Complaints made against Calgary city councillors to the city’s integrity commissioner saw a “significant” increase over the past year, according to a report to council.
The report showed 228 complaints in the period between May 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022; the most the office has received since its creation in 2016. There were 115 complaints to the integrity commissioner between 2020 and 2021.
The city’s integrity commissioner, Ellen-Anne O’Donnell, and ethics advisor Emily Laidlaw, outlined several possible contributing factors to the increase in complaints, including the municipal election, an increased use of social media by councillors, the appointment of a new integrity commissioner and more public awareness of the integrity commissioner.
Of the increased number of complaints, 136 were made between February and April, but the report indicated that 98 of those were “in relation to one councillor regarding the same matter.”
An estimated 128 complaints involved social media posts, mostly through Twitter and Facebook, as well as other forms of public statements.
“These complaints alleged disrespectful, abusive, bullying, personal attacks and/or intimidating behaviour,” the report says.
Nine complaints during the municipal election were referred to Elections Calgary to investigate, and one complaint was referred to the city auditor’s office.
The report noted 62 anonymous complaints were dismissed because they didn’t meet the requirements of the council code of conduct.
Just nine complaints met the requirement for further investigation, the report says, because there were “reasonable grounds to believe a violation of the code of conduct had occurred.” Six of those complaints were dismissed following investigations.
According to the report, three investigations, including the 98 complaints against one councillor on the same subject, were ongoing at the end of the reporting period on April 30.
The report doesn’t mention any names of councillors that were the subject of complaints.
O’Donnell clarified to council that an investigation is only made public if it’s found there is wrongdoing.
“The topline message would be respect for your fellow council members is key,” O’Donnell said. “Sending messages that are individual attacks or attacks on groups of any type should be avoided.”
Earlier this year, two city councillors were publicly sanctioned following complaints to the integrity commissioner.
Ward 13 councillor Dan McLean was sanctioned for allegedly breaking COVID-19 health protocols at a Christmas event in a Calgary restaurant last December.
Ward 9 councillor Gian-Carlo Carra was sanctioned for two separate investigations related to complaints over a social media post, and failing to disclose his ownership of an Inglewood property.
Both councillors had to attend ethics training with the ethics advisor, and Carra was removed from any chair position on all boards, committees and commissions he was a part of.
The Ward 9 representative also apologized publicly at a later meeting of council.
The time period of the report covered both the sitting city council and the previous council. It also covered the transition between integrity commissioners.
Meryl Whittaker served as the city’s integrity commissioner between May 1, 2021 to Nov. 30, 2021. The role was vacant until Feb. 15, 2022, when O’Donnell was appointed to the role.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she wasn’t surprised by the rise in complaints because of the amount of comments councillors receive both in person and online.
“I can’t speak to the types of complaints, but I can tell you that what you’re seeing people say on the street, at protests and on social media, the things they don’t like about us, that’s generally what the complaints are about,” she said.
“I hope we get to a place where the world is much less polarized.”
The city’s integrity commissioner’s role is to receive, assess, investigate and adjudicate complaints against members of city council under the code of conduct.
According to the report, the office is working on an interpretation bulletin on how council’s code of conduct applies to social media use.
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