Opinion divided on potential public inquiry into police HQ


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Repeated calls for a public inquiry into the Winnipeg Police headquarters scandal could be answered by the Tory government as a civil suit continues, but parallel probes could also create problems for litigators and commissioners, experts say.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/03/2022 (370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Repeated calls for a public inquiry into the Winnipeg Police headquarters scandal could be answered by the Tory government as a civil suit continues, but parallel probes could also create problems for litigators and commissioners, experts say.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called on the province to support a public inquiry into the controversial construction project, as the government remains non-committal.

Derek Olson, a senior litigator and a former commission counsel for the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, said there is nothing stopping the provincial government from holding an inquiry into a matter currently being heard in a civil court.

However, the preference is to see civil proceedings concluded before an inquiry is held to avoid possible inconsistencies or conflicting results which might influence either the civil proceeding or the inquiry, he said.

“Theoretically, they should be the same outcomes, but there is always that potential,” said Olson, a senior partner at the Winnipeg-based firm D’Arcy and Deacon. “Different decision makers, different finders of fact can find different things, so that’s always a concern.”

Olson said human resource management is also a significant concern, if a public inquiry were to be held at the same time as civil proceedings.

Last week, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman renewed his call for a public inquiry into the downtown police headquarters project, calling it one of the biggest scandals in the city’s history.

Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal issued a 126-page ruling March 15 that found former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl accepted a $327,000 bribe from Caspian Construction owner Armik Babakhanians.

The city launched a civil suit in 2020, alleging a fraudulent scheme took place.

Caspian was one of the key contractors on the project, which came in at a cost of roughly $214 million — well above its original $135-million price tag — and was found to be severely mismanaged.

The City of Winnipeg continues to pursue legal action against additional defendants, as the original civil suit was split up into smaller cases.

“Before we make any decisions on whether or not to call any public inquiry, we need to make sure that all avenues are exhausted before that,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson told reporters in the wake of Joyal’s judgement, noting the civil suit remains before the court.

“So there’s still information that may be coming out of that, so it’d be premature I think to go in that direction today.”

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen took the same stance when pressed in question period by NDP critic Nahanni Fontaine.

“Matters before the court should not be matters of inquiry,” Goertzen said March 17, citing the Phoenix Sinclair case as precedent for not calling an inquiry while a matter is before the courts.

Phoenix was five years old when she was beaten to death by her mother and step-father in 2005 at Fisher River Cree Nation. The couple were convicted of first-degree murder in 2008. The final inquiry report, released in 2014, made 62 recommendations for improving the child welfare system.

However, that inquiry was paused for about two months, after the Manitoba Court of Appeal agreed to hear a complaint by lawyers for child welfare agencies over access to witness interview transcripts held by commission lawyers.

Goertzen said there is a “full wrath” of information on the police HQ that would be made public through the civil proceedings and questioned the value of an inquiry.

“Everyone is concerned about what they’ve learned regarding the civil litigation, but the information is fully disclosed through the civil litigation process. I’m not sure what the member opposite feels would be learned beyond the civil litigation disclosure,” Goertzen said.

A request for comment from Goertzen’s office Monday was not returned by deadline.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation Prairie division director Todd MacKay said the provincial government should be asking how and when it will hold a public inquiry into the police headquarters, not if it should.

“They’re making a mistake by not committing,” MacKay said. “There are times where spending money is money well spent… When it comes to transparency and accountability, it virtually always pays dividends down the road to ensure you don’t have waste.”

MacKay said discussions around what a public inquiry might look like should begin, so a framework is in place for when legal proceedings conclude.

“It’s just so frustrating for taxpayers. This needs to happen,” he said. “So commit to doing that, and frankly get the ball rolling on it, so it can happen efficiently and expeditiously when the time comes.”


Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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