OPINION: Integrity is in short supply at Hamilton City Hall
The Integrity Commissioner’s report was unethical and here’s why
By: Lauren O'Donnell, Contributor
Folks, we need to talk. It’s time to take a hard look at what’s going on in this city — our city. More specifically, in the hallowed halls of Hamilton City Hall.
It’s no secret City Hall has a checkered past with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. If you’re not familiar with what happened in 2SLGBTQIA+ politics in Hamilton last year, here’s a comprehensive guide by former Silhouette News Editor, Trisha Gregorio. For a number of reasons, including that a city employee has an alleged history as a neo-nazi leader, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory committee requested that Hamilton City Hall not fly the Pride and trans flags. City Hall chose to fly the flags anyway.
For a number of reasons, including that a city employee has an alleged history as a neo-nazi leader, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory committee requested that Hamilton City Hall not fly the Pride and trans flags. City Hall chose to fly the flags anyway.
But why am I talking about this now? Early this year, the Volunteer Chair of the LGBTQ advisory committee, Cameron Kroetsch, made comments disparaging Hamilton City Council. Shortly after, an integrity commissioner investigation was launched against him, at the council’s request. The accusations that were made against him were allegedly incorrect, something which was not mentioned in the final report. Instead, the integrity commissioner issued a report recommending that Kroetsch be reprimanded and should consider stepping down from his role.
Several people and organizations, including former Hamilton Citizen of the Year Graham Crawford and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, have expressed concerns that this process has been misused and that the council’s actions can be read as alienating to the Hamilton 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
I don’t think that I can properly do justice to this issue unless I give you some background on what an integrity commissioner is and what they’re supposed to do. According to every other site I checked, an integrity commissioner exists to investigate ethics violations on the part of elected officials and local boards. The LGBTQ advisory committee does not fall under either of these headings.
Of the websites I consulted, in addition to the ones cited above, only one made any mention of investigating citizen committees: Hamilton. The page with this definition was updated to include citizen committees the day after the complaint against Kroetsch was filed. To reiterate: integrity commissioners exist to hold elected officials accountable on behalf of citizens. In this case, it’s being used by elected officials to penalize citizens that critique them. Changing the definition on the website doesn’t change the job description.
But how can I be sure that the definition update is connected to this case? How do I know when it was updated? The short answer is that I am by no means the first person to write about this topic. Joey Coleman of The Public Record, an independent news site dedicated to providing informed coverage of Hamilton’s communities and civic affairs, has begun a four-part series on the ethics of the integrity commissioner’s report and investigation which I highly recommend reading.
The integrity commissioner’s report on Kroetsch is ethically questionable at best and just plain bullying at worst. I regret to inform you that it gets worse. On Sept. 30, Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead tweeted a message that some community members interpreted as threatening, asking if the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion was open to an integrity commissioner investigation. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
“The integrity commissioner just investigated a complaint against a volunteer member of an advisory committee after a complaint by Council and on the same day that Council received the report, a Council member is already threatening to sic the Integrity Commissioner on a charity,” said Ryan McGreal, the editor for Raise the Hammer in his article on the subject.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s briefly review the timeline. Here are the facts as I know them:
→ The LGBTQ advisory committee — a volunteer citizen organization — asked that the Pride flags not be flown at City Hall. This request was ignored.
→ Cameron Kroetsch, the chair of the committee, critiqued Hamilton City Council.
→ City Council requested that the integrity commissioner investigate Kroetsch for alleged violations which now appear to be false. In doing so, both Council and the integrity commissioner willfully misused and misinterpreted the mandate of an integrity commissioner.
→ The commissioner’s report reprimanded Kroetsch and advised that he step down as chair. This is not under the purview of either council or the integrity commissioner. In a statement, Kroetsch said that he felt the report was designed to silence his voice.
→ Following this report, a councillor tweeted a potentially threatening message at a charity that helps marginalized communities, suggesting that this same procedure could be used against them.
The integrity commissioner exists to hold politicians responsible for their actions. Instead, this system has been weaponized against volunteer advocates and charities, the very people it should be protecting. This plot wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Black Mirror.
The integrity commissioner exists to hold politicians responsible for their actions. Instead, this system has been weaponized against volunteer advocates and charities, the very people it should be protecting.
If the folks down at City Hall truly want to build bridges and foster trust with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, then they need to walk the walk. Painting a rainbow crosswalk isn’t going to cut it. City council needs to be reminded that they’re supposed to work for the people, not against them.
Update: At the Oct. 14 meeting, Councillor Nrinder Nann made a motion for council to reconsider the reprimand against Kroetsch, which will be debated at Oct. 28's meeting.