Nunavut ethics officer finds MLA didn’t try to influence a judge
Cathy Towtongie committed no infraction, Katherine Peterson says
Cathy Towtongie, the MLA for Rankin Inlet North–Chesterfield Inlet, did not breach the Integrity Act last fall when she made some remarks within earshot of a Nunavut judge, Integrity Commissioner Katherine Peterson said in a report.
The report, which is not dated, appears to have been posted online on the afternoon of March 13, one day after the legislative assembly’s winter sitting ended.
In the report, Peterson said two MLAs, who she did not name, brought “concerns” to the clerk of the legislative assembly, John Quirke, who referred the matter to Peterson.
The gist of their complaint is that last fall, Towtongie, while attending Nunavut court in her constituency, made some remarks about a court proceeding. The presiding judge heard those remarks and believed they were directed at him.
“While obtaining coffee, he heard Ms. Towtongie make remarks to the effect that she knew one of the parties to the proceedings and that she thought well of that person,” Peterson said.
Peterson did not name the judge. She also did not describe the nature of the legal case, or the exact date of the proceeding—because it’s covered by a publication ban.
She said the unnamed judge asked Towtongie if she was speaking to him about the proceeding, and that if she was, she should not be doing that.
And when court resumed, he put the conversation on the record and said he would disregard it for the purposes of the legal proceeding.
“However, he further advised that he did not feel that Ms. Towtongie was specifically trying to influence the outcome of the proceedings and that, at the conclusion of the brief exchange between them, he considered the matter to be at an end,” Peterson said.
Also, it wasn’t the judge who brought the matter to her attention, Peterson said.
At the same time, Towtongie told Peterson that she was not speaking directly to the judge and did not intend that he hear what she was saying.
After looking at the evidence put to her, Peterson concluded that Towtongie did not commit an infraction of section 10 of the Integrity Act, which says:
“A member shall not use his or her office to seek to influence a decision made or to be made by another person so as to further the member’s private interest or improperly further another person’s private interest.”
However, Peterson said MLAs should be careful about what they say so they are not accused of attempting to influence a decision.
“Elected Members of the Assembly must be vigilant, conscious and extremely careful of their words and conduct in situations where these could be interpreted as attempts to influence the decisions of those around them,” Peterson wrote.
“Caution and discretion is always the better course of conduct.”
Peterson also said that, normally, MLAs or any other person wishing to make a complaint are supposed to do so by setting out the complaint in writing and by supplying the integrity commissioner with a sworn affidavit.
But in this case, she started the review on her own initiative, which the integrity commissioner is allowed to do under the act, Peterson said.
The last Integrity Act review into the conduct of an MLA was released last October, when the former commissioner, Ted Richard, issued a report that cleared Quttiktuq MLA and cabinet minister David Akeeagok on a conflict of interest allegation.