The sitting council of the town of Fort Frances has requested the mayor make a formal apology to staff and contractors found to have been wronged in comments she made regarding leaked documents pertaining to the former Fort Frances mill.
In a special meeting called for August 18, one day before the nomination period for this year’s municipal elections closed, Town of Fort Frances Integrity Commissioner Paul Heayn delivered his report regarding the potential infractions of both the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and the Code of Conduct for Members of Council by Fort Frances mayor June Caul.
The investigation, Heayn stated, stemmed from an anonymous complaint that was submitted on February 17, 2022, and was accompanied by 11 documents, including newspaper articles, council meeting minutes and freedom of information documents.
“The purpose of the Inquiry is to determine if Mayor Caul violated the following sections of the Code of Conduct and subsequently the Municipal Act and Relevant Policies of the Town of Fort Frances and Sections 5.1 & 5.2 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act,” Heayn wrote in his report to council.
“The Requester (anonymous) contends that by leaking the confidential information, the Mayor is in violation of section 3.1, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 11.1 and 16.2 of the Code of Conduct and sections 4.11 and 7.7 of the procedural bylaw (which is incorporated into the Code of Conduct).”
According to Heayn, Caul was found to have violated or contravened several different sections of various different codes and rulesets, including the Council Code of Conduct, Procedural By-Law, and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, as well as the Workplace Harassment and Staff/Council Relationship Policies that the town has in place. However, pursuant to a complaint that the mayor could be criminally liable under the Criminal Code of Canada, Heayn wrote that as the town’s Integrity Commission, while he is obligated to refer a matter to the appropriate authorities if he finds or believes there has been a contravention of the Criminal Code, he maintains his beliefs that are in line with the results of his previous investigations when it comes to the mayor’s criminal culpability.
“On the face of it and reading Section 122 [of the Criminal Code], it appears that the leaking of this confidential document fits all of the elements of that section: The Mayor is an ‘official’; the leak was committed by the Mayor in the context of carrying out her duties as Mayor; and finally it was indeed a breach of trust,” Heayn wrote.
“However, one has to read further as to how this section is interpreted by the courts and the 2006 decision of the Supreme Court v. Boulanger case is a clear example. That court decision established five elements in considering whether or not a Breach of Trust action can be successful. The fifth element is the sticking point for me in deciding not to hand over this complaint to the OPP to investigate in the context of Section 122 of the Criminal Code. That fifth element – ‘The accused acted with the intention to use his or her public office for a purpose other than the public good, for example, for a dishonest, partial, corrupt, or oppressive purpose. The Court noted that ‘partiality’ denotes an unfair bias in favour of one thing, compared to another.’ As stated previously, I do not believe that Mayor Caul released this document to harm the Municipality but was hoping to clear up some misconceptions that became the subject of many articles in the local newspaper.”
Heayn noted in his report, and confirmed in his summary, that as a result of the mayor’s actions, he found that she had breached the town’s workplace harassment policy when she said that a member of administration or staff could have been responsible for leaking documents that were eventually disclosed to have come from the mayor herself.
“By the mayor indicating in the local newspaper that there were several others who were privy to this information as well, and we cannot just assume it was one of our members of council, truly goes against a doctrine of respect above all else as Section 7 states, especially with mayor Caul knowing she had sent the private document to the member of the public,” Heayn said.
Heayn’s recommendation following the conclusion of his most recent report was that council review and take the opportunity to reflect on the mayor’s actions, and decide amongst themselves whether they felt it was fit to provide further punishment, or to file the report as received.
As a result of the Integrity Commissioner’s findings, and because an earlier apology from the mayor was given to council and the public at large, the sitting members of council agreed to add a request to the agenda item for the mayor to specifically apologize to not only the members of Town of Fort Frances staff she had wronged by implying they could have been responsible for the leaked documents, but also to the town’s contractors whom had also been impacted by the mayor’s comments regarding impropriety on their part.
For her part, mayor Caul excused herself from the meeting following a statement she made to the assembled council where she maintained that she acted in the best interest of the town, and that she feels she has been the target of a pointed effort to harm her reputation following repeated.
“I am proud that I speak up and ask questions that I feel need to be answered,” Caul said.
“I am not perfect. None of us are. I have made mistakes and made poor choices at times and freely admit my faults. I do not say these things to minimize what this meeting is about today. I understand the complaint and the job that Mr. Heayn has done. However, I would be remiss and not fair to myself if I did not remind council that I certainly am not the only person on this council who has divulged confidential information in the newspaper, on social media, through these many complaints and public meetings with the integrity commissioners reports, and even to Mr. Kircher.”