A late addition to Monday night’s Committee of the Whole agenda was an investigative report from the Town’s Integrity Commissioner, Michael Maynard on a Councillor’s participation in the event dubbed by some as the “Ottawa Convoy” or the “Freedom Convoy”.
The investigation appears to have been quite exhaustive, resulting in a 38-page report (and a 6-page addendum), a finding that the Code of Conduct was breached multiple times and a recommendation that the Councillor’s remuneration (pay) be suspended for 15 days. This would be the harshest penalty yet to be recommended from the Integrity Commissioner.
Without going into the minute details of the complaint as documented in the report, attached at the bottom of this post, the residents complaints stem from the Councillor’s participation in the Ottawa event and the content of his livestream postings thereof on his Facebook page, “Dave Sharpe – Councillor Ward 4 – Grimsby”. The report states it was the position of the complainants that he was “…arranging his private affairs in a manner that lacks public trust, is against public interest, is dishonest and unethical”.
The IC further noted that in the view of the complainants:
“the Councillor’s posts on his Facebook Page appeared to be representing the Town of Grimsby and made it seem like the Town was supporting the Ottawa Convoy.”
Councillor Sharpe’s Position
The position taken by Councillor Sharpe appears to be that he was largely there to observe the happenings in Ottawa and that:
“[m]uch of this code of conduct complaint is regarding the actions of other people. The action that I took was to go live stream on Facebook from the protest in Ottawa.”
According to the Councillor, his overall position to the IC was:
“I submit that I have not breached the code of conduct. This protest was by its nature somewhat controversial, and I am aware of that. I believe it was abundantly clear to the complainants that I was not representing the town of Grimsby, or Council as a whole, while I was at the protest in Ottawa. However, I will take instance from this situation and in the future, I will put more effort to make it absolutely clear that my social media posts are personal.”
“I participated in a protest, I guess. I did not even really participate. I took some videos and shared my opinions. My intent was not to be offensive to anyone. I don’t think the things I did were offensive.”
Subsequent Claims of Reprisal
One of the complainants made a further allegation that they were later the victim of “acts of reprisals” after sending an email to all Members of Council critical of “how the Town had handled a particular issue related to protests”.
According to the report:
“The email was sent to all Members of Council and the Town’s CAO. Several days later, [a] verbatim copy from this email correspondence appeared on a protest group’s Facebook page. The Complainant also began to receive targeted online harassment. A fake profile of the Complainant was created, and abusive messages were sent directly, in addition to there being negative public comments, all of which stemmed from the email the Complainant had sent to Members of Council and the CAO (and was not copied to anyone else publicly)”
After initially declining a second interview and asking for questions in writing, Councillor Sharpe later agreed to speak to the IC further and on this particular matter. As stated by the IC:
“I then explained to the Respondent that out of all individuals copied on the constituent email from the Complainant, only he had a connection to that particular group on Facebook and that he alone (of Council Members and the CAO) was friends with the Admin of that group. I advised him that the email from the Complainant had evidently been released to that Facebook group, and I asked the Respondent Councillor whether he had sent it to them. He acknowledged that he did. I asked him why he had sent the email to the group, and he stated: “Because [the Complainant] named them in [the] correspondence.”
Further on the matter, the IC notes:
“The Respondent was asked if he retained the message in which he sent the email contents to the Facebook group and whether he could provide me with a copy of that message. He refused my request. When asked why he was refusing a request from the Town’s Integrity Commissioner respecting the subject matter of an investigation, the Councillor stated: “I just don’t want to,” and added “I don’t see how this is related to my posts about Ottawa.” I explained again that the issue raised with me was one of potential reprisal against a Complainant who made a Complaint about his Ottawa posts, and that as Integrity Commissioner it
is up to me to determine the scope of my investigation. The Respondent stated: “I am very clear that this is not reprisal”. He also added that if this matter (i.e., of sharing the email with Facebook group) came as a separate complaint on some later date he would consider providing the information at that point.”
On that missing message and ability to investigate the allegation, the IC noted:
“The Respondent acknowledged that he provided the information about the Complainant to the Facebook group via Facebook but denied that reprisal was the rationale for doing so. His refusal to provide the requested evidence has hindered my ability to determine this question conclusively.”
“The Respondent was provided with reasons for my request for the information; particularly, that I have before me a legitimate question of possible reprisal by him against the Complainant, and that in my view the information requested could be determinative of that issue. The Councillor refused to provide the information simply because he did not “want to”.”
Due to the intricacies of compelling the evidence, the IC declined to pursue this line of inquiry further noting that Council members have a duty to comply with his requests and in this case, the Councillor had “fallen short”.
The Integrity Commissioner’s Conclusion
Mr. Maynard notes in his conclusion that Councillor Sharpe violated four sections of the Town’s Code of Conduct, 4.1 (a), (d), (e) and 14.2. The IC further noted that Councillor Sharpe “obstruct[ed] [his] investigation into the issue of reprisal”, but refused to make a conclusion on the actual allegation of reprisal.
As his justification and recommendation of a penalty, the latter of which is up to Council to accept or reject, the IC states the following:
“I have found that the Councillor breached several provisions [of] the Code of Conduct on several occasions. His flagrant disregard for the rights and well-being of downtown Ottawa residents and for the laws and proclamations of police and the governments of the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario are in my view sufficient to warrant a sterner sanction than a formal reprimand by Council.
I accordingly recommend a suspension of Councillor Sharpe’s remuneration as a Member for a period of 15 days.”
Previous IC findings have recommended no penalty or at a maximum, a reprimand, so this recommended penalty is notable.
Committee of the Whole Discussion
This agenda item is sure to attract a lot of attention and debate at Monday night’s meeting, which starts at 5:30 PM and can be viewed on Facebook Live or the Town’s livestream at https://grimsby.ca/livestream
The Integrity Commissioner’s full report, which is recommended to be read for a full review of the matter, can be viewed below or at this Town link:Final-Investigation-Report-IC-16634-0222