Mississauga Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze provided a brief update to council as his investigation into the harassment of former councilwoman Karen Ras continues.
Her car was impounded multiple times in the City Hall parking lot and she alleged Councilor Ron Starr was behind the incident.
Swayze was criticized for not investigating the matter when Ras filed a complaint with him last year. After the issue gained widespread attention when Ras spoke to the media earlier this year, the council asked him to investigate what happened. His update on Wednesday lasted only a few minutes and he explained, despite saying in February that his work would take ‘weeks not months’, that recent information has delayed the ongoing investigation. .
Former Mississauga councilwoman Karen Ras quit earlier this year, citing stress and another opportunity, after her car was repeatedly vandalized in a city parking lot.
(The photo of the Pointer file)
“Very recently, I received new allegations in a 25-page letter, including witness statements and various other allegations that I need to…investigate these matters,” Swayze told advisers.
The Integrity Commissioner would not elaborate on the new allegations or give a timeline for completing his investigation.
Swayze also told the board that Starr had obtained legal advice and that his attorneys had raised procedural issues that he needed to address. He deliberately kept his comments brief and cautiously answered questions from council members.
Councilor Stephen Dasko inquired about the timeline to complete the report within 90 days of the date council ordered him to begin the investigation. On February 2, Swayze launched the investigation, hitting the 90-day milestone on May 2.
“I have quite a few codes that require me to report within 90 days,” Swayze replied. “And if I can’t do it, what I do is report to the council. I gave you two memos, and I’m reporting now. I am committed to presenting my report to the council as soon as possible, but I cannot connect to a date at this time. »
Councilor Carolyn Parrish asked Swayze if Starr will have time to comment on her final report and how long she will be given to review it.
“Anything fair would be the answer. There is no set time,” Swayze said.
Mississauga City Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze told council on Wednesday that his investigation into what happened to Karen Ras has been delayed due to new information.
(City of Mississauga screenshot)
It is therefore difficult for the Integrity Commissioner to give a precise timeline as to when his report will be completed. Members of the public focused on the issue, and councilors said they received questions about when the report will be completed.
“I just wanted to maybe just remind you a little bit that this is an important issue for the residents of Mississauga,” Dasko told Swayze. “I’m not putting any pressure on you to speed things up, just to let you know that people are waiting for answers here.”
Prior to February 2 the Toronto Star and CBC reported that Ras quit her position as Ward 2 councilor due to harassment from another councillor. Shortly after the news broke, Ras identified Starr as the alleged vandal in another media report. He has not issued a public denial, but at a press conference Mayor Bonnie Crombie said Starr denied any involvement in the alleged misconduct.
Ras said that between mid-2019 and April 2021, his Kia Sportage was vandalized eight times in the City Hall parking lot.
On April 13, 2021, a newly installed security camera recorded a man using keys to dig two scratches into the vehicle, she alleged. It is not known if Starr is identified in the video.
Ras traveled to Swayze to investigate in September, but declined to look into the allegations as it was a criminal matter that should be dealt with by police. On February 9, Swayze appeared before council to explain why he had not launched an investigation.
Ras turned to Peel Regional Police last year to conduct an investigation, but it was dropped with no charges laid.
At a press conference in January, Mayor Crombie expressed regret for not showing better leadership. “I am a woman in politics and I myself have been the victim of harassment. And as leader of the council, I should have done everything in my power to protect my friend and colleague.”
Swayze, a seasoned Municipal Integrity Commissioner, has clearly misinterpreted the law that gives him authority and direction.
According to section 223.8 of the Municipalities Act, a commissioner must suspend an investigation if crime might be involved, but states that once the police have settled the matter, the commissioner can resume the original investigation triggered by a complaint to the municipal watchdog.
“The Commissioner shall immediately refer the matter to the appropriate authorities and suspend the investigation until any resulting police investigation and charges have been finally disposed of…” states the Municipalities Act.
The Act does not prohibit the commissioner from resuming the investigation once the police have finished, even if charges have been laid. The city code outlines the steps of what a commissioner is expected to do in an investigation.
This prompted the Council to change some parts of its code of conduct to clarify the Integrity Commissioner must continue an investigation after the end of a police intervention, even if charges have been laid, to verify whether the subject of the complaint has violated the code of conduct that the Board members are required to follow.
On January 28, Ras wrote a letter explaining that she needed to step away from politics.
“When there are issues in the workplace, as counselors, we don’t have the wherewithal to deal with them appropriately,” she wrote. “I sincerely hope that efforts to strengthen municipal codes of conduct will be accelerated. These changes are long overdue. »
In a previous interview with Ras over her resignation The Pointer asked her to clarify details she believed needed to be changed. Ras did not comment further.
The day Starr was named as a suspected vandal in the media, the council asked him if he would agree to take some time off. The board cannot force Starr to resign or leave. Further questions were raised when Starr allegedly chaired Peel Region’s Strategic Waste Management Advisory Committee less than 24 hours later.
After board members expressed frustration with Starr for not following through on their wishes, he wasn’t seen until April 6, when he began showing up to meetings virtually. He has been seen at board and committee meetings since, but has rarely commented.
On Wednesday at the board, when Swayze provided an update, Starr declared a conflict of interest and did not attend that portion of the meeting.
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