Cavoukian and Marin on Integrity Complaint Gag Rule

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 02, 2012

The office of Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner warns that a proposed gag rule against integrity complainants talking to the media may go against the Municipal Act.

Last week, the City of Hamilton's Transparency and Accountability Subcommittee voted to approve a new rule that a resident making a complaint to the city's integrity commissioner is not allowed to speak publicly about the complaint while it is being investigated.

Under this rule, if the complainant does speak to the media, the complaint will be automatically dismissed.

RTH contacted Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner, for a comment on this policy. Here is the response from David S. Goodis, Director of Legal and General Counsel for Cavoukian's office.

Under our three statutes, the IPC does not have a prohibition against complainants or appellants speaking to the media. In our view, such a prohibition could be seen as an unwarranted impediment to the public's access to the Integrity Commissioner's complaint process under the Municipal Act, 2001. Further, it is arguable that this rule is inconsistent with the principle of transparency in tribunal proceedings.

RTH also contacted Andre Marin, Ombudsman of Ontario. Here is Mr. Marin's response:

I am well aware of these developments. As my mandate over municipalities extends only to investigating complaints about cities violating the open meetings provisions of the Municipal Act, I have decided to refrain from commenting on the new rule.

As far as complainants turning to our office for relief for matters that fall within our mandate, I can assure you that they enjoy the protection of full confidentiality, guaranteed under our legislation, or they may seek to waive that right and speak publicly about their complaints.

The new integrity complaint policy still needs to be approved by Council before it comes into effect.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By gagging (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2012 at 14:27:10

I'd be VERY surprised to see this get past council after the instant backlash. Sometimes an idea seems like a good idea when it's just a small group of people talking about it, until it gets opened up and different perspectives come into play.

Of course, the idea of having citizens on the sub-committee was supposed to be to open it up outside the city hall echo chamber. Doesn't seem to have worked out that way - they just got dragged INSIDE the chamber instead.

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By well done (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2012 at 14:28:52

Well done, RTH! And as usual, good for Ann Cavoukian, a stalwart for years in effecting reconciliation between privacy and open info.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted April 02, 2012 at 14:48:36

Ryan - thanks so much for getting in touch with both Ann Cavoukian and Andre Marin.

No matter how you look at Councillor Ferguson's push to stop citizens from speaking with the media about a complaint, it really is difficult to see anything worthy of support in the motion.

The fact that the motion comes from the Transparency and Accountability SubCommittee would be laughable, if it weren't so serious.

Ferguson is not a bad guy, but he's still angry about the complaint I filed about his Tim Horton's comment.

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By conflict/disclosure&Loyd (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2012 at 15:38:15

Uncle Lloyd's comment about possible Horton's donutery and city hall, that you refer to above, was completely unacceptable. During debates about the cementing of city hall, suppose this: suppose Lloyd--"nice" man or not, had not as conflict of interest even, but by way of disclosure, reminded all at council, and the public, that he'd earned for decades from a company owned by cement. That would not have disqualified Lloyd from the debate unless HE recused himself--so he should have done reminded all of this. We find nothing on the public record that Lloyd ever disclosed or mentioned this at the time--never mind that he may have thought it was "common knowledge." Common to whom?

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By RTH and 'paper' (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2012 at 14:52:21

OK, so Spec on Tues. didn't mention that although Marin maybe wrote to Spec too, it was of course initiative of RTH to inform Marin & Cavoukian.

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