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Suzanne Craig: Understanding Ontario's Integrity Commissioner role

Bill 68, the Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2017, meant significant changes for Ontario’s municipal governments. This is particularly true around municipal obligations to create codes of conduct and appoint Integrity Commissioners.

The legislation also empowers Integrity Commissioners to conduct inquiries into allegations of conflict of interest against council or board members. And, where considered appropriate, bring the issue before a court.

As one might expect, the changes created everything from curiosity to total confusion among municipal leaders. With that in mind, Suzanne Craig was invited to the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association 2019 Spring Workshop in Niagara-on-the-Lake to discuss the changes. Following her presentation, Craig sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner to discuss how the rules are being applied.

Applying the Powers of an Integrity Commissioner

“Many of the Integrity Commissioners who do this line of work thought that when the province provided us with enhanced jurisdiction, there would be a spike in code complaints, that people would, now that the financial burden is not one them, would rush to file complaints,” she said. “I haven’t seen that. I am working with one complaint … but certainly not the deluge that we thought would take place.”

Craig said she is currently working with some eight municipalities and boards.

“These are interesting jobs I do,” she said. “The issues that face those jurisdictions – while it may be a smaller municipality – are as important, and often as relevant, to some of the judicial reviews that we receive.”

Knowing When Legal Advice Is Simply Advice

The new rules have created some confusion around whether an Integrity Commissioner – who is often a practicing lawyer (Craig is a trained, but not practicing lawyer) – is providing “legal advice” when dealing with members of council.

Like a Privacy Commissioner or Ombudsman, Craig said, the perspective being delivered by an Integrity Commissioner is simply that – advice.

“The Integrity Commissioner shall provide advice – not legal advice – but advice in his or her realm of expertise,” she said. “I think most of my colleagues are quite aware of the fact that even as they are practicing their trade as lawyers, when they are serving the municipality as Integrity Commissioner, they are providing statutory advice.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: In search of political accountability: Does hiring an integrity commissioner improve municipal political accountability in Ontario? Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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