A Mississauga city councillor has had his pay suspended after he allegedly harassed a fellow councillor.
Council voted Wednesday 9-2 in favour of suspending Ron Starr’s pay for 60 days, a recommendation made by the city’s integrity commissioner.
The Ward 6 councillor was the subject of an investigation by integrity commissioner Robert Swayze, which found that he “engaged in harassment” against Karen Ras (who resigned in January) when she was a city councillor by allegedly keying her vehicle in the city hall parking garage.
Starr continues to deny the allegation.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie released a statement after the vote Wednesday thanking the integrity commissioner for the report and thanking Ras and the public “for their patience.”
“Council is committed to considering and responding to the integrity commissioner’s report with an open mind,” Crombie said.
“We reviewed the report and we also heard from the integrity commissioner and Councillor Starr’s lawyer today at council. The integrity commissioner’s report is unequivocal, and nothing we heard today changed the significance of his findings.”
The integrity commissioner’s report into the allegations against Starr was made public on June 30, months after council ordered the investigation to begin.
Swayze said he took multiple steps in his investigation, including reviewing surveillance footage that allegedly showed Ras’ car being keyed.
He also said he spoke to the Peel police detective who handled Ras’ initial complaint against Starr.
In his report, Swayze said, “on the balance of probabilities,” he believed Starr scratched Ras’ car on April 13, 2021.
“His action was mindless vandalism and devoid of common decency,” the integrity commissioner wrote.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Starr maintained his innocence.
“I am disappointed and distraught by the outcome of today’s council meeting. I maintain my innocence in this matter and will continue to fight to clear my name,” his statement said. “I did not key Karen Ras’ vehicle or harass her as alleged.”
The City of Mississauga denied a freedom of information request from Global News to receive the video footage on the grounds the integrity commissioner instructed staff to “keep all information about the investigation of the car scratching incident confidential.”
Swayze recommended that council suspend Starr’s pay for 60 days.
“The integrity commissioner couldn’t have used stronger language to condemn Councillor Starr’s actions, and I am personally deeply troubled by Councillor Starr’s conduct,” Crombie said.
Starr called report ‘unfair,’ ‘biased’
Starr alleged the integrity commissioner had “ignored all the evidence I put before him” and said he felt the “pressure” on Swayze meant his “mind was made up even before I gave him my evidence.”
Starr’s statement followed a similar defence issued after the report was released, in which he called the investigation “unfair, biased and politically motivated.”
“I stand by my previous statement that I absolutely deny the allegations made against me,” Starr’s statement read. “I am very sorry Karen Ras was subjected to harassment, but I am not the person who harassed her, and I will continue to fight to clear my name.”
Lawyers for Starr also filed an injunction seeking actions against city council regarding the investigation, stating the investigation was “politically motivated.”
Crombie noted that some have asked why council hasn’t forced Starr out of office.
The mayor said council doesn’t have that power, and can only suspend pay after receiving a report from the integrity commissioner.
“Ultimately, it is up to the residents of Ward 6 to determine who is best placed to represent their interests at city hall come election time,” Crombie said.
Municipal elections take place in Ontario this October and Starr has registered his candidacy to run again in Mississauga’s Ward 6.
“I maintain that this investigation was biased and politically motivated from the outset, and as a result, I have been denied a fair and impartial investigation into this matter,” Starr said in his statement.
News of the allegations against Starr first broke in February by CBC News and the Toronto Star.
Ras told the CBC that she resigned from her role after her car was repeatedly vandalized and the integrity commissioner and Crombie didn’t address her concerns.
Crombie later apologized for not pushing for an investigation.
Read more: Mississauga mayor addresses allegations councillor ‘repeatedly vandalized’ another councillor’s car
Peel police spokesperson Akhil Mooken told Global News previously that officers conducted an investigation “into an allegation of vandalism/property damage occurring within the city hall secure parking garage in April 2021.”
Mooken said, in consultation with the complainant and Crown’s office, it was decided that no charges would be laid. Further information wasn’t disclosed by Mooken as no charges were laid.
In February, Mississauga city council passed a resolution requesting that the integrity commissioner conduct an investigation into the allegations.
‘Entire process has been very frustrating’: Ras’ lawyer
Ras’ lawyer released a statement following council’s vote Wednesday.
“Despite the flawed city council and integrity commissioner accountability processes, at the end of the day, it was confirmed that Ms. Ras was not provided a safe work environment, contrary to her rights,” the statement said.
“It is unfortunate and unacceptable that she needed to raise her complaints publicly in order to compel action. This entire process has been very frustrating and has taken way too long but ultimately, council made the right decision today.”
The statement said the experience exposed “major systemic gaps in dealing with these type of issues for elected officials,” and said too often matters are ignored.
“We strongly encourage the next Mississauga city council to fix the gaps that exist and work with the provincial government to make the necessary legislative amendments to create safe work environments, thereby creating a gold standard of councillor conduct,” the statement continued.
“Councillors must set the example on how they conduct themselves. Only then will they get the respect that so many deserve.”