December 8, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
On Dec. 13, 2010, city councillors and department heads were invited with a guest to Hu's Asian Bistro on Ellice Avenue for a Christmas party.
The invitation came from Mayor Sam Katz's office and the total bill from the event was $3,084.35. The party was paid for with taxpayer funds, and at the time, Katz owned the restaurant.
On Tuesday, a judge may rule whether Katz violated Manitoba's Municipal Conflict-of-Interest Act. If a judge decides Katz broke provincial rules, he will lose his seat as mayor.
Katz declined to comment on the court case. His lawyer, Robert Tapper, said the mayor will not be in court.
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 secured the April court date.
According to documents filed in the Court of Queen's Bench, Matas alleges 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. A motion brief 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.
Court documents filed by 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. "My hope is my client is successful," Matas said.
Tapper said his position is the case should be dismissed since 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."
In December, Chan publicly stated he turned down an offer to settle the case against Katz out of court.
A motion brief filed by Tapper alleges Chan contacted Natalie Pollock and made comments about a settlement offer. The motion brief said Natalie Pollock and Ron Pollock gave sworn evidence Chan "revealed the offer, lied about its contents (as to it being a 'substantial financial offer') and then attempted to intimidate the affiants into giving a false story that they learned about the offer from city hall."
"His evidence is clearly fabricated. He has come to court not only with unclean hands but with hands so unclean that it is unparalleled in recent judicial history," Tapper's motion brief alleges.
Court documents filed by Tapper said the provincial conflict rules would not apply to a Christmas party, as it is not a council or committee meeting where the financial interest of the mayor conflicts with his elected duties. The motion brief also said Katz did not direct the city to make the payment.
Under cross-examination, Katz said he believes the payment for the party was made out of the mayor's office by an office manager or through protocol. Court documents show Katz said he "would not be aware of a payment being made."
"This is not a conflict within the conflict-of-interest act," Tapper said.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2013 B1