Calgary city councillor Sean Chu photographed Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s vehicle licence plate in a secure city hall parkade, photos that later surfaced through a member of the public.
As a result, Coun. Sean Chu has withdrawn from deputy mayor duties. He’s also reviewed ethics rules with officials around such behaviour.
His decision to voluntarily relinquish the deputy mayor role was approved unanimously by city councillors. Andre Chabot will take the role in December 2022, and Coun. Courtney Walcott will take it in May 2023.
The licence plate matter came up in a Special Meeting of Council Tuesday afternoon dedicated to revising the deputy mayor roster. Councillors also decided to send the Calgary Police Commission’s (CPC) review of an investigation into Chu’s 1997 sexual encounters with a minor while a member of the Calgary Police Service to the Premier’s Office.
Mayor Gondek said that Coun. Chu photographed her licence plate earlier this year. She said that photo made it to a member of the public who sent an email to her office with the photo attached. It was then investigated by the city’s Integrity Commissioner.
“Someone made the complaint. I’m not privy to who it is. But I would imagine it was someone protecting corporate assets,” the mayor said.
The mayor could have filed an integrity complaint, but she didn’t, she said. It would have had to go through the Integrity Commissioner and then the sanctions would be applied based on the commissioner’s purview.
“We have seen what our sanctions are limited to. I didn’t want an apology,” the mayor said.
“I want this man to not be able to do this job. I want him to resign.”
The mayor said given concerns over the deputy mayor role and it being included in the special meeting of council, she thought it appropriate to inform council of the photograph as well.
Deputy mayor duties
As part of the deputy mayor duties, Chu would have had to preside over the Dec. 6 recognition of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. That was a problem, the mayor said.
Coupled with the photograph incident, Mayor Gondek said that she couldn’t liaise with Coun. Sean Chu’s office or entrust him with the responsibilities of deputy mayor.
“I am well aware that my own experience pales in comparison to what others have had to go through in the past when it comes to safety and sexual violence,” the mayor said.
“It should, however, demonstrate that working with this individual has jeopardized my safety and created fear of reprisal for speaking out.”
The mayor also confirmed Tuesday that the Commanding Officer of HMCS Calgary contacted her and said they refused to work with Chu after his appointment to the Friends of the HMCS Calgary committee. They wanted to conduct a review of the dispositions on the 1997 case, the mayor said.
“For them not to be able to engage really hampered the ability of this person to serve on that committee,” the mayor said.
Chu apologized in council. He said he didn’t want to bore the public with his reasoning for taking the photograph.
He said he’s also no longer allowed to park in the executive parking lot and must park in public lots.
“I appreciate you making the apology,” the mayor said.
“I will not accept it. Councillor Chu, you have chosen to apologize only today when I have made this public.”
Chu also spoke to the statements of claim made in the 1997 report into his conduct.
“I was duly elected as councillor to represent Ward 4 and Calgarians expect us to work together. A statement of claim is not a finding of facts,” Chu told his fellow councillors. He also referred back to his statement made in October 2021.
“The common theme from a lot of correspondence and comments in news media is that people believe this is to be seen as a distraction or deflection from the real issues. The real issues being that never ending property tax increase, the council’s 35 per cent approval rating, this LRT safety and downtown street safety.”
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Return to the province
The Coun. Chu matter had previously been sent to former Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver. At that time, after seeking a legal opinion, McIver said there was little he could do to remove Coun. Chu from office.
“While the Minister of Municipal Affairs has supervisory jurisdiction over municipalities, the minister does not have authority to simply remove a councillor from office under the legislation, particularly for events that took place before a councillor was elected,” McIver said in November 2021.
Mayor Gondek said that she’d like to determine if any further action should be taken in light of the new findings in the Calgary Police Commission document. Also, she’s hoping the province will explain the process for determining action, if any, that can be taken in a manner that’s transparent for the public.
“It would be providing the review document to the provincial government so the Premier’s Office can determine which ministry would best handle this and whatever they choose to do moving forward, to write it in a manner that we can then communicate it to our constituents who asked us about this matter on a regular basis,” the mayor said.
Coun. Courtney Walcott pointed out several aspects in the review that shed new light on the case.
“The significant difference between where we are now and where we were a year ago is the content of this review,” he said.
“I think it’s worthwhile, that we at least have our provincial government weigh in on the new information that they would not have had when this conversation was originally had one year ago.”
Tacking on the Carra review in submission to the province
During the item to refer the Chu report to the province, Coun. Sonya Sharp asked if they could also do the same with the Gian-Carlo Carra integrity report. That report dealt with a property issue and Carra’s failure to disclose an interest in a piece of land.
Sharp said she supported sending the Chu investigation to the province.
Earlier this year, council decided not to send Carra’s matter to either the Calgary Police Service or the province.
“Now, Mayor, I have an issue with something that wasn’t sent to the minister, that we voted on about Councillor Carra, and he is a sitting councillor,” she said.
“I do believe we also have an obligation to make sure sitting councillors, each and every one of us, are accountable for the actions every day we do to serve the public.”
Coun. Jennifer Wyness also wanted the matter included, saying it was important for consistency.
“We’re just trying to show consistency for Calgarians, because Calgarians don’t trust us right now. And we have to find little ways to show them that we hear them and that we want to represent Calgarians,” she said.
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner was offended the Carra matter was brought up Tuesday. She said she could perhaps support it on a different day, but conflating the issue of sexual assault and property matters was insulting.
“I can’t today. Not with the weight of the issue that we dealt with previously when it comes to matters of our own safety as well around this council chamber,” she said.
“When you bring it back on a day like today it is deeply insulting to those of us who are victims.”
Outside of council chambers, Penner said there are some things you just can’t solve talking about policies and budgets.
“What upset me is that while there is another serious matter about other colleagues, as there can be, timing is important,” she said.
“And letting the heaviness and the importance of sexual assault stand on its own.”
The motion to reconsider the decision not to forward the Carra matter to the province failed. It did not receive the 10 votes required to move forward.