Mississauga searches for new integrity commissioner following Robert Swayze’s resignation after Karen Ras case
The City of Mississauga is searching for a new integrity commissioner following the departure of Robert Swayze earlier this month after he cited “workload concerns” as the reason behind his resignation.
Swayze noted in his resignation letter that while he is appointed as integrity commissioner by 30 municipalities in Ontario, he has been the most active in Mississauga, stating “I will attempt to continue with my other clients but cannot carry on at the same level of service to the City.”
Swayze served the City as external legal counsel for six years and subsequently as integrity commissioner for seven years. A motion presented to council on Wednesday notes staff will now engage in a competitive procurement process for the selection and appointment of a new integrity commissioner for the City, for a term ending June 30, 2025. In the meantime, the firm Principles Integrity, the same commissioner utilized by the Region, will be appointed integrity commissioner on an interim basis to carry out the role. In an email to The Pointer, a City spokesperson said staff aim to complete the procurement process before the end of June when council takes its summer recess.
His resignation comes after a difficult year for Swayze and a particularly critical time for the City.
The former integrity commissioner is singled out in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed last year by former councillor Karen Ras, who resigned in early 2022 following her allegations that former councillor Ron Starr had repeatedly harassed her throughout much of the previous council term, and allegedly scratched her car multiple times in a City Hall parking lot. Swayze, who mishandled the case and initially informed Ras he would not conduct an official investigation, eventually had to backtrack and found Starr, on a balance of probabilities, according to available evidence, scratched her car on one occasion (he did not make a determination on other alleged incidents involving the car).
Following a tumultuous series of events that unfolded during the investigation over many months, a lawsuit against the City was filed at the end of 2022 by Ras. The claim alleges that, “Feeling frightened, concerned for her safety and entirely unsupported by City Management… Ras reached out to the Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swayze (“Mr. Swayze”), to speak to him about the alleged harassment that she had experienced by Mr. Starr over the course of several years.”
Swayze determined the scratching of Ras’ vehicle by another councillor was not a violation of the Code of Conduct and he advised the former councillor that if a complaint were to be filed, he would be required to dismiss it in confidence, the lawsuit’s statement of claim alleges.
Former councillor Ron Starr has repeatedly denied the allegations against him.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files)
Swayze, who held the position as integrity commissioner for seven years, claimed he had never devoted more time to an investigation than in this case.
The former integrity commissioner was responsible for investigations into alleged violations of the Code of Conduct members of council are obligated to follow, which includes requirements to ensure the workplace is free from discrimination and harassment.
While the Code of Conduct is supposed to ensure that leaders maintain a safe working environment, the former councillor’s claim against the City and Starr argues she was forced to resign because of the toxic environment the City created for her as a result of how the situation was handled. The statement of claim notes: “It was an implied term of Ms. Ras’s employment as a Councillor with the City that it would maintain a workplace free from harassment, provide a safe and healthy work environment, and conduct an unbiased, fulsome and transparent investigation into any complaints of harassment or bullying.”
The claim criticizes the City, and former CAO Paul Mitcham, who also resigned following the lawsuit, for failing to do this, allegedly creating an environment where the former councillor could no longer continue her role and “was left with no choice but to resign.” The lawsuit also alleges that although Swayze was sympathetic to Ras’s situation, “he determined that the scratching of her vehicle by another councillor was not a violation of any rule in the Code of Conduct.”
“On September 24, 2021, Mr. Swayze advised Ms. Ras that if a complaint were to be filed, he would be required to dismiss it in confidence,” the lawsuit’s statement of claim, details. Shocked by his response, Ras voiced her disappointment, asking if Swayze would be recommending changes to the code in the event a similar situation happened in the future, according to her allegations.
According to the claim, Swayze did not respond.
A lawsuit filed against the City by former councillor Karen Ras contains several allegations against Swayze.
(The Pointer files)
Swayze came under fire for failing to investigate the matter when Ras first filed a complaint with him.
After the issue drew widespread attention when Ras spoke to the media in early 2022 shortly after she stepped down from her role with the City, council directed Swayze to launch his own probe into what happened. Swayze, who was not willing to undertake any investigation when first approached by Ras, spent much of the investigation defending his own process after councillors raised concerns about his conduct throughout the matter and questioned why an investigation was not undertaken initially.
He eventually did find Starr violated the code of conduct, which Starr, who lost his council seat in October’s election, denies.
During his time with the City, Swayze’s understanding of the Municipal Act was also questioned.
When first approached by Ras, Swayze incorrectly determined he could not conduct an investigation once police had been involved. Ras stated the situation was not handled properly and after Swayze admitted his error, council directed him to conduct an investigation. Swayze, a veteran municipal integrity commissioner, clearly misread the legislation that gives him his authority and provides direction to pick up his own investigation after the police have finished with theirs.
According to Section 223.8 of the Municipal Act, a commissioner is to suspend an investigation if criminality might be involved, but states that once police have disposed of the matter, the commissioner can resume the original probe triggered by a complaint to the municipal watchdog. However, when Ras challenged Swayze about why Rule 12 of the Code of Conduct — which makes clear council members cannot abuse, bully or intimidate anyone and that it is their responsibility to ensure a workplace free from discrimination and harassment — was not considered, he claimed the matter was a criminal issue for the police to deal with, not him, according to Ras’ lawsuit.
The Mississauga Code of Conduct explains councillors should attempt to resolve issues among themselves before taking further action. A redacted police report indicates the matter was closed by police because Ras was satisfied with the outcome that saw Starr pay for the repairs.
Starr, who was eventually found to have violated the code, also took legal action against the City over the handling of the case.
As Swayze’s departure from the City comes on the heels of Starr’s legal action, in his resignation letter, Swayze assures he “will continue as Respondent in the Judicial Review Application made by former Councillor Starr to the Superior Court against me, in my capacity as former Integrity Commissioner.”
The City of Mississauga filed a motion of defence in January to throw out the wrongful dismissal lawsuit by Ras on the claims she “was not an employee” and therefore is not entitled to remedies she’s seeking for an alleged breach of contract. The City’s lawyers are set to appear before a judge in September to argue their motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
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