Toronto

'Absolutely not': Brampton integrity commissioner won't recuse herself if Patrick Brown is investigated

In the wake of reports that Brampton's newly-appointed integrity commissioner has ties to the city's mayor, Muneeza Sheikh says she has no plans to step down or recuse herself from any investigation involving Patrick Brown — and that any connection she might have with him is purely professional.

Muneeza Sheikh says she has 'no personal ties' to city's mayor and has no plans to step aside

The only events Muneeza Sheikh, right, has seen Patrick Brown, second from left, at have been community building ones, such as this Canadian Muslim Vote dinner or volunteer food basket initiatives, she told CBC News. (Muneeza Sheikh/Instagram)

In the wake of reports that Brampton's newly-appointed integrity commissioner has ties to the city's mayor, Muneeza Sheikh says she has no plans to step down from her position or recuse herself from any investigation involving Patrick Brown — and that any connection she might have with him is purely professional.

Sheikh was appointed to the position in July after a unanimous selection by Brampton's city council. 

On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported the Toronto labour lawyer and frequent panellist for CBC News had previously expressed support for Brown and that her husband's company had had been paid some $15,000 by the Progressive Conservative party in 2017, at a time when Brown was its leader. 

The Globe report also cited a 2018 panel interview in which Sheikh called the sexual misconduct claims surrounding Brown "extremely disheartening," as well as a photo posted to social media in February 2018 where Sheikh appeared to express support for Brown.

'A little disconcerting'

Speaking to CBC News Wednesday, Sheikh said she has photos with a range of politicians from across parties and at all levels of government, especially in her capacity as a director with the non-partisan group Canadian Muslim Vote, which works to increase voter turnout among Muslims in Canada. 

"You'll see that I have photos throughout the years with all of these individuals, and have issued statements of support for all of them," she said. 

"To single out any photo with respect to mayor Patrick Brown is just not consistent with what you would find with a simple Google search with my name, and any of the major politicians particularly since 2015."

The only events she has seen Brown have been community building ones, such as Canadian Muslim Vote dinner or a volunteer food basket initiative, she said. 

Asked if she would feel the need to recuse herself from an investigation of Patrick Brown if one were to be initiated, Sheikh replied: "Absolutely not."

"In 2019 to have my professional role tied to some business that my husband has — I don't know his entire client list, I don't know when he got paid, I don't know what invoice was sent to the provincial government — it's a little disconcerting," she added. 

'A judge for members of council'

But even if Sheikh herself has no personal ties to Brown, the head of one group advocating for democratic reform and government accountability says even the appearance of a connection with the mayor is enough to taint her credibility in the job.

Integrity commissioners, Duff Conacher explains, are meant to ensure a government is acting in the public interest and not furthering the interests of councillors, family members, relatives, friends, or supporters, for example. 

"An integrity commissioner is essentially a judge for members of council on ethics issues and cannot have even the appearance of bias. And her relationship with Patrick Brown crosses the line, and as a result she will have to step aside and let someone else be the decision maker if there's any complaints filed about him," Conacher told CBC News.

As for whether her expressions of support for or photos with politicians across party lines minimize the impression of a connection with Brown, Conacher says they do not.  

"Just because they're from different parties or different levels of government wouldn't neutralize what she has said about Patrick Brown and has posted publicly about him in terms of comments in support of him," he said. 

But Conacher also says there is a larger problem around municipal integrity commissioners in Ontario, arguing the previous provincial government "made a big mistake" in allowing municipal councillors to choose their own commissioners.

Larger problem around integrity commissioners?

"Municipal councillors never should have never been allowed to choose their own judge on ethics," he said.

In November 2018, Sheikh's predecessor, Guy Giorno, announced he was resigning from his post as Brampton's integrity commissioner, citing ties to the newly-elected mayor. 
Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher says even the appearance of bias on the part of an integrity commissioner is enough to taint their credibility. (David Richard/CBC)

Instead, Conacher says, a provincial commissioner not chosen by any municipal councillors should act as a kind of watchdog, taking complaints about municipal governments — similar to the way the independent provincial privacy commissioner works.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Brampton's mayor said, "Brown only knows Ms. Sheikh in passing," adding "she was unanimously selected by Brampton's city council as the most accomplished candidate. She is a successful labour lawyer, speaks multiple languages and is now serving in the most diverse city in Canada."

For her part, Sheikh says that as integrity commissioner, her professional obligations come first as they always have in her capacity as a lawyer.

"That will never change," she said. 

With files from Nick Boisvert