Vaughan deputy mayor resigns amid watchdog’s report on sexual assault, harassment allegations
City of Vaughan Deputy Mayor and Councillor Michael Di Biase resigned Thursday after the release of an integrity commissioner’s code of conduct report about sexual assault and harassment allegations involving himself and a female city employee.
In a report posted on the city’s website by Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig that is going before members of city council on Tuesday, she said her office received an affidavit on Jan. 17 from the unnamed employee who alleged Di Biase sexually assaulted and harassed her and that he “undertook an act of reprisal” for filing a conduct complaint.
Craig said the complainant raised “a number of allegations” of sexual assault by Di Biase that began in March 2016. She cited a mid-2016 incident referenced in the affidavit.
“The respondent again groped me, kissed me, touched my breasts and pushed himself against me. In response, I again pushed the respondent away,” the employee said, referencing an encounter with Di Biase.
“Based on these and other events, the complainant alleged that the respondent sexually assaulted her by touching her and pushing himself against her in such a way that violated her sexual integrity.”
The integrity commissioner said she did not investigate or make any findings in relation to the sexual assault allegations. Craig said she is advising the complainant to contact police about the sexual assault allegations since it involves allegations of “criminal conduct.”
The report also deals with allegations that Di Biase sexually harassed the employee between March and July 2016. Craig said the complainant then went off work and only returned for a few weeks in October. She said the employee listed five instances of “unwanted sexual advances.”
“In each case, the respondent is alleged to have kissed the mouth of the complainant, without her consent and despite her objections. In four cases, the respondent also touched her breasts,” Craig said.
“In addition to these five incidents, the complainant alleges that this pattern of conduct was repeated a further five or six times and occurred in the same period.”
Craig said the employee recorded a phone call on July 20 between Di Biase and herself. A partial transcript was included in the report:
“Respondent (“R”): OK, what are you upset at me for?
Complainant (“C”): Well, last night after you told me everything you still tried to kiss me, you still touched my breast. I told you before, I am not comfortable with that.
C: That makes me very, very uncomfortable.
C: Why did you do that… because I was in a weak moment?
R: No… No… just… I honestly love you. I think you are wonderful… you’re beautiful.
C: [noise of a car door] Sorry. Go ahead.
R: I apologize, it won’t happen again… sorry.
C: But that’s crossing the line and you know that.
R: OK, well that’s fine. I am sorry I did it… temptation… whatever you want to call it.
C: But I told you no before.
R: OK… alright, we’ll make a deal. I will not do this anymore. But if you want to touch my breast, you can touch my breast. I give you my permission. How’s that? [laughter].
C: No, but it’s not funny. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.”
Craig said she determined Di Biase’s actions “constitute sexual harassment” and breach the code of conduct.
“The respondent’s conduct created and contributed to an intimidating and offensive work environment for the complainant, contrary to his obligations under the Code and under the City’s Respectful Workplace Policy,” Craig wrote.
The employee also told Craig’s office that after filing the code of conduct complaint, she and a family member were put under surveillance.
“In discussions with the complainant, she clarified that this allegation was supported by “the way the respondent deals with people who go against him,” Craig wrote.
“Upon seeing “a black SUV, license plate [redacted]” that was parked outside her house and then proceeded to follow her, the complainant believed that the same “things that happened to others” would happen to her.”
Craig said “the respondent has previously undertaken acts of reprisals against employees of the City of Vaughan who had initiated or participated in complaints under the Code,” but said she didn’t have conclusive evidence linking the unknown person doing the surveillance to Di Biase.
Meanwhile, the report by Craig recommended several sanctions against Di Biase to city council:
– reprimanding Di Biase
– suspending Di Biase’s pay for 90 days
– request Di Biase to issue an apology to the employee and Vaughan City Council
– suspending Di Biase’s deputy mayor designation and authority over office staff
– removing Di Biase’s right to chair council meetings and sit on standing committees
However, Di Biase announced his resignation Thursday through a statement issued by his lawyer.
“While I have throughout maintained my innocence, I do not wish to be a distraction from the important work that is ahead for our council in protecting the interests of this city,” Di Biase said in part.
“I look forward to spending time with my loved ones and I know that the City of Vaughan will continue to be in good hands.”
It’s not clear what city council’s next steps will be after Di Biase’s resignation.
In the report, the employee wrote a letter to city council and Di Biase calling on council to accept Craig’s recommendations.
“I hope that you will remember that the impacts of Councillor Di Biase’s sexual harassment on me have been profound and far-reaching. They have impacted every facet of my life and every part of my identity,” the employee wrote in part.
She also addressed Di Biase directly.
“I challenge you to make a new name for yourself, to do something good in support of women like supporting Vaughan’s only women’s shelter ETA Vaughan. Use your position to empower women. Let your actions show us that you finally understand the severity and consequences of your behaviour,” the employee said.
“I ask you also for a personally written apology acknowledging your wrongdoing. The impacts of your sexual harassment will never fully go away, but knowing that you are sincerely remorseful will assist in my continued healing.”
Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua subsequently issued a statement saying he accepts Di Biase’s decision to step down.
“As a Council, it is our responsibility to champion the values of accountability, transparency and respect. As we move forward, we will continue to advance a culture of excellence in governance rooted in integrity.”
Global News contacted Di Biase’s lawyer asking for comment on the allegations, but a response wasn’t received by deadline.
However, Craig included comments from Di Biase on the preliminary findings.
“The respondent’s response states that he categorically denies sexually assaulting or sexually harassing the complainant and that he often expressed non-sexual expressions of affection toward the complainant,” the report said.
“The respondent acknowledges that they kissed on the lips on several occasions, but that these acts were either initiated by the complainant or that it was consensual. The
respondent otherwise denies touching the complainant’s breasts or otherwise touching her inappropriately.”
Craig said Di Biase stated he believed he has been “the victim of entrapment” and that “the complainant made advances toward the respondent with the intention of winning his allegiance and loyalty in office skirmishes that she was having within the office and other staff and councillor(s) outside the office.”
The allegations against Di Biase haven’t been proven in court.
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