but won't appeal. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

An Ontario court has ruled that Hamilton's integrity commissioner was within its rights when it investigated the chair of Hamilton's LGBTQ advisory committee and recommended he be reprimanded.

The court dismissed an application this week by Cameron Kroetsch, who sits on the city advisory committee. Kroetsch asked for a judicial review after the commissioner investigated him and concluded that he went against the city clerk's advice and tweeted a motion with employee names. 

Kroetsch argued that his tweet didn't contain names, and that an unredacted version of the motion was already publicly available on the city's website. He also expressed frustration that the integrity commissioner – a role that often provides advice to councillors and probes ethical complaints about them – investigated a citizen advisory board member.

In its dismissal, the divisional court disagreed with those assertions, saying "the integrity commissioner had the authority to conduct the investigation, and the processes followed by the commissioner and the council were procedurally fair."

"In this case, the system worked as it should."

Kroetsch filed for the review in October 2020, saying the commissioner – a role performed by independent firm Principles Integrity – acted outside its jurisdiction by investigating him. 

The application claimed Kroetsch was denied procedural fairness, arguing city bylaws don't allow the commissioner to investigate members of local boards. The application also said Kroetsch's submissions to Principles Integrity weren't considered.

On the latter issue, the court said Kroetsch was given adequate notice and opportunities to respond both in writing and verbally.

"Once the commissioner completed the investigation, the applicant was given a copy of the draft report and an opportunity to comment on the report," the decision says. "The applicant provided extensive comments on the draft report before the commissioner finalized and submitted the report to council. On its face, this was a fair process."

The report from Principles Integrity recommended council reprimand or unseat Kroetsch, who councillors appointed to the council advisory committee in 2018.

Disappointed but won't appeal

In a statement issued Thursday, Kroetsch said he was "disappointed" with the result, but that he would not appeal the decision.

"The focus of our legal team was never on trying to prove whether or not I did what the city said I did, but on trying to ensure that the integrity commissioner could not continue to be weaponized by members of council against members of advisory committees in the future," he said in the statement. 

"With the court's decision, members of council may now decide to come after volunteers on any of its citizen committees. It's a legitimate source of concern and it's clear that there needs to be legislative change to prevent this from continuing to happen. I don't regret taking the actions that I took and I continue to believe that our municipal government should be open, transparent, and accountable." 

Kroetsch says he has to pay the city $15,000 in legal costs within 30 days. Local activist Sarah Jama set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the effort.

Principles Integrity has investigated local board members elsewhere

Jeffrey Abrams, a partner in Principles Integrity, said he expected the application to be dismissed, noting his organization has been asked to investigate local board members in other municipalities where it works. He says holding such members to rules that protect privileged information is essential for the proper conduct of municipal business. 

"If local board members were not covered by the code of conduct… they would in essence be ungovernable," he said Thursday.

Abrams notes Kroetsch had been warned by the clerk not to release the information. 

"It's not Mr. Kroetsch's role to release personal information," he said. "Regardless of the fact the information may be visible in one form, it's absolutely improper to (release) it in another."

With files from Samantha Craggs and Bobby Hristova

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