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Volume 1, Issue 1                                        April 2012                                            Integrity Officers
Complaints in the Public Interest

Integrity Commissioners can only be as effective as their terms of reference allow.  Some of those operational standards are set in legislation; other are found in the code of conduct by the municipality or other agency involved.

One limitation in the current legislation is the failure to address the subject of investigations in the public interest. Municipalities can choose a process where either complaints are registered directly with the integrity commissioner or through the Clerk’s office.  One problem here, whichever of the two mechanisms chosen, is whether or not an investigation can or should proceed if the complainant withdraws the complaint.

An IC examines a query or complaint in order to determine if it does or does not merit handling. Sometimes the complainant is advised to go to another agency for remedy. At other times, the complaint may be rejected if it is found to be frivolous, vexatious or purely political in approach. In other cases, the IC may proceed ahead with an agreed-upon process for indeed investigating the complaint.

Withdrawal of a complaint is certainly a right, but the issue is what if this is done out of fear of retribution? What does the IC do if the complaint has merit but is withdrawn because of fear of loss of job or a contract? The letter of the law would suggest that the complaint stops immediately in its tracks, as would be the case if a court suit was initiated. But the spirit of the law could be that the topic be pursued as an investigation by the IC acting in the public interest. After all, it is the public interest that is being served by the office of the IC.

What would you do in this situation? If you were the IC, should the investigation be terminated? Clearly a case can be made that clarification of such process ground rules should form part of an ICs job interview or employment contract.

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