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Sincere apology more than satisfies Integrity Commissioner

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Niagara Region’s Integrity Commissioner Edward McDermott has submitted his findings and decision regarding a complaint he received back in July of this year involving three members of regional council.

In a letter addressed to the Region’s Clerk Anne-Marie Norio, the Integrity Commissioner said no further action or discipline is necessary and that the decision and the entire report be shared in public at Council’s next meeting.

The complaint was made against Regional Councillor and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton for a comment she made about St. Catharines Regional Councillor Laura Ip during a council meeting. The Lincoln mayor and veteran politician who is held in high-regard by her council colleagues made the comment during a virtual meeting when she thought her microphone was on mute.

Easton apologized that same evening. However, St. Catharines resident Emily Spanton felt an apology was not enough and filed the complaint at a cost to local taxpayers. The cost of this specific complaint was not made public but in his annual report to council it was noted that Integrity Commissioner investigations have cost Niagara taxpayers nearly $15,000 in the past three years.

The comment that Spanton took exception to occurred when Councilor Ip was speaking during the council meeting. The comment “There she goes again” could be overheard when Ip became more animated in her questioning. The comment was attributed to Easton. In her complaint Spanton said those words were ‘inappropriate, disparaging and disrespectful’. Mayor Easton apologized before the meeting even ended but according to the report, Spanton was not satisfied with the apology.

McDermott notified Easton that a complaint had been filed against her. He forwarded the complaint documents to Easton and asked for her response. McDermott says in his report that he was surprised to receive back from Easton a letter of apology written to Ip in which Easton admitted her conduct was not appropriate and again apologized for her actions. In his report McDermott refers to Easton’s apology as “fulsome and genuine”.

Subsequently McDermott said he was provided with correspondence from Ip in which she replied to Easton’s apology letter expressing gratitude and that she was not offended by her comments but appreciated the sincere apology and “high degree of integrity” Easton displayed.

McDermott said after reviewing this cordial back and forth between the council colleagues he went back to Spanton to see if that was satisfactory. While Spanton said she accepted the verbal and written apology she felt Easton needed to publicly apologize to Ip and all of St. Catharines at an upcoming council meeting.  McDermott stated he has no authority to order a councillor to make an apology, public or otherwise. He said he did not agree with Spanton’s desire for more apologies even if he could force a councillor to issue one.

McDermott called Easton’s actions “commendable” and clearly stated he does not recommend any further action taken against the councillor. “Her [Easton] pro-active and genuine response to a regrettable situation should serve as a positive message to all members of Council that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.”

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