Brampton’s newly appointed integrity commissioner has publicly expressed support for Mayor Patrick Brown in the past and her spouse’s company did paid work for the Ontario Progressive Conservative party under the former leader.
Muneeza Sheikh, a Toronto labour lawyer and frequent media contributor, was appointed by Brampton city council to the dual post of integrity commissioner – who oversees the ethical behaviour of the mayor and councillors – and lobbyist registrar for the city west of Toronto on July 11. A three-member hiring committee, which included Mr. Brown, recommended her appointment after a recruitment process. The previous integrity commissioner, longtime conservative Guy Giorno, resigned last November because of links to Mr. Brown.
In social-media posts stretching back to 2016, Ms. Sheikh, who also works in the non-profit sector for the Muslim community, appeared alongside Mr. Brown at events, including in a photo that appeared on his mayoral-campaign website. She publicly defended Mr. Brown online and on media panels after he was forced to resign as Progressive Conservative leader in early 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied. Ms. Sheikh, who wrote on social media that she knows Mr. Brown “socially to some degree,” told The Globe and Mail she has no personal relationship to the mayor and has met him only at public events.
Mr. Brown also said he doesn’t know Ms. Sheikh, “other than the fact she was well respected in the Muslim community.”
“She was selected as integrity commissioner as she was the most qualified and was selected by a unanimous resolution of council. She is an accomplished labour lawyer, speaks multiple languages and is a visible minority now serving the most diverse big city in Canada,” he said in a message.
Ethics experts say even the appearance of bias can be problematic for the commissioner role.
“An integrity commissioner for a municipality really shouldn’t have any previous social contact with any members of the council, because obviously their impartiality will be brought into question,” said Andrew Sancton, a professor emeritus at Western University who specializes in municipal governments and accountability.
Ms. Sheikh’s husband’s company, Style Counsel, was also paid $15,056 by the PC party in 2017, when Mr. Brown was leader, according to Elections Ontario records. An invoice obtained by The Globe, sent by Ms. Sheikh’s husband, Mustafa Khaliq, to Walied Soliman, chair of the party’s 2018 election campaign, lists numerous clothing articles and services such as personal shopping and wardrobe consulting.
Mr. Brown told The Globe he was not aware of the details of costs and said he doesn’t have a fashion consultant other than his wife, Genevieve. He said he didn’t recognize Mr. Khaliq’s name but would inquire with officials. Ms. Sheikh said she has nothing to do with the PC party.
In a panel interview after Mr. Brown stepped down as PC leader in January, 2018, Ms. Sheikh said Mr. Brown “did a lot in terms of transforming the provincial conservative party,” including making it more moderate and diverse. She called his resignation “extremely disheartening" and later tweeted that he should not have been “shunned” by his party without an investigation.
In one tweet from February 16, 2018, the day Mr. Brown registered to re-enter the PC party leadership race, Ms. Sheikh posted a photo of herself and Mr. Brown with the caption, “Welcome back...we have been waiting for you! #PatrickBrown #leadership."
Ms. Sheikh said all of her public comments about him have been made in her capacity as a lawyer and, as an active member of the Muslim community, she has attended events and has pictures with politicians of all stripes. She said she also received a job reference from the city’s former interim integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig. Ms. Sheikh said she didn’t take a salary but will only bill the city based on the work she does in the role.
“I met Mayor Brown over the years ... and got to know him, and respected his work in the Muslim community," she said in an e-mail to The Globe. "I did provide commentary as it relates to Mayor Brown, and if you review my interviews, there are many others I provided support for throughout the last three years.
“My husband did work for the Provincial party a few years ago, he was not Mayor Brown’s fashion consultant. I had nothing to do with this.”
Duff Conacher, co-founder of watchdog group Democracy Watch, said Ms. Sheikh’s previous remarks about Mr. Brown go “too far," and she should step aside if there are any complaints about Mr. Brown or his allies.
“If allegations are made against him as mayor, that’s a highly political situation. And she’s already given the appearance of where her loyalties lie," he said.
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