‘You have screwed up every project you have touched in this city’: Reviewing the role of integrity commissioners as behaviour of Niagara councillors comes under fire
Photo Illustration by Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer

‘You have screwed up every project you have touched in this city’: Reviewing the role of integrity commissioners as behaviour of Niagara councillors comes under fire

Niagara Democracy Watch is The Pointer’s weekly feature aimed at increasing the public’s awareness and political involvement in the Niagara Region by highlighting key agenda items, motions and decisions. 


The role of the municipal integrity commissioner in Ontario was created in 2005 after a judicial inquiry into allegations of bribery and conflicts of interest resulting from the Toronto computer leasing scandal. Subsequent amendments to the Municipal Act included a section on Accountability and Transparency, but it was not until March 1, 2019 that it became mandatory for all Ontario municipalities to appoint an integrity commissioner and develop a Code of Conduct to govern the behaviour of Council and local board members.

The Ontario Ombudsman describes the role of an integrity commissioner as: “a municipal accountability officer who is responsible for applying the rules governing the ethical conduct of members of municipal councils and local boards (including codes of conduct), and for providing advice and education on those rules.”

While an integrity commissioner is appointed by municipal council, he or she is responsible to perform their role in an independent manner and does not take direction from council.

The reports that come from an integrity commissioner are the result of an inquiry or investigation conducted after a request made by a councillor or member of the public about whether a member of council or of a local board has contravened the Code of Conduct.

While Codes of Conduct may vary from municipality to municipality, the Municipal Act mandates that the Code must address gifts, benefits and hospitality; respectful conduct towards municipal employees and officers; handling of confidential information and the use of property of the municipality. Codes of Conduct may also address such matters as decorum during meetings; social media use; when and if members can communicate on behalf of the municipality, and workplace harassment.

Prior to the mandating of an integrity commissioner and a code of conduct, conflict of interest allegations required an “elector” to make a potentially costly court application, as set out under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. While that process is still an option, conflict of interest allegations against a council member can now go through the integrity commissioner process, making it much easier, in theory, to hold elected officials accountable for alleged breaches of the Code. The integrity commissioner also has the discretion to refer a conflict of interest matter to a judge themselves. 

There are nuances to how each municipality has implemented the process of receiving requests for an integrity commissioner investigation. In an effort to weed out frivolous and vexatious claims, the municipality may have a member of staff attempt to resolve an issue prior to a formal request being directed to the integrity commissioner. The City of Welland has an informal complaint protocol which encourages acts as a first step to resolving a complaint without a full investigation. Welland also requires a sworn affidavit when filing one’s complaint, something accountability experts argue is a barrier to accountability.

The City of Niagara Falls has put up even more barriers, stating that complaints can only be initiated by a “resident of the City of Niagara Falls.” This as opposed to more generic language seen in other protocols that describes a complainant as a “member of the public”—language that also appears in the Municipal Act.  In 2022, such language precluded St. Catharines resident, Sabrina Hill, from having a complaint considered. She alleged that longtime politician Wayne Thomson called her a “sick dog” during a phone call where she pressed him on his support for Marineland.

In addition, as of June 2021, Niagara Falls City Council imposed an administrative fee of $500 for a resident to file a complaint, with 50 percent of the fee refundable if the complaint is found to be valid, while the entire fee may be forfeited if the integrity commissioner determines that “a complaint is frivolous, vexatious or contains insufficient grounds to support an investigation under the Code of Conduct”.   

Such actions are completely contrary to recommendations of the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office, which recommends making the complaint process for residents as seamless as possible. 

“[T]here should be no barriers to making a complaint to the integrity commissioner, such as fees or onerous administrative requirements (e.g., requiring complainants to swear an affidavit). Municipalities sometimes impose such conditions in an attempt to discourage frivolous and vexatious complaints. Instead, they should address this concern by giving integrity commissioners the discretion to dismiss complaints for these reasons,” the Ombudsman’s 2023 publication, Codes of Conduct, Complaint & Inquiry Protocols, and Appointing Integrity Commissioners: Guide for Municipalities, states.

Despite the intent to hold members who contravene codes of conduct accountable, integrity commissioners are limited to imposing either a reprimand or a suspension of the member’s pay for a period of up to, and not more than, 90 days.

The paucity of the penalties has been criticized especially as it relates to workplace harassment violations. The Women of Ontario Say No, a non-partisan group, has been advocating for provincial legislation that would mandate the removal of municipally-elected officials “found guilty of egregious, and substantiated, acts of violence and harassment” and restrict the member’s opportunity to run for re-election.

A private members bill, Bill 5 - The Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act, which was introduced by Liberal MPP Stephen Blais in 2023 was voted down by the PC government; however, Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing, Paul Calandra has promised legislation to address the issue will be introduced by summer.

Today (February 27) councillors in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake will receive a trio of reports from their local integrity commissioners into the alleged misbehaviour of fellow councillors. 


Council Meeting

Date: February 27 - 7:00 p.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch live


Councillor Tony DiMarco in conflict over interference in trail project 

Tuesday’s Welland Council agenda has two reports from the integrity commissioner following investigations into complaints against Councillor Tony DiMarco.

Both complaints relate to efforts by DiMarco to thwart a municipal trail that will run behind his residence, which culminated at the September 5, 2023 meeting that saw Mayor Frank Campion eject the Ward 4 Councillor from Chambers. 

The first complaint was filed by Mayor Campion who raised concerts with Councillor DiMarco not declaring a pecuniary interest in the trail project, improperly using his influence to try and change the project—to the point where staff felt harassed by the Councillor— and failing to show respect for Council’s decision-making process and obeying its bylaws. Campion’s complaint references incidents at Council meetings in January, April and September of last year.

During its first meeting in 2023, Welland Council pre-approved a capital project entitled Community Trail Strategy Implementation.  At its next meeting, Council approved a bylaw authorizing the mayor and city clerk to execute an agreement with Infrastructure Canada for approximately $1 million in funding, $900,000 of which would be allocated to the North Welland/Niagara College Trail Link, which is to run behind DiMarco’s house. Both motions passed without any opposition. 

Despite Council’s approval of the trail project, and DiMarco’s affirmative votes, the Mayor alleges that, shortly thereafter, the Councillor began emailing staff to “remove the trail”.  

In April 2023, Councillor DiMarco tried to have council reconsider its support for the project. Mayor Campion cautioned DiMarco that he may be in a conflict, but DiMarco claimed to have received advice from the integrity commissioner that he did not have a conflict. This is contrary to what is stated in the report as the integrity commissioner advised DiMarco at the time that he actually was in a conflict on the project. He ultimately withdrew his motion. 

At the September 5th meeting, Councillor DiMarco attempted to rescind the bylaw for the project approved nine months earlier. Mayor Campion ruled the motion out of order based on a legal opinion he had received. The Mayor explained that the agreement had been signed with the Federal government and that approximately $200,000 in funds had already been expended for professional services and site survey work. He reiterated his opinion that the councillor had a conflict of interest on the matter.  DiMarco, dissatisfied with the ruling, uttered an obscenity directed at the mayor and was eventually ejected from the meeting.

Although not the subject of the Code of Conduct complaint, Councillor DiMarco has remained undeterred, proposing a number of amendments to the mayor’s 2024 budget, attempting to cut $461,000 from the Trail Strategy.  None of DiMarco’s amendments were successful.  

In what seems like a side note in the report, but becomes a factor in the investigator's decision is that DiMarco has an encroachment on the green space where the trail is to run behind his home. The encroachment is a shed or a playhouse that the Councillor’s, now adult, children used to play in. Apparently, the shed/playhouse was moved to the municipal green space when DiMarco put up a backyard fence.

DiMarco’s defence to the allegations is that his pecuniary interest “is an interest in common” with all electors abutting the municipally owned trail. In addition, he argues that any change in the value of his home, as a result of the trail, would be financially negligible. Finally, DiMarco indicates his motivation has not been any self-interest but to represent his neighbours, who are opposed to the trail. While DiMarco does not address his votes on the trail issue in January, he contends that since there was no vote at the September meeting, there is no violation to conflict of interest rules.

He also admits he was “a bit agitated” at the September meeting, which he attributes to a prior illness.


Welland's integrity commissioner has found Councillor Tony DiMarco violated the Conflict of Interest Act. 

(Town of Welland)


In the interview with the investigator, DiMarco,”feels that the mayor’s actions were for spite, as the mayor has had issues with him since 2006.”  In the mayor’s interview with the investigator, he expresses respect for DiMarco’s advocacy on behalf of his constituents, but is of the opinion that the councillor has a conflict and has proceeded “too aggressively” on the trail issue.

In the report, the advice provided to Councillor DiMarco in April 2023 by the Integrity Commissioner is reproduced:

“[M]y view is that the trail could impact the value of your property. It’s not certain if it would enhance the value, or detract from the value, but it could certainly have an impact. In this sense, you would have a pecuniary interest.

On this basis, my advice to you was that you should declare a conflict, and not launch any further motions with respect to this issue. It’s better to err on the side of caution in this instance.”

Based on this prior advice, it is no surprise that the investigator ultimately finds that Councillor DiMarco did violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, though he concedes that,“we also find that his particular interest is close to, but does not fully meet an exemption listed in the Act.”  

The Investigator explains that the magnitude of the financial interest is irrelevant, that to maintain public confidence, municipal councillors have to exercise a high standard in avoiding potential conflicts of interest and that the standard is determined by the member’s actions, regardless of any honourable intentions.

The investigator rejects Councillor DiMarco’s position that since there was no vote in September, there was no violation:

“[T]he prohibition (in the Act) is more than just voting. It includes ‘acting’ at meetings and failing to disclose his interest, or taking part in the discussion in respect of the matter, or ‘attempt[ing] in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting on any such question.’”

The investigator also rejects Councillor DiMarco’s argument that he fits the exemption under the Act of having a pecuniary interest that “is an interest in common with electors generally” based solely on his encroaching shed:

“Councillor DiMarco has two types of interest. The first type is being a homeowner next to a public trail. That interest is shared equally with the 39+ local neighbors affected by the trail, and thus would satisfy the exemption in section 4(j)...All have the common interest of gaining access to a public trail and the loss of current green space and perhaps more noise or vandalism.”

However, the investigator notes the Councillor has a “unique” interest in that his shed/playhouse is encroaching onto public property, making this more than just an issue of a “interest in common”. 

The investigator concludes that Councillor DiMarco did violate Council’s Code of Conduct at the meeting on September 5.

Despite the contravention, the investigator is only recommending a formal reprimand.

The second complaint also arises out of the September 5, 2023 meeting.  

After Mayor Campion ordered Councillor DiMarco to leave the meeting, as he was gathering his items, the report indicates DiMarco called out to Rob Axiak, the Director of Community Services, and staff—lead on the Trail Project:

“[A]xiak, you’ve got to go buddy, you have screwed up every project you have touched in this city. Everything you touch, you have screwed up in the past two years, get out of here.“ 

In light of the outburst, the complaint alleges that the councillor violated sections under Welland’s Code of Conduct related to Conduct Respecting Staff, Respect in the Workplace and Disreputable Conduct.

The complaint was filed by Sherri-Marie Millar, the City’s Director of Infrastructure Services, who at the time of the meeting was the Acting Chief Administrative Officer(CAO).  On November 1, 2023, Axiak became the permanent CAO after the municipality was bestowed with Strong Mayor Powers through Province, allowing Mayor Campion to appoint his own CAO.

The report indicates that Councillor DiMarco acknowledged his disparaging comments, and sent an email apologizing to Mr. Axiak the following day.  Mr. Axiak indicated that he was unaware of the apology having had the councillor’s emails blocked.

Welland’s integrity commissioner Deborah Anschell conducted the related investigation and prepared the resulting report. She found that Councillor DiMarco had acted improperly and had breached various sections of the Code of Conduct.  

The integrity commissioner concluded that the councillor used insulting words and characterized the outburst as “disrespectful and unprofessional”. While actions directed at Axiak were not equivalent to workplace violence, they were found to be abusive and lacking proper decorum.

Considering the matter a serious violation, the integrity commissioner is recommending that along with a reprimand, Council suspend Councillor DiMarco’s pay for the equivalent of 60 days.

A final decision will be made by council at its February 27 meeting. 


The two reports from Welland’s Integrity Commissioner can be read here and here.


Council Meeting

Date: February 27 - 6:00 p.m. | Delegate | Full Agenda | Watch Live


Conflict alleged against Councillor Maria Mavridis on the Town’s Patio Program

Tuesday will also see Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors deal with an integrity commissioner’s report. Like Welland, the Town uses ADR Chambers, a conflict resolution firm that provides integrity commissioner services to more than 40 municipalities, including the majority of cities and towns in Niagara Region.  Edward T. McDermott is the integrity commissioner for Niagara-on-the-Lake.  

The complaint in question deals with Councillor Maria Mavridis failing to declare a conflict related to a November 2023 Council discussion on whether to continue a temporary patio program for local restaurants.  The family of the councillor has operated Corks and Firehall Flame restaurants in the Town and she works as the Event Manager in the upstairs space at Corks.

The complainant listed is Scott Gauld, who owns the Sunset Grill.  He was of the opinion that Mavridis was in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and the Town’s Code of Conduct when she failed to declare a conflict of interest when speaking to the matter at the November meeting. She improperly influenced the “thoughts and actions of other Councillors, media and the public,” the complaint reads.

The Town’s temporary patio program was established in 2020, enabling additional seating in outside public areas to encourage social distancing and allow restaurants to survive during the pandemic. Council extended the program in each of the following three seasons to assist businesses to make up for lost revenues during COVID.  With the conclusion of the 2023 program, the November staff report was seeking Council’s support for making the program permanent.

With the exception of Councillor Sandra O'Connor, council was generally supportive of the program, but were not prepared to make it permanent without further information from Town staff.  Councillor Mavridis raised concerns at the November meeting regarding how the streetscape might be affected by a permanent program and wanted staff to provide information on lost parking revenue:

“[F]our of us (have patios) but only three are taking up parking stalls, but that could go up to 30 (restaurants).”

Ultimately, Council supported the program in principle and directed staff to “prepare a report back to council to incorporate feedback and comments received to date on the patio program.”  Councillor O’Connor was opposed, with the rest of council, including Councillor Mavridis, voting in favour. 

Upon learning of the complaint against her, Councillor Mavridis took to her blog in January.  She indicated that she was fully cognizant of what her obligations were when it came to declaring conflicts and she did not believe every matter pertaining to a restaurant before council required her to declare. “However, another restaurant owner who has a temporary patio disagrees and has decided to report it to the IC.”

The integrity commissioner’s report does not address the Councillor’s blog post, but indicates that both parties were reminded on several occasions to keep all matters relating to the complaint and investigation in confidence, to preserve the integrity of the investigation process.

The report does outline Councillor Mavridis’ defence to the allegations.  Firstly, she notes that the Firehall Flame was no longer in the control of her father by the time of the November 2023 Council meeting.  She also indicates that Corks is not a participant in the Town’s temporary program because it does not have a patio, but a glass enclosure in which the windows may be opened during good weather to provide the ambiance of outdoor dining and, therefore, there is no financial gain for her or her family.

On the latter point, the complainant argues that any decision by council to possibly limit the number of temporary patios could benefit Corks.

The integrity commissioner’s report concludes that Councillor Mavridis did not breach the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act or the Town’s Code of Conduct and dismisses the complaint, largely due to process.  In referencing the November 21st meeting he notes:

“[I]t did not involve council making a determination on whether it would continue with the temporary program or some other vehicle to deal with the issue of seasonal patios.  Council simply directed staff to prepare a report on the issue for future consideration by Council as there were many issues to be canvassed to adopt a permanent program.”

The integrity commissioner, however, recognizes that the patio issue is still a “live” one before the Town Council.  He concludes that Councillor Mavridis would have an indirect pecuniary interest, if the facts of a future report establish that “her father or the company that employs her at Corks has a pecuniary interest”, and encourages the councillor to seek his advice “well in advance” due to the “numerous and complex” issues surrounding the matter.

Finally, the report notes that in January, Council did extend the temporary patio program for one more year, with staff to prepare a permanent program for Council’s future consideration.  With the integrity commissioner report still pending at that time, Concillor Mavridis did declare a conflict at the January meeting.   


The report from Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Integrity Commissioner can be read here.


 Email: [email protected]

At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara 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