Brampton integrity commissioner Muneeza Sheikh threatens to sue members of council if they terminate her contract
Following a discussion at Wednesday’s committee of council meeting regarding the City of Brampton’s integrity commissioner, Muneeza Sheikh has sent a letter to all members of council threatening to sue “both the City and individual members of Council” should her contract be terminated.
Prior to a closed session portion of the meeting, council members were publicly discussing the costs of the integrity commissioner. According to City Clerk Peter Fay, when Sheikh was hired to the role in 2019, she billed Brampton taxpayers for approximately $98,500. In 2020, her first full year on the job, Sheikh billed for $321,600, then $340,000 in 2021 and $85,000 so far in 2022.
“Without any colour commentary, I am a little sticker-shocked,” Councillor Martin Medeiros said.
Later in the meeting, following a private in camera session, Councillors Michael Palleschi and Rowena Santos appeared to violate the in camera rules by disclosing what took place behind closed doors. They stated other members were trying to terminate Sheikh's contract.
In an email correspondence sent Thursday afternoon, followed by a legal letter later in the day—both of which were obtained by The Pointer—Sheikh said she learned that council was considering terminating her contract and threatened legal action.
“I have retained counsel, copied here, to address this issue in the event that a decision is made to terminate my contract. I reserve my right to legally review any adverse decision, by way of utilizing all appropriate legal remedies,” she states in the letter. “It is without question, the conduct in attempting to frustrate the work of the Integrity Commissioner by terminating my contract raises grave concerns for me.”
Sheikh goes on to accuse members of council of trying to get rid of her in order to stymie her investigations into complaints made against them.
“As you may know, a number of the individuals that voted in favour of the motion last night, currently have complaints being reviewed by me as the Integrity Commissioner,” she states. “The conduct of these Council members raises a substantial concern about conflict of interest and procedural fairness of the motion last night.”
In an email sent to all council members early afternoon Thursday, Sheikh wrote: “I have every intention of litigating any potential illegal decision made tomorrow, and holding both the City and individual members of Council responsible for any damages that may ensue as a result of the unlawful termination of my contract.”
A request for further comment sent to Sheikh was not returned.
The communications by her Thursday did not phase some members of council.
“A majority of council has the responsibility to oversee certain roles that serve the taxpayers of Brampton. We would not be working in the best interests of residents if we did not carry out this role independently,” Councillor Jeff Bowman told The Pointer Thursday. “If we were to act on the basis of either internal or external pressure we would not be representing the taxpayers of Brampton, but someone else’s interests.”
Municipal integrity commissioners are an essential piece of the accountability structure within local government, responsible for ensuring councillors follow the approved code of conduct and investigate complaints against elected members who have reportedly violated those rules.
Sheikh’s hiring in Brampton was controversial from the beginning, as legal experts stated she should not have taken the role due to her ties with Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.
It’s unclear how Sheikh, who has no experience in municipal law or as an integrity commissioner, got the job shortly after Brown became mayor. Questions about her independence have circled around her appointment ever since the decision was made in July 2019.
She had previously appeared at events with Brown. Sheikh’s husband’s company was paid to do work for the Ontario PCs when Brown was the party leader and she publicly came out in Brown’s defence when he faced allegations of sexual misconduct that led to his downfall from provincial politics. Brown denies the allegations.
Patrick Brown and Muneeza Sheikh in an image used on one of Brown's previous campaign websites.
Duff Conacher, a legal scholar and director with Democracy Watch who is an expert in government accountability, said Sheikh’s ties to Brown taint her credibility as Brampton’s integrity commissioner.
"An integrity commissioner is essentially a judge for members of council on ethics issues and cannot have even the appearance of bias. And her relationship with Patrick Brown crosses the line, and as a result she will have to step aside and let someone else be the decision maker if there's any complaints filed about him," Conacher told CBC News after she was hired.
Sheikh has not done this, fully exonerating Brown for an appearance at a Brampton indoor hockey facility when it was not supposed to be used for recreational play during the pandemic.
Despite clear evidence and witnesses that said Brown, who was caught on video at the rink by media outlet Rebel News, was there to play hockey, Sheikh accepted his claim that he was not there to play, even though the video footage shows a hockey bag next to him with his name on it filled with equipment and players who said on camera that Brown was a regular at the game, which was not allowed under pandemic rules at the time.
The video has been viewed almost 300,000 times and sparked fierce backlash against Brown for violating the rules, leading to the review by Sheikh following complaints.
The video has drawn more than 3,500 comments on YouTube, most of them critical of Brown for breaking the rules.
“During the course of the execution of my duties, there have been no complaints made against me, and I have performed my role honourably and with the highest ethical standards,” Sheikh states in her letter to council. “To be clear, throughout my tenure with the City, every decision I have submitted before Council has been accepted on consent. To date, there have been no complaints made against myself pertaining to my competence or performance.”
Brampton's previous integrity commissioner, Guy Giorno, resigned in the weeks after Brown's election stating that because the two knew each other and had worked together in the past, the connection could be perceived as a conflict.
Former Brampton councillor Elaine Moore told The Pointer that she has directly confronted Sheikh after Moore filed a complaint against Mayor Brown eleven months ago.
“Clear evidence was provided by a senior Brampton staffer that Patrick Brown used City resources, including staff who did not even work in his office, to actively campaign and sell memberships during work hours for Peter MacKay when he sought the CPC leadership in 2020,” the City Hall veteran, who served for 18 years, said.
She referred to text messages provided to The Pointer last year by Nikki Kaur, a director with the City. They show Brown directed her and at least one other senior employee who worked directly for CAO David Barrick (who was hired under Brown's authority and was fired on February 11) to work for MacKay’s campaign and sell memberships for him during weekday work hours while they were employed by the City of Brampton. This is a clear violation of the council code of conduct, which Sheikh is obligated to enforce.
At the time, Kaur shared her evidence with The Pointer. The first text message from Brown she provided said: “Please sign up membership before May 15 to support to Peter McKay (sic)”, Brown instructed Kaur on May 11.
Another message gives Kaur specific orders: “Meet membership sellers and then do meet and greets with members after the membership deadline is over.”
Then: “Let’s aim for 10’to 20 membership sellers. People who can do a minimum of 100 each.” Brown was attempting to sell Conservative Party memberships through the local riding association in Hamilton-Stoney Creek.
The next text to Kaur followed soon after: “Very low turnout”.
Then, “Can you go there with Rob tomorrow night and Tuesday night and collect ballots. Knock on their doors.”
Kaur replied, asking, “Which Rob?”
“Rob Dambosie (sic)”, Brown immediately texted back, referring to another staffer who worked in Barrick’s office at the time.
“We need Stoney creek for peter.”
Then: “We have found people give ballots when we door knock them”.
Text messages sent by Mayor Patrick Brown directing Brampton staff to do work as part of Peter MacKay's campaign.
Moore showed The Pointer her April 14, 2021 complaint to Sheikh.
“It has been eleven months, and the integrity commissioner’s office would not even reach out to me. Only after I repeatedly sent emails demanding to know why no action was being taken, did I get responses recently, accusing me of, quote, ‘undermining’ the process by demanding accountability.”
Moore says that in her considerable experience with the integrity commissioner role, the investigation into what she calls “the mayor’s flagrant abuse of Brampton taxpayers and violation of the code of conduct” should have taken “no more than six months, at the most.”
“Here we are, almost a year later, as Patrick Brown gets set to announce his bid to become prime minister, and this integrity commissioner has failed to serve the taxpayers of Brampton, and Canada, by simply doing her job, to hold elected officials accountable to the people they serve.”
On Wednesday, some councillors were taken aback when they recently learned how much Brampton taxpayers have paid for Sheikh’s employment.
“On Wednesday council learned how much the integrity commissioner has charged the taxpayers of Brampton since she was hired. Some members have expressed concern that someone with no experience as an integrity commissioner was given the role,” Councillor Medeiros said Thursday.
“Some other members of council have made threats since we took steps to ensure the Brampton taxpayers are getting the best value for money, but I will not be deterred in ensuring this. The taxpayers deserve to have this important accountability function held by someone with broad experience as an integrity commissioner, with years of prior experience working with provincial legislation that pertains to municipal government.”
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