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(Fred Lum)
(Fred Lum)

Integrity chief shouldn’t apologize for doing her job Add to ...

Apparently it isn’t enough for Doug Ford that his brother won an appeal of a court ruling ousting him from office over conflict-of-interest allegations. No, he wants pay back. His target: Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper.

The councillor says that, “if it was up to me, I’d ask her to step down. Through her lack of due diligence, she has almost destroyed a family.”

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The court case, he says, “had major ramifications for my brother. It hurt his family, it hurt him financially, it hurt his kids and most of all it hurt the city.”

He says the least Ms. Leiper can do is apologize. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday echoed that call on the floor of city council, arguing that the affair had “caused great consternation and great expense for Mayor Ford” and “almost cost us a mayor.”

These attacks are grossly unfair to Ms. Leiper, a straight-arrow public servant who was only trying to uphold the rules when she pursued a complaint against Mr. Ford for violating city council’s code of conduct. She found that he was offside when he used his status as a city councillor to raise money for his football foundation, which accepted donations from lobbyists and a company that does business with the city government.

If Rob Ford had listened to her repeated warnings and simply followed the code of conduct, he could have made the whole thing go away. Instead, he stubbornly ignored her. Only then did the matter come before city council, which ordered him to pay back around $3,000 in improper donations.

The initial judge in the case ruled that council was within its rights to do so. The appeal court, looking again at the complex web of law that governs council’s powers, disagreed. If council was acting outside its powers when it ordered the mayor to return the donated money, it ruled, then he could not have been in conflict of interest when he voted on the matter.

Does this mean Ms. Leiper should bow her head and say sorry? Of course not. A lawyer and former law professor, she was applying the code of conduct as she read it and seeking a proper penalty for someone who was refusing to comply.

“This is a new area of law that evolves and requires being tested in court,” Councillor Gord Perks reminded council on Thursday after Mr. Holyday called for an apology. Two courts rendered two different decisions, “indicating the areas were complex and difficult enough, Mr. Deputy Mayor, that even judges disagreed.”

If anyone made a mistake, Mr. Perks said, it was not Ms. Leiper but Mr. Ford, who “took money from lobbyists for a charity that bore his name. That was the egregious error, that is the root cause of all the consternation, all the difficulty, all the legal fees, all the conflict, all the newspaper headlines.”

Well, exactly. In fact, as Ms. Leiper notes, the appeal court’s ruling does not overturn her finding that Mr. Ford violated the code of conduct in the first place. It says only that council was wrong to impose a financial penalty on him for violating it.

Instead of rapping Ms. Leiper’s knuckles, councillors should thank their stars for having such a good shepherd. Ms. Leiper’s office grew out of the computer-leasing scandal more than a decade ago that put a shadow over city council’s integrity. In response, council drew up tough new ethics rules and brought in “accountability officers,” including an integrity commissioner.

It’s a strict regime and it can be a hassle for councillors, who are often confused by the rules. One councillor, James Pasternak, complained that they are being “shrink-wrapped.” But in an age of deep distrust of politicians, those hassles are a small price to pay. Far better to be too strict than too lax.

As Ms. Leiper herself told councillors on Thursday, “you have set yourself a very high bar.” When they approved the new integrity rules, they said to the public “not only will we be accountable to the law, not only will we be accountable to the electorate at election time, we are adding an extra layer of ethical accountability” – a code of conduct.

Enforcing that code is her job. She shouldn’t have to apologize for doing it.

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