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Council votes to give Integrity Commission second chance

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Cathy Dobson

City council has accepted Paul Watson’s apology for a serious breach of privacy and voted unanimously Monday to give Sarnia’s integrity commissioner a second chance.

Even Coun. Brian White, who made a motion to dismiss Watson, voted for him to keep his job.

Paul Watson

“I will accept the will of council right now, but I hope I sent a message to Paul Watson that he needs to make some changes,” said White.

Watson, who is paid $295 an hour, was leading a March 8 virtual training session for councillors when the names of seven people who had filed confidential complaints to his office were revealed onscreen for everyone to see.

Two days later, on the advice of city staff and Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office, Watson publicly apologized and contacted each person involved with a personal apology.

“I am a 60-year-old trying to use technology during a pandemic and I made an unfortunate mistake,” Watson told The Journal at the time.

White said “numerous” citizens concerned they can no longer trust the IC to keep sensitive information confidential have contacted him.

Moving to fire Watson was his way of ensuring council discussed the issue, White said.

“It’s nothing personal. I don’t hold mistakes against anybody. I make mistakes all the time but there are members of our community who have lost confidence in this process.”

Coun. Nathan Colquhoun seconded White’s motion, and then also voted against it.

Contrary to Watson’s claim, it was not the first time the integrity Commissioner had revealed confidential information, said Colquhoun. He cited a document when a complainant’s name should have been redacted and wasn’t, and another time when Watson misidentified a complainant.

“I’d prefer somebody (in the job) who has these things figured out,” said Colquhoun.

Other councillors backed Watson.

“He is a lawyer, not a technical person,” said Coun. Terry Burrell.

Though it shouldn’t have happened, city staff shares some blame because they didn’t “shut off” Watson’s computer screen quickly enough, Burrell said.

The privacy breach has been edited from the training session video. Several people who watched it live say the individuals’ names were displayed 15 to 30 seconds.

Coun. Bill Dennis said he found the idea of penalizing Watson “very disturbing.”

He said a “small group” of people unhappy with Watson’s appointment want to “even the score.”

After the meeting, White said he voted against his own motion after Coun. George Vandenberg noted a citizen has formally complained about Watson’s breach to the Law Society of Ontario and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

“If the results of the external investigations come back with some suggestions, I would hope council will follow up then,” White said.

“It’s a highly paid position and a highly skilled position, and the integrity commissioner should address what happened by making some changes. Perhaps he needs more training. Maybe he should let the clerk run his slides, or pay someone else to set up his presentations. The public deserves the assurance we take their privacy very seriously.”

Colquhoun said Watson “is a little aloof, doesn’t always pay attention, and clearly doesn’t understand technology.

“But council obviously wasn’t going to support the motion and it just wasn’t worth it to make a stink,” Colquhoun said.

In a recorded vote, council voted 9-0 not to dismiss the integrity commissioner.




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