In a recording made shortly after Toronto’s 2018 election, Coun. Jim Karygiannis is heard aggressively policing his own constituents over alleged bylaw violations.
Those who supported him politically, he tells an aide, should get a pass.
“There’s houses that we bother, houses that we don’t bother,” Karygiannis, who represents Scarborough-Agincourt, can be heard saying in the secretly made recording.
“What constitutes if we don’t bother them? They vote for us, they’re volunteers and they donate money.”
The recording was made over nearly two hours on Nov. 12, 2018 by Kevin Haynes, who was volunteering for Karygiannis at the time and was later hired in the councillor’s constituency office.
Near its start, Haynes asks Karygiannis to elaborate on who does and doesn’t get reported. “If I feel like an a – -hole, f- -k ’em,” Karygiannis replies.
Two years before the recording was made, Karygiannis was scolded by the city’s integrity commissioner after he confronted residents about possible city rule-breaking in two separate cases.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN…
In one of those cases, Valerie Jepson wrote, Karygiannis’s actions — which included taking numerous photos of a woman’s car improperly parked in her family’s driveway and approaching her father in public — were not only “shocking” but “led to a reasonable belief that the separation between elected officials and enforcement had been blurred and accordingly damaged the trust and confidence that the complainant and her family had in the institution of the city of Toronto.”
Karygiannis also reported the specific address and street to Toronto police for parking enforcement, according to the integrity commissioner.
The Star is not aware of any investigation stemming from events in the 2018 recording.
In a written statement to the Star, Karygiannis characterized his behaviour in Haynes’s recording as “tough talk” that he understood to have been spoken in private.
He also said Haynes had “his own motivations for the leading questions he asked.”
“I believe it would be wrong to draw any conclusions from this recording other than that I care deeply for my constituents and my ward,” Karygiannis wrote.
“My passion for serving the constituents of Ward 22 has not wavered and I am committed to my ongoing efforts to serve my constituents to the best of my ability.”
On the recording, Karygiannis can be heard interacting directly with residents, questioning them on how cars are parked and whether businesses are being run out of home garages. The councillor documents alleged bylaw violations by taking photos — or instructing Haynes to — that are apparently to be sent to bylaw enforcement. Haynes said he didn’t know if any of the alleged violations referred to on the recording were actually reported to the city’s bylaw enforcement team or elsewhere.
Bylaw enforcement works largely on a complaint basis in Toronto, with officers typically dispatched after complaints from neighbours. City councillors are not required to police their wards for possible infractions.
The recording captures Karygiannis referring to some residents as “a – -holes” within the privacy of his vehicle. However, it also documents several interactions in which he is heard exchanging pleasantries with constituents, who seem glad for his help with issues affecting their property and supportive of his election win.
During the recording, which was made as the councillor drove his own black Jeep, Karygiannis doesn’t always identify himself as a city councillor to those with whom he speaks. (It’s not clear if all of the residents approached would recognize their local representative, although some apparently do without an introduction.)
He explains to Haynes that it will be his role to drive around recording possible violations in a different “quadrant” of the ward every week.
The recording starts with Haynes asking if he should be going through “the database” to see if those to be reported are “a – – holes.” Haynes is the first to use that word on the recording.
“I know where the a – – holes are, but you go through the database, take the pictures, bring them in and before you send them off, take a look — if they voted for us, if they didn’t. If they voted for us and we see them that they’re constant idiots, we send it in,” Karygiannis says.
“If they didn’t vote for us,” he adds, laughing, “we send it in, twice the pleasure.”
Councillors don’t have access to data confirming how residents voted in an election, but it’s not uncommon for them to keep track of their constituents. Campaigns typically record information about voters and their voting intentions when knocking on doors. Under election rules, council candidates are required to keep track of and report who has donated to their campaigns.
Haynes could not confirm whether Karygiannis’s office reported any of the alleged infractions to the city for enforcement.
In the recording, Karygiannis tells Haynes to be “nice, calm, not aggressive” when speaking with constituents, and to identify himself as a staffer.
Karygiannis also offers tips for spotting illegal rooming houses: a person coming out of a side door, numerous bikes at the side of a home, dilapidated roofs and lots of garbage out front.
In one encounter, the sound of a car window rolling down can be heard after Karygiannis identifies an address on a small street in his ward.
“Fellas, how you doing?” he calls out. “Are you running a business over here?”
A man answers, “No, why?”
“Well, I don’t know. I’m seeing welding material and all that stuff,” Karygiannis replies.
After several seconds of silence, he continues, “All right, fellas, you can choose to ignore me. That’s fine.”
A sound of a photo being taken can be heard.
“Good day!” Karygiannis says, before the car is heard pulling away and the window is heard winding up.
“For him, you do it with pleasure,” he tells Haynes, “because he’s an a – – hole.”
“You asked him, you know, and he said, ‘No, why?’ Ignored me. That’s fine … Fellas, there’s a new sheriff in town.”
Karygiannis reads out the address, then says, “Running a welding shop out of the garage. Let bylaw officers deal with it.”
Stopping a few minutes later, Karygiannis asks a man if the nearby residents are running a “welding shop” and if it’s happening almost every day.
“I think so,” the man says.
Karygiannis replies, “Life’s a b – – – h and you got a new councillor. Life’s a total b – – – h … We’ll take care of that one, don’t you worry about it.”
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN…
The man thanks him.
Haynes, 28, began volunteering for Karygiannis on the councillor’s 2018 re-election campaign, and was volunteering in his constituency office when the recording was made. He was later hired to work in Karygiannis’s constituency office.
Get more Toronto politics in your inbox
Get an inside look at what’s really going on at City Hall in our Hall Monitor email newsletter.
Haynes says his employment ended shortly after he was in a serious car crash that left him with a concussion and difficulty working. The Star could not verify how the job ended, but Haynes said the circumstances left him with “resentment” towards Karygiannis.
Haynes said he made the recording on his phone because he was concerned by Karygiannis’s behaviour during the campaign, and wanted to have documentation in case he ever needed to defend himself.
He said he didn’t making the recording with the intention of reporting Karygiannis, but added he’s not proud of the actions they took that day.
“In my gut feeling, I felt like I was doing something wrong,” he said about documenting residents in the way Karygiannis instructed.
Last month, Haynes says he called several councillors he had helped during the election, including Karygiannis, looking for work. He said Karygiannis told him he might have work for him later this year, but didn’t make any promises.
Haynes said he texted Karygiannis on Jan. 22 about meeting to discuss a possible job, but said he never heard back. He told the Star he expected as much and now regrets calling, saying it was an act of “desperation.”
Haynes also said he felt it was important to identify himself in this story.
“If we let people like Jim Karygiannis do the things they do out of fear of being caught, or being ousted or being called a whistleblower, then we will be in a perpetual race to the bottom,” he said.
“Just because I was following orders doesn’t excuse me from my actions of harming those who I did … So, to name myself is to be responsible for my actions and apologize for those who I’ve hurt.”
In his written statement to the Star, Karygiannis said he was “disappointed” in Haynes for recording their conversation and his interactions with his constituents.
“Colourful language aside, I trust people understand that a politician will at times speak politically. But that doesn’t mean the integrity of city staff and the fine work they do should be called into question as a result of this secret recording,” Karygiannis wrote.
He said it is common for councillors to take an interest “in the welfare of their communities” and that, when he is reporting concerns to city staff, he has “complete faith in their professionalism and judgment.”
“Too often, politicians sit behind their desks and wait for people to come to them. As a councillor, I believe it is key to my job to be out among my constituents to truly understand their issues on the ground, not from downtown in Toronto City Hall,” he wrote.
“Bottom line, I care deeply about the people I serve. It would be a mistake to interpret my passion for serving my community as a fault. In office, I have worked hard to address the concerns of my constituents and advocated tirelessly on their behalf in council.”
In the integrity commissioner’s two investigations of Karygiannis, Jepson concluded that the councillor had contravened the city’s code of conduct for council under the section for “discreditable conduct,” which states that “all members of council have a duty to treat members of the public, one another, and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation.”
In one case, Karygiannis’s “repeated” attempts to inform a woman that she had improperly parked led to the reasonable belief that she and her family were being bullied, Jepson found.
In the second case, Karygiannis approached an Uber driver and residents in their driveway in an “aggressive” manner, Jepson wrote. At the time, council had not yet regulated vehicles for hire.
Punishment for contravening the code of conduct can include a public reprimand. The most serious punishment is docking a councillor’s pay for up to 90 days — a rare occurrence.
In both cases, Jepson wrote, Karygiannis was then a “relatively new member of council” and had not previously violated the code. She recommended he only be publicly reprimanded by council in the case involving the parked car. Council agreed with her findings and that punishment.
Karygiannis did not agree his conduct had been problematic, but expressed regret about how the incidents may have caused the complainants to have “negative feelings,” Jepson wrote.
“The councillor continues to justify his actions,” Jepson added, “although he has advised me that he plans to be more ‘circumspect’ in the manner with which he relates to the public about enforcement matters.”
Karygiannis is a seasoned politician who has long represented the Scarborough-Agincourt area. He was a federal Liberal MP for more than 25 years before he stepped down to run for municipal office in 2014.
In November 2019, he was removed from city council for overspending a 2018 campaign limit under provincial election rules. Karygiannis asked a judge to be reinstated and was returned to office later that month. Toronto resident and fair elections advocate Adam Chaleff has appealed that court decision. His case has yet to be heard at the Court of Appeal. Karygiannis still faces a separate city-run compliance audit of his election expenses.
In an encounter heard on the recording, Karygiannis speaks to a woman about vehicles parked on a cul-de-sac. He identifies himself as the local councillor, then tells her that several cars on the street can’t be parked as they are and may be ticketed.
The woman explains there’s an “elderly home” on the street.
“Doesn’t matter, those people shouldn’t be there. They shouldn’t be there. I know this is a group home, right?” he says of the parked cars. “I got a choice of asking you to tell them not to do it. Next time I see them, I’ll send them in for tickets. No mercy, OK?”
Afterward, Karygiannis explains to Haynes what a group home is and claims the parked cars belong to workers there. Karygiannis says they’ll come back later, and report the cars if they are still parked there.
“F – – k you. This is not for you to park,” he says.
There are, however, people who should not be reported to bylaw enforcement, Karygiannis tells Haynes.
Referring to a car that might be improperly parked, Karygiannis says, “Yeah, we should send it in, but we’ll find out how he voted.”
Later, he tells Haynes, “Don’t ever bother this guy,” referring to a specific street number.
Asked why, Karygiannis replies “’Cause he’s a buddy … There’s people that we don’t f – – k around with. We leave them alone.”
The recording also captures Haynes asking Karygiannis if being a councillor is more fun than being a member of Parliament.
The councillor is quick to answer.
“Oh, f – -k yeah,” he says. “I love this s – – t, man.”