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Decision in mayor's conflict-of-interest case reserved until Friday

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Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz will have to wait until the end of the week to learn if he can remain in office.

Queen’s Bench Justice Brenda Keyser has reserved her decision after hearing a full morning of arguments in the conflict-of-interest case filed against Katz. Her decision will come down Friday at 3 p.m.

Katz was not in court for the proceedings, which involve a Dec. 13, 2010 party held at Hu's Asian Bistro on Ellice Avenue which was hosted by Katz's office and involved city councillors and department heads. The bill for the event, paid for with taxpayer funds, was $3,084.35. At the time, Katz owned the restaurant.

Keyser has been asked to rule whether Katz violated Manitoba's Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act. If she decides Katz broke provincial rules, he will lose his seat as mayor.

Restaurateur Joe Chan filed a declaration in the Court of Queen's Bench last year alleging Katz was in a conflict of interest. After making procedural errors, Chan, who manages the Cathay House Restaurant and has worked for Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith, withdrew his motion and was forced to pay $750 in court costs.

The complaint was then picked up by human rights lawyer David Matas, who filed another declaration and appeared in court today to make his arguments.

Matas alleged the mayor knew Hu's Asian Bistro was his restaurant, he knew the invitations for the party came from his office, he knew the city was paying for the party, and he was aware of the conflict-of-interest rules. He said the suggestion $3,000 is an insignificant amount of money is "out of touch" with the reality of ordinary people and combating conflict of interest is the first line of defence against corruption.

"The Mayor can’t plead ignorance, he can’t plead a mistake. He knew everything," Matas argued today.

Matas said tolerating conflicts of interest leads to corruption, and in order to be credible on its stance against human rights violations abroad, Canada must be "firm, unequivocal and uncompromising" in its stance against conflict of interest at home.

"It’s hard to say a restaurant owner doesn’t benefit from customers coming into his restaurant," said Matas. "The issue of conflict of interest is very important, so important that a small sum can lead to loss of office."

Katz’s lawyer, Robert Tapper, argued for the entire case to be dismissed on technicalities based on the facts Chan made legal procedural errors, broke a specific court rule that prohibits him from publicly speaking about a settlement offer and came to court with "unclean hands."

"Mr. Chan’s conduct in this case is nothing short of disgusting," said Tapper. "Even though I’m happy to deal with the merits, at what point does the court protect the integrity of its own process?"

Tapper said Katz is guilty, at most, of using poor political judgment and should only be judged by the public at the next election.

"This case is not about corruption. This case is not about democracy. This case is about a Christmas party," said Tapper. "It’s trivial."

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Updated on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 12:01 PM CDT: Decision reserved.

12:23 PM: Adds quotes, fresh picture.

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