In the latest twist in an epic legal battle, an administrative tribunal has found the mayor of the Montreal borough of Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Sue Montgomery, guilty of 11 ethics violations, prompting one political rival to call for her resignation.
It's a setback for Montgomery in a bitter fight rife with accusations and counter-accusations between her, borough bureaucrats, and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.
"She did not act in a way that favoured the maintenance of a harmonious, healthy work climate free from all forms of harassment," Judge Alain Roy from Quebec's Municipal Commission said in a decision released last week.
Roy found that Mongomery on several occasions disrespected and insulted civil servants, once tried to withhold pay from a civil servant who had alleged harassment, and failed to divulge conflicts of interest pertaining to harassment at council meetings.
"I'm disappointed, but not surprised. Most of all, I'm just really sad," Montgomery said of the ruling in an interview with CBC Monday.
Lionel Perez, a borough councillor from the rival Ensemble Montreal who's running against Montgomery for borough mayor in the upcoming November election, told CBC Monday he believed Montgomery should resign immediately.
"An elected official who's been found guilty of 11 ethics code violations has no moral authority to continue governing," Perez said.
A defiant Montgomery told CBC she wouldn't resign, and that she was considering appealing the ruling.
Montgomery didn't refute any of the specific violations cited in the ruling, which she said was part of a "witch hunt."
"I think it's pretty clear that the powers that be don't want me to be there, because I am disrupting the status quo, and there's a lot of people who benefit from that kind of status quo and power," she said.
"They're trying to shut me up and shut me down. And I'm not going to do it," she continued.
Perez said citizens of the borough have been caught in the middle of the legal machinations, which he said have brought the borough to a "standstill."
"The public service is scared to act because there's no real political direction and the population deserves better," he said.
Mongomery insisted the legal fight hasn't prevented her from governing effectively.
A spokesperson for Plante's office wasn't immediately available to comment on the ruling.
Multiple allegations, investigations and lawsuits
All the violations cited in the ruling stemmed from the fallout of an investigation into workplace culture at the borough by the city of Montreal's comptroller general in 2019.
That investigation found that Montgomery's chief of staff, Annalisa Harris, had psychologically harassed two borough employees. The comptroller general recommended that Harris no longer have contact with those employees.
Montgomery refused to accept those findings, and she kept Harris on as her chief of staff.
That led Mayor Plante to kick Montgomery out of her party, Projet Montréal, and sparked a bitter war of words in the media between the two.
Montgomery took the city to court over the matter and, in a decision last December, a judge sided with her, finding the city had mishandled the harassment investigation against Harris.
Montgomery and Harris have both since launched defamation lawsuits against Plante and the city.
Montgomery also formed her own political party, Courage. She's running for re-election as borough mayor in November, and Harris is running for a seat on the borough council.
The ethics violations cited by Roy included:
trying to withhold pay from one of the employees who alleged Harris had psychologically harassed them while that employee was on leave with pay as ordered by the comptroller-general, then trying to fire that same employee.
referring to employees as "incompetent" and "lazy" while using an aggressive tone.
joking sarcastically at an informal meeting that her borough manager must have "compromising photos" of Alain Bond, the city's comptroller general.
failing to disclose conflicts of interest and to recuse herself from certain debates related to the various harassment allegations at borough council meetings
Roy dismissed 17 other allegations of ethics violations against Montgomery.
Montgomery will have another hearing July 6, when Roy will announce what sanctions she might face.
Each violation carries a possible 90-day suspension.