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City releases report on former deputy mayor accused of harassment

Michael Di Biase resigned following allegations


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following the recent resignation of deputy mayor Michael Di Biase, the City of Vaughan, Ont. has released the investigation report on accusations that Di Biase sexually harassed a colleague on numerous occasions.

Di Biase resigned from his position on May 18. The report, authored by City integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig and posted online on May 23, concluded that Di Biase had breached Rule 14 of the City’s Code of Ethical Conduct, which prohibits sexual harassment, but did not have “conclusive evidence” that he had undertaken an act of reprisal against the accuser.

The complainant, who was not named in the report, has alleged that Di Biase groped and kissed her without her consent, touched her inappropriately and pushed himself against her beginning in March 2016. Craig received a complaint from the accuser’s legal counsel on Jan. 17 of this year.

Craig also investigated whether Di Biase had orchestrated “surveillance” of the complainant as part of reprisal against her accusations, but could not come to a firm conclusion on this issue.

In an e-mailed response to COHSN, the City of Vaughan stated that Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua had called two meetings on May 23 regarding the Di Biase issue. “Vaughan Council fully supports the Integrity Commissioner’s report,” the City wrote, adding that the city council had “voted unanimously to condemn and denounce any and all actions or behaviours that constitute sexual harassment and is committed to its continued support of the City’s Respectful Workplace Policy.”

Bevilacqua said in a media statement that he found the contents of Craig’s report to be “gravely concerning.”

The City, he added, “takes this matter very seriously and condemns all acts of workplace harassment and reprisal of any kind. Without exception, anyone who works for the City of Vaughan should be treated fairly in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and reprisal.”

Local media reports have stated that Di Biase is entitled to two years’ worth of severance pay, as well as another $30,440 from York Region for his time served as a councillor. But the City stated that he had not received any severance pay as of May 29. “The City of Vaughan has a bylaw that outlines the conditions in place with respect to a Member of Council receiving severance.”

Toronto civil litigator Andrew Pinto, a partner with Pinto Wray James LLP who is representing the complainant, said that his client had not yet filed a sexual-assault complaint with the police against Di Biase. “We’ve advised our client of her options to do so,” he said.

Pinto elaborated on the difference in standards between a workplace investigation, such as Craig’s, and a criminal case of sexual assault — in which “the state would have to, obviously, prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt for there to be a conviction.” In the City of Vaughan probe, “Mr. Di Biase’s case was based on a balance of probabilities,” he said, “which means just determining whether it’s more likely or not that the allegations were true.”

As with any other large employers, he added, municipal governments are “not immune in any way from these types of incidents happening.”

In a separate statement about Di Biase’s resignation, Bevilacqua noted that the City had a responsibility to champion accountability, transparency and respect.

“As we move forward, we will continue to advance a culture of excellence in governance rooted in integrity,” he said.

“The City of Vaughan takes pride in providing a healthy and safe environment, and the recent incident was an isolated one,” wrote the City in the e-mail. “The City continuously strives to ensure its policies and programs are effective in protecting all employees in the workplace.”

Located north of Toronto, Vaughan is the fifth-largest city in the Greater Toronto Area and the 17th-largest in Canada.