Human rights lawyer recommended to be Winnipeg's first integrity commissioner

City staff is proposing a prominent human rights lawyer to take on the role of ethics watchdog at Winnipeg city hall in April.

If chosen, lawyer Sherri Walsh would investigate, educate councillors on conflict of interest issues

The Riverside Glen condo owners board calls on the city to exercise greater vigilance in approving and overseeing the construction of condominium properties. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

City staff is proposing a prominent human rights lawyer to take on the role of ethics watchdog at Winnipeg city hall in April.

Sherri Walsh was tapped by a city selection panel to be Winnipeg's first-ever integrity commissioner. Upon council's approval, she will serve in the position for two years, with possibility of renewal. 
Sherri Walsh is a lawyer and co-founder of Hill Sokalski Walsh Olson LLP, the largest litigation firm in Winnipeg. (Hill Sokalski Walsh Olson LLP)

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) first proposed the idea of hiring an integrity commissioner in 2008 after the city hired a close friend of then-mayor Sam Katz, Phil Sheegl, as director of planning, property and development. 

The city first approved the idea for the position in early December 2015. Staff reviewed nine candidates for the position.

Coun. Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) chaired the integrity commissioner selection panel and said he was pleased to recommend her for the job.

"The appointment of an integrity commissioner is long overdue and it's great to be moving forward with a recommendation for Executive Policy Committee and ultimately council's consideration," Pagtakhan said in a written statement.

The commissioner will educate council members on ethics, investigate alleged conflicts of interest and provide an open and transparent process to report perceived conflicts, among other things.

At next week's Executive Policy Committee meeting the mayor's inner circle will vote on the recommendation. If approved, city council will vote on Walsh's appointment Feb. 22.

Walsh graduated from the University of Manitoba's law program in 1985 and was called to the bar the following year.

Her work includes serving as commission counsel to the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry, one of the largest public inquiries in Manitoba's history, and serving as chief adjudicator on the Human Rights Code of Manitoba adjudication panel.

She has also worked as director on the board of the University of Winnipeg Foundation and chaired the Winnipeg Harvest board.

Walsh was one of the recipients of the first Nellie Awards in 2016. The award honours Nellie McClung and recognized Walsh's work in constitutional and human rights law along with respectful workplace issues and protecting the privacy of sexual assault victims.

Winnipeg's integrity commissioner will receive a yearly retainer of $25,000, along with a $200 hourly salary, along with money to hire an associate and articling student.

with files from Bartley Kives