Frequently Asked Questions
Why does Council have a Code of Conduct?
As part of the 2010-2014 Governance Review, City Council endorsed an Accountability Framework that included a Code of Conduct for Members of Council. The Code of Conduct and its related policies are the final pieces of the Accountability Framework. The Code of Conduct is a document outlining the behaviour expected of Members of Ottawa City Council.
What does the Code of Conduct cover?
The Code of Conduct for Members of Council includes provisions relating to: issues of general integrity, misuse or improper release of confidential information, inappropriate conduct at Council/Committee meetings, matters related to discrimination or harassment, improper use of influence, inappropriate use of municipal property or resources (including for campaign purposes), inappropriate treatment of City staff, interpretation of the Council Expense Policy, inappropriate conduct respecting lobbying or lobbyists and improper receipt of gifts, benefits or hospitality.
Who does the Code of Conduct apply to?
In addition to Members of Council, the Code of Conduct also applies to citizen members of the Transit Commission when acting in their official capacity as Commissioners.
Separate codes of conduct have been established for citizen members of the Built Heritage Sub-Committee and members of the City’s local boards.
When did the Code of Conduct come into effect?
The Code of Conduct came into effect on July 1, 2013. No complaints were received before July 1, 2013 and complaints relating to incidents before July 1, 2013, will not be accepted.
An updated Code of Conduct for Members of Council (now a by-law) came into effect on March 1, 2019.
Who can file a complaint?
Members of the public, staff, Members of Council and Council as a whole can file complaint if they believe a contravention of the Code of Conduct has occurred.
Can an anonymous complaint be filed?
The Integrity Commissioner’s Complaint Protocol specifically requires that all complaints must be made in writing and signed by an identifiable individual. However, the identity of the complainant will be protected.
The only exception will be where the Integrity Commissioner finds that a complaint made by a Member of Council (or a Commissioner) was not made in good faith.
How do I make a complaint?
Complaints may be submitted by following the Complaint Protocol and using the Code of Conduct Complaint Submission Form. A formal complaint will require a signed affidavit setting out the evidence in support of the allegations.
Is there a fee to file a complaint?
No. There is no cost to submitting a complaint.
Is a formal complaint the only way to resolve an issue?
No. The Integrity Commissioner has developed an informal complaint process and individuals are encouraged to use this process as the first means of resolving an issue. With the consent of the complainant and the Member, the Integrity Commissioner may participate in an informal resolution as mediator/conciliator of issues relating to the complaint.
Steps in the informal process include:
- Advising the Member that the behaviour or activity appears to contravene the Code of Conduct;
- Encouraging the Member to acknowledge and agree to stop the behaviour or activity in question and to avoid future occurrences of the behaviour or activity;
- Documenting the incidents including dates, times, locations, other persons present, and any other relevant information;
- Requesting the Integrity Commissioner to assist in informal discussion of the alleged complaint with the Member in an attempt to resolve the issue;
- If applicable, confirming to the Member your satisfaction with the response of the Member; or, if applicable, advising the Member of your dissatisfaction with the response; and
- Considering the need to submit a formal complaint or pursue any other applicable judicial or quasi-judicial process or complaint procedure.
Do I have to go through the informal process before I can submit a formal complaint?
No. The informal process is not a prerequisite to submitting a formal complaint.
Why are complaints submitted through the City Clerk and Solicitor’s Office?
Ottawa City Council has established an Accountability Framework that is intended to be as cost-effective as possible. In order to ensure that the Integrity Commissioner is not unnecessarily burdened by administrative matters, complaints will be submitted through the Clerk’s Office. The City has existing procedures to manage confidential complaints and provides the Integrity Commissioner with administrative support within current resources.
Receiving complaints will be a strictly administrative function. The City Clerk and Solicitor is not involved in such complaints until the Integrity Commissioner is ready to report.
Will the Integrity Commissioner launch a full investigation for every complaint received?
Not necessarily. The Integrity Commissioner has the discretion to deal with a matter without a formal investigation if he/she sees an opportunity for a successful resolution and with the agreement of both the complainant and the Member.
Is there any reason the Integrity Commissioner might not investigate a complaint?
When a formal complaint is received, the Integrity Commissioner conducts an initial screening and may determine that a complaint is frivolous, vexatious, not made in good faith, outside of his/her jurisdiction, or that there are no grounds or insufficient grounds for an investigation.
The Integrity Commissioner may also decide, during an investigation, that a matter may more appropriately be dealt with through other channels. With the consent of the complainant, the Integrity Commissioner may refer complaints as follows:
- Formal complaints related to the interaction of municipal staff and Members of Council may be handled by the City Manager and the City Clerk and Solicitor, in consultation with the Mayor’s Office.
- Formal complaints pertaining to matters involving current and former Councillors’ Assistants may be handled by the City Clerk and Solicitor.
- Formal complaints concerning matters between one or more Members of Council may be handled by the Member Services Sub-Committee.
Are there any restrictions on when complaints can be submitted?
No complaints were received before July 1, 2013 and complaints relating to incidents before July 1, 2013, will not be accepted.
In a municipal election year, the Integrity Commissioner cannot accept applications between Nomination Day (the fourth Friday in July in a municipal election year) and Voting Day (the fourth Monday in October in a municipal election year).
How will a complaint be investigated?
The Integrity Commissioner’s Complaint Protocol establishes a process for investigating complaints as follows:
- Provide the complaint and supporting material to the Member whose conduct is in question with a request that a written response to the allegation be provided within ten business days.
- Provide a copy of the response provided to the complainant with a request for written reply within ten business days.
- If necessary, after reviewing the submitted materials, the Integrity Commissioner may speak to anyone, access and examine any other documents or electronic materials and may enter any City work location relevant to the complaint for the purpose of investigation and potential resolution.
The Integrity Commissioner may make interim reports to Council where necessary and as required to address any instances of interference, obstruction, delay or retaliation encountered during the investigation.
Does the Integrity Commissioner investigate complaints about City employees? What about City Council staff?
No. The Integrity Commissioner does not have the authority to investigate complaints about City employees. Staff who work in the offices of Members of Council are considered City employees and cannot be investigated by the Integrity Commissioner.
Concerns regarding the conduct of City employees should be directed to the appropriate manager, the City Clerk and Solicitor and/or the City Manager.
What is the extent of the Integrity Commissioner’s authority?
The Integrity Commissioner will report to Council where a complaint is found to have merit. The report will outline the findings, the terms of any settlement and/or any recommended corrective action. The Integrity Commissioner does not have the authority to apply a sanction.
If the Integrity Commissioner submits a report to Council, is Council obligated to do anything?
Council is required to consider and respond to an Integrity Commissioner’s report at the next meeting of Council after it is submitted. Council also has the option to apply a sanction based on the recommendation of the Integrity Commissioner.
What penalties or disciplinary actions might be imposed if a contravention of the Code of Conduct is found?
There are a few different sanctions that can be applied if a contravention of the Code of Conduct is found. The Municipal Act, 2001, the provincial legislation that gives Council the authority to have a Code of Conduct, provides two possible sanctions:
- A reprimand; and
- Suspension of the remuneration paid to the member in respect of his or her services as a member of Council or a local board, as the case may be, for a period of up to 90 days.
The Integrity Commissioner may also recommend that Council impose one of the following sanctions:
- Written or verbal public apology;
- Return of property or reimbursement of its value or of monies spent;
- Removal from membership of a committee; and
- Removal as chair of a committee.
How is the public informed of the Integrity Commissioner’s activity?
All reports from the Integrity Commissioner to Council will be made available to the public on ottawa.ca. The Integrity Commissioner will also provide redacted summaries of his/her advice on a regular basis for publication to ottawa.ca to increase public and Council understanding of the Code and its application within the day-to-day workings of the City.
If I have a question about the Code of Conduct or the Complaint Protocol, how do I get in touch with the Integrity Commissioner?
The Integrity Commissioner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.