Vaughan deputy mayor resigns in midst of sexual assault and harassment scandal

Faced with sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations, Michael Di Biase, the deputy mayor of Vaughan has announced his resignation.

The deputy mayor's resignation comes the same day he was found to have breached the municipality's Code of Ethical Conduct, says the city's integrity commissioner.

A employee at the City of Vaughan alleges Di Biase sexually assaulted, sexually harassed and reprimanded her, as outlined in a report released by Suzanne Craig on Thursday. 

As sexual assault falls under the criminal code, Craig, as integrity commissioner, must advise the employee to pursue allegations with police. It is not immediately clear if the complainant has reported the allegations to police.

Craig's detailed report describes some of the allegations in graphic detail, including one moment when the complainant said Di Biase "groped me, kissed me, touched my breasts and pushed himself against me."

Phone conversation recorded

In an audio transcript outlined in the report, Di Biase says to the complainant: "I am sorry I did it… temptation… whatever you want to call it." The call was recorded by the complainant and submitted to the integrity commissioner.

The complainant goes on to ask Di Biase, "why would you touch my breasts and kiss me and put your tongue in my mouth right after that, when I am so visibly upset."

He responds, "I didn't put my tongue in your mouth... I tried... but you said no." She also tells him "you touched my breast," to which he answers, "OK, I am sorry."

The allegations go on to say that Di Biase sexually harassed the complainant for five months, between March and July 2016. After this period, the employee left the City of Vaughan, and only returned briefly in October.

During this time, it's alleged Di Biase kissed the employee without her consent five times, and touched her breasts on four occasions.

According to the report, Di Biase did not deny kissing the complainant on the lips "on several occasions." But he denied touching her inappropriately — something the audio recording contradicts, said Craig. Further, he said any physical interaction was consensual.

Surveillance allegations

The complainant also alleges Di Biase had her followed and surveilled by an unknown man driving a black SUV, which was parked outside her house. According to the report, Di Biase denied any involvement in the incident. Craig said she did not have conclusive evidence that he was involved.

The ethics czar received the complaints in January, which prompted this investigation. She recommended council take the following sanctions against Di Biase:

- Pay suspension for 90 days (the maximum sanction allowed under the Code.)

- Issue an apology to the complainant and the City of Vaughan.

- Remove his title as Deputy Mayor.

- No authority over office staff.

- No right to chair meetings and sit on committees.

Council does not have to accept Craig's recommendations on sanctions, but is expected to use them to make an informed decision.

In a statement, Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said he finds the report's contents "gravely concerning" and that the city is taking the matter very seriously. Further he adds that the city "condemns all acts of workplace harassment and reprisal of any kind."

Vaughan is Canada's 17th largest municipality, and the 8th largest in Ontario with more than 320,000 residents.

Previously investigated by integrity commissioner

This isn't the first time Di Biase has been found in violation of the municipal code of conduct. In 2015, the integrity commissioner reported that DiBiase swore and bullied staff who wouldn't hand over confidential details about bids for city work.

He challenged the integrity commissioner's findings and council's subsequent decision to dock him three months' pay, but that judicial review was dismissed by the courts. He did not appeal.

The probe was prompted by a complaint based on a CBC investigation last fall, which detailed allegations that personnel from Maystar, a major Vaughan construction company that has received more than $150 million in business from the city since 2002, appeared to be helping build Di Biase's family cottage.

The integrity commissioner did not investigate that allegation, saying that it could be a criminal matter and so it's up to police to look into it.

She is, however, also currently examining Di Biase's role in a real-estate controversy where environmentally sensitive land long protected by the city was recently opened up to residential development. 

Further, the Ontario Provincial Police are looking into Di Biase's relationship with the construction company that built Vaughan's city hall and obtained various other contracts totaling over $150 million.

Di Biase has strongly denied that Maystar was involved in the cottage construction.

A longtime city councillor, Di Biase also served as mayor of Vaughan from 2002 to 2006.