August 21, 2019

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Group wants mayor's word before turning over surveillance on city inspectors

The anonymous citizens group that bankrolled a month-long surveillance operation into Winnipeg’s planning, property and development department says it’s considering sending the full results of its investigation to the provincial ombudsman.

But before it does so, the group wants a public assurance from Mayor Brian Bowman that he’ll act on the results of the ombudsman’s review.

“My concern is we’re going to have the ombudsman spend time reviewing a matter that they don’t have any authority to make changes on,” said John Prystanski, the lawyer representing the citizens group.

Prystanski said he’s been in communication with the provincial ombudsman’s office since April 23, after Bowman suggested the two parties get in touch.

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The anonymous citizens group that bankrolled a month-long surveillance operation into Winnipeg’s planning, property and development department says it’s considering sending the full results of its investigation to the provincial ombudsman.

But before it does so, the group wants a public assurance from Mayor Brian Bowman that he’ll act on the results of the ombudsman’s review.

Surveillance footage of a City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employee shopping at Costco. (Supplied)</p>

Surveillance footage of a City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employee shopping at Costco. (Supplied)

"My concern is we’re going to have the ombudsman spend time reviewing a matter that they don’t have any authority to make changes on," said John Prystanski, the lawyer representing the citizens group.

Prystanski said he’s been in communication with the provincial ombudsman’s office since April 23, after Bowman suggested the two parties get in touch.

Bowman previously said he’d support an ombudsman review of allegations of workplace misconduct made against inspectors in the department, first reported by the Free Press April 4.

However, Prystanski said he’s confirmed the ombudsman can recommend changes but does not have the authority to enact them. That’s why he said the group wants Bowman on the record that he’ll act on the results of a review.

"The city has been asking for the report, but they’re giving nothing in return. That leads the group to believe that this matter will just be buried under the carpet. Get it out of the public eye and let it go," Prystanski said.

"The group feels, no, this is too important. They’ve got to see structural changes. This didn’t start the day the video camera rolled. This didn’t start with these employees. This started way before."

The city is currently conducting an internal probe into the allegations.

The citizens group paid a private investigation firm $18,000 to place 17 PPD inspectors under surveillance over a month of workdays during the winter. Investigators said only one of the inspectors appeared to be putting in an honest day’s work.

City council has since instructed Winnipeg’s public service to make the results of its internal investigation public within 30 days of its completion, but there’s likely to be significant information censured due to privacy concerns.

The citizens group feels strongly, as it has from Day 1 , the investigation should not be done by the city, but an independent agency, Prystanski said.

"We get that there are personnel issues here. The group isn’t out to embarrass anyone. But if there are problems that need to be fixed, then fix the problems," he said.

"This isn’t about any one individual in the department. It’s about the City of Winnipeg."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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