Claude Berthiaume says council had little choice other than to fire Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin
Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume says he’d be willing to support restoring the Ontario Ombudsman as the city’s closed-door meeting investigator – but only after the province replaces Andre Marin.
Berthiaume, who introduced the motion Feb. 12 to replace Marin, says he knew firing him “was going to be explosive.” But he said the relationship between the Ombudsman and city council has deteriorated to the point that it can’t be repaired.
So until Marin is replaced, he said he won’t support reversing the decision. Berthiaume took issue in particular how critical Marin has been of councillors.
“I knew he’d be angry and all … but I didn’t expect the comments he made.”
In a Feb. 15 interview, Marin accused councillors of “going rogue” and said they resented being forced to submit to oversight from his office. He said Sudbury was a perfect example of why Ontario’s oversight laws need to be toughed so councils can’t pick and choose who investigates them.
“I think Sudbury councillors should use this time to reflect on whether they have the royal jelly to be a councillor,” Marin said.
“I think a lot of them have the sense that they are above the law. And perhaps some of them should pursue other employment.
“They can continue to opt out until they find someone to rubber stamp their behaviour. And at the end of the day, the public will have their say in the next election.”
Berthiaume said those types of comments show that Marin can’t possibly be impartial when it comes to dealing with Greater Sudbury councillors.
“He’s very opinionated, very emotional and what he says isn’t based on facts,” Berthiaume said. “And this has been the problem from the beginning, even going back to Elton John,” a reference to Marin’s first investigation of city council in 2009.
“Always we get these editorial comments.”
After Marin appeared before city council in December, in which he famously criticized City Solicitor Jamie Canapini for giving “bad legal advice,” Berthiaume said it was clear their relationship was beyond saving.
He said he views the ombudsman’s office as similar to a judge at a tribunal. If the accused feels the judge is biased – and Berthiaume says Marin has shown a clear bias against Sudbury councillors – they can request another judge.
And the city has the right to choose the person who investigates complaints about their closed-door meetings.
“The way he was talking about us, he shows such bias. How could we continue working with him? There’s no way. We can’t get a fair hearing. He can’t be impartial.”
So he began to talk to other councillors, one-on-one, about whether they would be willing to consider replacing Marin with Amberley Gavel, a London-based firm contracted by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to conduct closed-door meeting investigations.
When he found there was widespread support for the idea, Berthiaume planned to bring it forward at the Jan. 29 city council meeting, but it was cut short by bad weather.
“I showed my notice of motion to only one councillor before I introduced it,” he said, and the motion passed quickly, with Mayor Marianne Matichuk the sole vote against. “Did I discuss it beforehand? Yes, but only with one person at a time. There was no meeting.”
While reaction on the blogosphere has been severe, he said he’s only received a few emails and calls from people in his ward upset about Marin’s dismissal.
“There’s some people who send emails to all councillors, and I discount them,” he said.
“From people in my ward, there might have been four or five emails, and not very many calls … Sounds to me like there’s really just a small group of people who are concerned with it.”
He’s also irked that Marin is refusing to investigate any complaints from Sudbury, even though he is still the investigator until Feb. 25. When asked why, Marin said Feb. 15 he didn’t see any point.
“Council expressed its desire to have another investigator for their open meetings, and I respect the will of council,” Marin said. “They are entitled to opt in and opt out, so, c’est la vie.
“And council wasn’t co-operating when we had full authority, and I can’t imagine they’ll cooperate any more now, so there’s a point where you can’t keep beating your head against a brick wall.”
Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli said he was unaware the motion was coming up for discussion Feb. 12, but, like other councillors, had been considering it for some time.
He cited human rights complaints that have been filed against the ombudsman’s office and the heavy turnover in Marin’s office as some of the reasons why he decided the ombudsman should be replaced.
The complaints have been reported in a Toronto Star story available at www.thestar.com.
Like Berthiaume, Belli said he’s received a few emails and phone calls, but not the sort of overwhelming response that would indicate his constituents are up in arms over the issue.
“It’s been minimal,” Belli said, who says he was caught off guard by Berthiaume’s motion. “Did I make the right decision? At the end of the day, people have to realize that when (Marin) came here in December, we respected him. I listened to what he had to say, but I didn’t like his tactics at the end.”
Belli said it was disrespectful for the Ombudsman to attack Canapini, and then leave the council chamber before Canapini had a chance to respond.
“Out of respect, our lawyer sat and listened to what he had to say. And basically (Marin) left and didn’t come back.”
One thing he might change, Belli said, was the speed with which the decision was made, admitting it was “a little quick.
“We are human. We do make mistakes, and I’m not certain whether this is a mistake or not.”
The decision to fire Marin must still be ratified at the Feb. 26 city council meeting to formally become law.