‘Residents expect total transparency’: Brampton CAO hired under Patrick Brown appears to have violated provincial freedom of information law
Brampton residents, councillors and past employees at City Hall trying to get answers about the conduct of Chief Administrative Officer David Barrick, were unaware that he had quietly taken over control of the freedom of information process, in what appears to have been a violation of provincial legislation.
The woman hired by him and put in charge of the critical accountability and oversight mechanism shares the same uncommon name as a person who donated to Mayor Patrick Brown’s 2018 election campaign.
It appears Barrick violated provincial legislation and a City by-law when he removed the freedom of information function from its independent role under City Clerk Peter Fay, who was designated by council in 2017 to oversee the vital accountability process.
Brampton CAO David Barrick
Last week, as members of council demanded answers about why Barrick had moved the independent function, without council-required approval, under his control shortly after Brown led the process to hire Barrick in 2019, the CAO denied that the Freedom of Information Office is under his authority.
City documents obtained by The Pointer show he misled council members, who also questioned his claims during Wednesday’s council meeting.
“The residents expect total transparency and if they have any indication, or any preconceived notions, that what's going on is not proper, then that's what they believe…and what they believe is true in their eyes,” Councillor Jeff Bowman said, as he and other members of council questioned Barrick about his conduct.
Bowman said the decision, which was made quietly by the CAO, to place the freedom of information process under City Hall’s top bureaucrat could send a message to Brampton residents and others that their desire to seek accountability and get answers around controversial issues, is not an option in the city.
Barrick, who was hired for the position despite having no experience running even a city department, much less the ninth largest municipality in Canada, was found by the Ontario ombudsman to have behaved fraudulently in a Niagara Region hiring scandal before he was fired following reports of widespread mismanagement when he briefly ran the local conservation authority.
When he arrived in Brampton, Barrick became the subject of increased scrutiny by former staff and councillors when his past was revealed and after a series of disturbing hiring decisions at City Hall shortly after Brown chose him for the top job in late 2019.
Barrick moved the freedom of information function out of the City clerk’s office and placed it under his own authority.
Under provincial legislation the freedom to obtain information that should be made available to the public is guaranteed, and the process to access this information is supposed to be completely independent.
Barrick repeatedly told council members the City’s privacy office which oversees the freedom of information function reports to the commissioner of legislative services and not to the CAO or his office.
“The residents expect total transparency and if they have any indication, or any preconceived notions, that what's going on is not proper, then that's what they believe," said Councillor Jeff Bowman.
According to an internal organizational chart obtained by The Pointer, which council members have access to, the privacy office that handles the freedom of information function was under Barrick, as of December.
A complaint by a former City of Brampton employee filed to the Ontario ombudsman in early December and forwarded to The Pointer states Barrick had the FOI function moved under him despite the requirement that an independent “Head” be designated to oversee the process mandated under the provincial Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA).
The Act states: “The members of the council of a municipality may by by-law designate from among themselves an individual or a committee of the council to act as head of the municipality for the purposes of this Act; If no person is designated as head under this section, the head shall be the council”.
Last week, it was revealed that Barrick had hired Brampton Privacy Officer Uzma Ashraf to take over the handling of the freedom of information process. Ashraf confirmed to City Council Wednesday both her and a colleague who reports to her started their positions on December 7.
The organizational chart from December shows that the privacy office was moved out of the City Clerk’s office and into a reporting structure to Barrick.
Fay explained that the City Clerk has been designated as the head of MFIPPA since the ‘90s and that Fay’s position as head was last confirmed in 2017 under by-law 216-2017, approved by council.
Ashraf confirmed she was managing the freedom of information process since her hiring. Bowman questioned how that could be since he couldn't recall appointing someone new as the “head” to handle FOIs.
Barrick then claimed Ashraf has been working closely with the clerk’s office and everyone is working together within the department. “Clerk staff, records management staff, privacy officers staff, FOI coordinators, and legal staff; they’re all in the same division and they're all communicating with each other,” he said.
An updated chart for January shows the privacy office has now been moved out from under the CAO to legislative services. The Pointer was unable to determine if the chart was updated to reflect Barrick’s claims during Wednesday’s meeting.
Barrick repeatedly told frustrated councillors that the FOI function was not under him, but they shot down his claim, pointing out that he had clearly placed it under his authority after he was hired.
He eventually said delegating the powers of the “head” to Ashraf would be a good option, as she has experience in the area.
The Pointer obtained a copy of the public document that shows Brown’s 2018 mayoral campaign contributions. Somebody with the same name and spelling, Uzma Ashraf, donated to his election effort, according to the document.
The City was asked if the woman hired by Barrick as the privacy officer donated to Brown’s 2018 mayoral election campaign. The City did not respond.
It’s unclear if an open hiring process was used to fill the position and how Ashraf, who is a lawyer, was selected.
"The truth, regardless of what the truth is, the perception is very powerful. And we know in our line of business, perception to residents, leads to confidence,” Councillor Martin Medeiros said during Wednesday’s meeting, raising concern about how the FOI situation has been handled.
The disturbing conduct by Barrick follows his hiring of a long-time political associate of Brown to consult on a proposed new municipal development corporation, a tie council members were unaware of, and the CAO’s decision to hire a private firm to monitor the social media accounts of council members, without even telling them.
A majority of council members were not buying Barrick’s explanations for why they might have been mistaken about the handling of the FOI function. They questioned why the powers should be delegated to anyone other than the clerk.
Councillor Paul Vicente said he contacted multiple municipalities with similar populations as Brampton (including Mississauga and Hamilton) and learned all FOI requests go through the clerk. He said through the clerk’s office “the position reports directly to council”.
Councillor Paul Vicente
Vicente said there are two types of items the clerk deals with, administrative and statutory. Decisions on the latter go directly to council, he said, and not the head of any department. “MFIPPA is statutory. It’s not an administrative function.”
Vicente questioned how moving the single function of the FOI process under the MFIPPA head from the clerk to the privacy officer makes sense.
A report presented by Barrick at the meeting only confused matters.
It recommended Ashraf be appointed the new head of the provincial access to information Act, even though it appears she has already been performing this role, without council approval. The dates on the report make little sense. Ashraf said she started her job December 7, but the date of the report is November 18, 2020, and it lists her as the main contact for the report under her title as “Privacy Officer” even though she had not even started. The title of the report, meanwhile, says it refers to the freedom of information program for 2019.
Now, after her hiring, without council’s involvement, Barrick wants Ashraf to officially become head of the privacy and freedom of information function, a position only council is allowed to designate.
Frustrated council members disregarded his recommendation and voted to keep the clerk as the head of the provincial privacy and freedom of information Act. It’s unclear how this decision impacts the position of the privacy officer and if she will be moved back to the City Clerk’s office.
All of this is happening as The Pointer and certain sources have been trying to obtain public documents through the freedom of information process about Barrick, his conduct and how he was hired in the first place under Brown’s authority.
Email: [email protected]
COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you.
Submit a correction about this story