By Cindy-Ann Williams, Community Advocate

With files from the Editor.

There’s a new gang who think they’re in charge at Brampton City Hall. 

We call them the “Gang of Six”. 

I’m not talking about a criminal gang.  However, criminal gangs could learn a lot from these six Brampton City Councillors. 

This new Brampton cabal consists of Deputy Mayor Pat Fortini, Councillors Charmaine Williams, Martin Medeiros, Jeff Bowman, Doug Whillans, and disgraced Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon. 

Most criminal gangs leave a wide swath of victims in the wake of their activities. This gang is no different. 

The City of Brampton’s Integrity Commissioner, Muneeza Sheikh, is their latest victim of the Gang of Six. They called for a Special Meeting of Council for Friday March 11, 2022. At that meeting council, they voted to terminate the Integrity Commissioner’s contract with the City of Brampton. 

As the Integrity Commissioner, Sheikh’s primary job was to investigate complaints about Councillors themselves and possible Code of Conduct violations. It’s a quasi-judicial role that can help taxpayers get a remedy to their complaints about councillors’ misconduct.

As per provincial legislation, all municipalities in Ontario are mandated to appoint an Integrity Commissioner. These independent adjudicators are typically not employees of the municipality, and their contracts are based on an hourly rate agreed upon by council – Brampton council included.

The Integrity Commissioner bills the municipality based on hours worked. This amount of work is directly associated to the number of complaints the Integrity Commissioner receives by both the public and Councillors themselves. Over the past few years, there have been several complaints about Councillors’ Code of Conduct violations, resulting in a significant increase in costs.

One complex case, that generated many billable hours, was the complaint launched against Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon on sexual allegations made against him by a Brampton businesswoman. The woman claimed Dhillon sexually harassed her while the two were on a city economic development trade mission in Turkey, 

As the Integrity Commissioner, Muneeza Sheikh conducted an independent investigation, which included interviewing both the Brampton businesswoman and Gurpreet Dhillon (with his lawyer present). Muneeza Sheikh concluded that Dhillon engaged in “inappropriate sexual misconduct” that violates the City Council’s Code of Conduct. She would further report that if she had the authority, she would have recommended that Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon be “dismissed” as a Councillor.

Dhillon filed a judicial review of the Integrity Commissioner Sheikh’s report and investigative procedures. A three judge panel would later rule that “The Integrity Commissioner’s decision to open an investigation as she did was reasonable” and “There was no denial of procedural fairness.” 

The Justices then ordered Councillor Dhillon to pay the City $20,000 and another $20,000 to the Integrity Commissioner. The order to pay was made in June of 2021.  To date, Dhillon has not paid.

Why does this matter?

One could argue that if Dhillon had not yet paid the Integrity Commissioner the court-ordered sum of $20,000, then he would legally be obligated to declare a pecuniary interest in the motion to fire her. If he didn’t declare a pecuniary interest, he could possibly be in violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

As a member of the Gang of Six, Dhillon stood to benefit by firing the one woman willing to hold him accountable for his sexual misconduct. The evidence was that the victim had to tell him “no” at least 74 times before he would put her down, stop lifting-up her skirt, and leave her hotel room in Turkey.  

For Dhillon, firing the Integrity Commissioner plays into the narrative that she must have been fired for “doing something wrong” and therefore she was wrong to say he was guilty of harassment in that Turkish hotel room.

Why did the other five gang members go along with this? I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. 

Last month, community activist and long-time Brampton resident, Cody Vatcher filed a complaint against Gang of Six member Deputy Mayor Pat Fortini. Vatcher alleges that Fortini violated the City of Brampton’s code of conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by voting to hire Paul Morrison as Brampton’s acting CAO.  According to Vatcher’s Facebook video and posts, Morrison is the direct boss of Fortini’s daughter and therefore Fortini is not legally allowed to vote or debate an issue that might affect the financial well-being of his daughter.

Fortini has not been found by a court to have violated the Act and the Integrity Commissioner has not started or concluded an investigation. Vatcher’s claim is that the law states that councillors have the same financial interest as their children, spouses, or parents. That was the same day they voted to fire CAO David Barrick at a special meeting. He was the very first targeted victim of the Gang of Six.

So Deputy Mayor Fortini was facing a possible investigation by Muneeza Sheihk at the time he voted to fire her.  

Vatcher wrote an impassioned letter to council dated March 10, 2022, the day before the special council meeting, and it prompted two councillors to declare a pecuniary interest and forego any participation in the motion to fire Muneeza Sheikh.

One of the councillors, Rowena Santos, said that she was the subject of a current complaint and possible investigation.  She’s not a member of the gang of six and didn’t sign her name to call the special meeting to fire Muneeza Sheikh. 

However, the second councillor to declare a pecuniary interest was council veteran Jeff Bowman. He is an active member of the Gang of Six and did sign his name to the letter demanding the special meeting. 

So how could Bowman both sign a letter to demand a Special Meeting to discuss the Integrity Commissioner and then later declare a pecuniary interest at the same meeting?  No doubt someone will file a complaint in an effort to get a fulsome answer. 

If any of the other members of council have investigations pending, they might be at legal risk of losing their seats because a conviction for breaching the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act can include removal from office. 

Cody Vatcher wasn’t the only one to write a letter to Council. The Integrity Commissioner herself sent Brampton council a letter reminding them that they could be sued personally and that the City of Brampton would be on the hook for breaking her contract before the term had ended. 

When a criminal gang takes over a neighbourhood, the whole community suffers.   The former Integrity Commissioner will likely join the former CAO and file a lawsuit, and the lawsuit will drag on.  The city legal costs will pile up. The Integrity Commissioner’s current investigations will be abandoned and restarted by a new Integrity Commissioner selected by the Gang of Six at considerable cost.  The Gang of Six made victims of us all even if their intended victims were the former CAO and Integrity Commissioner. 

But the new integrity commissioner will know they can be fired at any time if they don’t do what the Gang of Six want. The independence of the only accountability officer at the City of Brampton has been lost.  The Gang of Six will do much more damage to the taxpayers of Brampton, unless they change course or someone is brave enough to challenge them in court.

Cindy-Ann Williams is a self described Mother, Wife, Community advocate, dancer and musician.

Cindy-Ann Williams