'Abusive' actions by mayor of Fort McMurray region showed lack of respect: report

An investigation has concluded that the mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo used physical force to try and restrain a councillor from leaving a meeting, an incident that witnesses described as an assault.

However, charges weren’t laid because “it was not in the public interest” to do so, says a report from the Integrity Commissioner, obtained Thursday by the CBC in a freedom of information request. 

The report states that Mayor Don Scott swore at Coun. Keith McGrath, which prompted the councillor to leave the June 25 meeting. 

Scott, in his written report, explained that he had lost his temper about a document that McGrath had not seen.

When McGrath tried to leave the room, Scott “grabbed him and tried to keep him in the building,” according to the councillor. 

The report, written by integrity commissioner Jim Peacock, noted that statements from a number of witnesses collected during a separate RCMP investigation suggested that “an assault had occurred.”

No charges were laid by the RCMP, which referred the case to a special prosecutor with Alberta Justice.

“The prosecutor ultimately concluded that, while the statements provided by the various witnesses appeared to suggest an assault had occurred, it was not in the public interest to institute an assault charge,” wrote Peacock. 

He said the prosecutor recommended the incident go through the integrity commissioner. 

McGrath filed a complaint with the commissioner on July 4. 

One of the witness letters provided to CBC in its freedom of information request for all documents relating to the integrity investigation in to Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. (Supplied by Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

Peacock wrote that Scott told him that he had no recollection of ever touching McGrath. In his written statement, the mayor said he had apologized to McGrath several times following the incident.

After McGrath left the room, Scott followed him down seven flights of stairs to the main lobby and then outside. According to the mayor’s statement, the men sat outside on a bench and “calmly talked the matter through.” 

They returned to the meeting and the mayor apologized to everyone there. 

Peacock wrote in the report that he spoke to many witnesses, with each offering a slightly different recollection of events. 

However, he said there are two main facts: the mayor used profane language and raised his voice, which resulted in McGrath leaving, and the mayor tried to physically stop him from doing so. 

Coun. Keith McGratg (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

Peacock wrote that the actions were “abusive” toward the councillor. “I find that his actions reflected a lack of respect towards all of those present in the meeting,” wrote Peacock. 

Peacock also said the attempts to physically restrain McGrath “showed a lack of respect for the Councillor’s physical autonomy and were an attack on the Councillor’s dignity.”

The integrity commissioner recommended that council demand an apology from Scott and publicly reprimand him. 

The issue was brought up in council on Oct. 22 and councillors voted to demand an apology from Scott, which he gave.

But only three councillors voted in favour of publicly reprimanding him: Verna Murphy, Mike Allen and Sheila Lalonde. The motion was not supported by Krista Balsom, Bruce Inglis, Phil Meagher, Jeff Peddle and Jane Stroud.

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