Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reveal Emterra penalties: lawyer

Privacy expert says city has no right to refuse

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An expert on privacy issues said Winnipeg politicians should be allowed to find out how much the city has fined Emterra for missed garbage and recycling pickups.

Access-to-information lawyer Brian Bowman said he is shocked by the city's refusal because elected officials have a legitimate right to know.

Several members of city council have joined the push to find out how much the city has fined Emterra for poor service since it began collecting garbage and recycling in the former AutoBin areas on Aug. 1 and 165,000 households city-wide in October. Winnipeg's public administration officials have refused to disclose the figure to members of council, saying releasing the information could harm Emterra's business interests.

City officials said this week Emterra's contract states the city can disclose the contract amount, but does not say the city can disclose penalties levied against the company.

The information should also be made public, Bowman said, unless Emterra can prove the release of the information would harm business.

Bowman said a move by the city to block the public release of the fines could also be challenged through provincial freedom-of-information legislation, the provincial ombudsman and the courts.

He said the spirit of access-to-information legislation relies on openness and it appears the City of Winnipeg needs a "huge shakeup" when it comes to transparency.

"I don't see how council members wouldn't have access to everything," Bowman said. "It's not a disclosure (issue). They are the city."

"I think the people who are actually accountable to taxpayers are city council members. They should have this information so they can make informed decisions."

City officials said Emterra would be fined between $100 and $500 for things such as missed pickups, carts lost during collections, emptying garbage into recycling vehicles and emptying recyclables into garbage vehicles.

Council's public works chairman Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) sent a letter Thursday to city CAO Phil Sheegl and chief operating officer Deepak Joshi urging them share the information with councillors.

Vandal said if the amount of fines can't be released for contractual reasons, the city should not have included penalties in the contract.

Couns. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre), Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo), Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Ross Eadie (Mynarski) have also called on the administration to release the data.

"We're doing ourselves an injustice in terms of bad PR," Vandal said. "We are the board of directors of the city and we need to know this information."

He said he has not received a response to his letter as Sheegl is out of the office until next week.

While Vandal said the number of complaints about missed pickups has dropped about 75 per cent since October, other city residents say they're still seeing delays in service.

Raymond Ares said the recycling bins at his eight-storey Selkirk Avenue apartment block have not been emptied for more than two weeks. Ares said he phoned the city twice, and some of the bins are overflowing with holiday boxes. "It makes me feel not respected. Some of us work very hard in this building to keep things clean," he said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2013 A4

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