Darouze used power to 'bully and intimidate' Facebook critic, report finds

George Darouze is the first Ottawa city councillor to be found guilty of violating the councillor code of conduct after he wrote to the former police chief in an attempt to shut down criticism during last fall's municipal election.

Councillor broke rules by emailing police chief, says integrity commissioner

Coun. George Darouze is the first councillor to have violated the code of conduct after he wrote Ottawa's former police chief in an effort to silence a public critic. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Coun. George Darouze tried to silence a woman who criticized him on social media during last fall's municipal election by writing to her husband's boss, the chief of police, according to a scathing report from the city's integrity commissioner.

Darouze is the first councillor to be found guilty of violating the code of conduct since Robert Marleau was named integrity commissioner in 2012.

Among other findings, Friday's report describes the Osgoode councillor's actions as "unjustified and excessive," calls his version of events "not credible" and says the major motivation behind his letter-writing "was to bully and intimidate" the complainants and "cause grief" for the police officer at work.

Claimed woman was 'spreading fear'

The complaint was filed in March by an Osgoode-area woman and her husband, an Ottawa police officer.

After a September 2018 all-candidates debate, the woman took to an Osgoode village Facebook group to disagree with some of Darouze's claims that he was responsible for certain improvements to local policing.

"You never changed where police are dispatched from," the woman posted. "Osgoode town and the whole zone has always been out of Leitrim station, not Orléans."

She opined that although two officers were officially assigned to Osgoode and the outlying areas, they were often called to the city "if stuff hits the fan."

"It makes me mad that [the councillor] thinks there is enough police coverage."

Darouze replied on Facebook that "spreading fears and misleading our community is not cool. I take this very seriously!"

He accused the woman of posting "incorrect information" and asked to meet with her and her "inside source family member" — namely, her husband, the police officer.

Darouze made that connection, the report said, despite the fact the woman used her maiden name on social media.

An Osgoode woman took issue with some of the claims Darouze made related to local policing issues at a debate on Sept. 13, 2019. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Post was 'not misleading'

Twelve hours later, Darouze wrote to Charles Bordeleau, then Ottawa's chief of police, to complain.

In the letter, Darouze accused the woman of using "scare tactics" to upset the community. The councillor suggested Bordeleau look into whether "her husband is relaying incorrect information to her to scare the public."

Darouze also gave the chief the couple's names and contact information.

Bordeleau then forwarded the email to the appropriate inspector and staff sergeant on Oct. 4.

After reviewing Darouze's letter and the woman's Facebook post, the senior officers determined the information in the post "was accurate and not misleading," according to the integrity commissioner's report. 

They also determined that the woman had not shared any confidential information. In other words, despite Darouze's letter, the woman had done nothing wrong.

Her husband, the report said, was shocked to hear about the councillor's actions, as he doesn't use social media and was unaware of her exchange with Darouze until his superiors showed him the letter.

While the officer was assured that "no action" would be taken based on Darouze's letter, it would nonetheless remain on his file.

Darouze wrote to then-chief of police Charles Bordeleau to complain about the woman, and suggested wrongdoing on the part of her husband, a police officer. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Two issues considered

The integrity report looks at two questions related to the code of conduct: whether Darouze improperly obtained personal information about the complainants to further his private interests, and if his email to the chief amounted to "bullying, harassment or intimidation."

On the first issue, the integrity commissioner decided no.

The councillor explained he'd first met the woman about a property-related issue in 2015, and she'd used her married name in that exchange. A short while later, he met an officer "with the name tag bearing the same last name as the complainant" at a local fair and connected the two.

The integrity commissioner found that "on a balance of probabilities," Darouze didn't contravene the code with regards to abusing private information.

Senior officers with Ottawa police found the woman's Facebook posts were accurate and did not contain any confidential information. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Discrimination and harassment

But the report could hardly come down harder on Darouze with regards to whether the councillor bullied, harassed or discriminated against the couple.

Darouze's explanation for writing the letter was "not credible," Marleau's report found, and the "major motivation of the councillor was to bully and intimidate the complainants."

[It was written] for the primary reason of silencing the female complainant and causing the male complainant grief in his workplace.- Excerpt from Robert Marleau's report

Not only was the information in the woman's Facebook post accurate, the Osgoode councillor produced zero proof of any alarm over policing in the village in the 12 hours between the post and the email to the chief.

"When asked repeatedly how many calls he received from constituents responding to the Facebook exchange in that short time … he then advised he might have received two calls," according to the report.

When he was first questioned by the investigator, Darouze said he wrote the letter to "get clarity for himself and his constituents on police deployment."

However, Darouze never once followed up for "clarity," the report said.

City council could vote to suspend Darouze's pay for up to 90 days. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Darouze motivated by re-election campaign

During the investigation, the councillor initially denied the municipal election had anything to do with his motivation for writing to the chief.

But Darouze later admitted that policing was a major issue being raised by his opponent.

In fact, the same woman had written an earlier post in 2017 where she also asserted that there were not enough officers in the rural area around Osgoode. If anything, the language in that post was harsher, and referred to the chief as a "moron."

And yet, Darouze knew about that post and had no problem with it, Marleau's report concluded.

The report found that the woman simply "expressed an opinion as any citizen is entitled to do," and that Darouze's reaction was "unjustified and excessive."

The report also found that the fact Darouze wrote the chief and identified them both by name — including the police officer — was "for the primary reason of silencing the female complainant and causing the male complainant grief in his workplace."

Integrity commissioner Robert Marleau, left, said in his report that Darouze doesn't think he 'crossed a line' by writing a letter to the chief. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Councillor accepts 'full responsibility'

In his report, Marleau also said he "is of the opinion that Coun. Darouze does not believe his actions crossed a line." 

However, after the report came out, Darouze issued a statement saying he accepted "full responsibility" for his actions and had written an apology to the couple.

He also said he'd asked police to remove the email he'd sent Bordeleau from the officer's file.

The integrity commissioner had, in fact, recommended council direct Darouze to write a "sincere" apology to the complainants and ask the new police chief to withdraw that communication. His report also recommended council "reprimand" Darouze as laid out in the code of conduct.

That code allows council to — among other things — suspend a councillor's pay for up to 90 days.

"I accept the recommendation for council's reprimand as a fitting penalty for my actions in this instance," Darouze wrote. "I will continue to work hard for the residents in Osgoode ward and hope to regain any trust that might be lost as a result of my actions in this matter." 

Council will receive the report and vote on any penalties next Wednesday.