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Two Vancouver city councillors face 'code of conduct' complaints

Brian Montague and Christine Boyle recused themselves from the May 10 meeting.
ABC Coun. Brian Montague and OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle are facing "code of conduct" complaints.

Two Vancouver councillors currently have complaints against them under the city’s “code of conduct” but have been instructed by the integrity commissioner not to discuss details until their cases are resolved.

The complaints came to light after ABC Coun. Brian Montague and OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle recused themselves from a portion of a May 10 council meeting where a report from the integrity commissioner was on the agenda.

The report made several recommendations, including allowing councillors and the mayor to spend up to $5,000 each per year to seek independent legal advice when facing a complaint related to such matters as conflict-of-interest.

Montague said in an email that he recused himself prior to discussion of the commissioner’s report “out of an abundance of caution” and added that he would happily discuss the nature of the complaint once it had been concluded.

Boyle echoed Montague’s comments in a separate email, saying she hoped the complaint would be resolved in June.

Vancouver’s integrity commissioner ruled that ABC Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung did not breach the city’s code of conduct in a vote regarding a cultural heritage management plan for Chinatown. Photo Mike Howell

Sarah Kirby-Yung, Chinatown vote

At the same meeting, ABC Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung also recused herself, but her stated purpose was because she had a "pending request" to seek reimbursement for legal fees associated to a case; current provisions under the Vancouver Charter allow councillors to seek reimbursement or indemnification, if absolved of a complaint.

Kirby-Yung didn’t disclose the case, but Glacier Media reported March 15 that she was cleared in a complaint lodged by a city employee concerning a vote related to Chinatown.

Glacier Media sent Kirby-Yung an email May 11 and a text message May 15 to determine whether she recused herself May 10 because of the Chinatown case, but had not received a response prior to this story being posted.

Integrity Commissioner Lisa Southern said in an email Monday that information regarding investigations is confidential and must not be disclosed except in specified circumstances. 

“Pursuant to the code of conduct, we must make an investigation report available to the public 48 hours after delivery of the investigation report to the complainant, respondent and council,” Southern said. “We meet this requirement by publishing these reports that are on our website.”

Seven complaints since November 2022

Since November 2022, Southern said, her office has received seven complaints, closed five and have two currently open. She didn’t provide details on the complainants or whether “closed” meant they were dismissed or resolved in favour of a council member or complainant.

The current council was sworn in Nov. 7, 2022.

November was the cut-off date for the commissioner’s office to collect data for its 2022 annual report. The office received 37 complaints between Jan.1 and Oct. 31, 2022, with two resulting in investigation reports posted on the commissioner’s website.

One involved then-councillor Colleen Hardwick and then-mayor, Kennedy Stewart. Another involved Hardwick and Kit Sauder, who was the co-chair of the city’s renters’ advisory committee.

The commissioner ruled in Hardwick’s favour in both cases.

The majority of the 37 complaints — 27 — were dismissed, namely because they were found not to be breaches of the code of conduct, or the council member in question was not re-elected Oct. 15, 2022.

Seven complaints were automatically rejected because of the election being called; the office cannot receive any complaints regarding a council member seeking re-election during the election period. Another four were rejected because they were duplicate complaints.

The office produced four “bulletins” in 2022 “flowing from matters that we dismissed without requiring a formal investigation in order to provide precedent and educational resources to both the public and council about matters under the code of conduct bylaw,” the report said.

The bulletins were related to hate speech, hate crimes, freedom of speech, defamation, election activities and conflict of interest. All were posted on the commissioner’s website.

Spend up to $5K each

In 2023, Southern said in her email, the average length of complaint to disposition is 19 days. So far this year, the office issued one bulletin involving Montague and Kirby-Yung, and the one formal report involving Kirby-Yung and the Chinatown vote.

At the May 10 meeting, ABC Coun. Mike Klassen successfully moved the recommendation in the commissioner’s report to allow council members to spend up to $5,000 each per year to seek independent legal advice.

Council unanimously supported the move.

“We all know how expensive lawyers are,” said ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner. “It is a strain on our expense budget if we should need to engage a lawyer for independent legal advice. So I think this is a reasonable amount of money, and I am supportive of making this change.”