The City of Winnipeg — and three city councillors — have been found in contempt for violating a court order over developer Andrew Marquess' Parker Lands project.
Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Candace Grammond, in a 21-page written decision released this week, said both the city and the City Centre Community Committee — made up of city councillors John Orlikow, Cindy Gilroy, and Sherri Rollins — were in contempt of her earlier order when it failed to consider Marquess' secondary plan for the Fulton Grove project on the Parker Lands property during a public meeting last November.
"I do not accept that the respondents, on the whole, acted in good faith," Grammond wrote, "or that they took reasonable steps to comply with the order.
"Accordingly, I will not exercise my discretion to avoid a finding of contempt."
The judge also ruled that the community committee's decision last November, to unanimously agree with an administrative recommendation to reject Marquess' secondary plan for the 133-acre Parker Lands site because it wasn't ready for city council's consideration, be scrapped.
Marquess wants to develop the Fulton Grove project, on 47 acres within the Parker Lands site, located west of Pembina Highway and south of CN Rail's River rail line, to have 1,900 residential units.
But Grammond stopped short of stripping the community committee from hearing other matters until the contempt issue has been resolved because that could have "potentially far-reaching consequences" for others.
Grammond said the next stage will be to set a penalty, but that will be decided at a future hearing.
Lawyer Dave Hill, who represents Marquess and his company, said on Thursday that "my client is happy the judge has outlined agreement with our position and are hopeful that this decision will be acted on in a timely manner with a positive outcome for all.
"Winnipeg should not be known as a place where fair and equitable treatment is not the norm. Winnipeggers are law-abiding citizens who respect the authority of the court. We are optimistic our civil politicians feel the same and will work quickly to remedy this situation."
Hill noted it is rare for a court to issue a contempt motion against a large city — and rarer still against elected politicians.
"There were only two others we found and they were against the City of Toronto," he said.
"And it appears to be unique to have a body of elected officials found in contempt."
Michael Jack, the city’s chief corporate services officer, said the city is looking at the decision.
"We can appeal it," Jack said. "As you would expect we have our legal department looking very closely at it to determine whether there are any grounds for appeal.
"We only received that decision about a day and a half ago. We’re looking very carefully at how the justice ruled and we’ll take it from there."
Jack said the city is still open to meeting with the developer about issues the city has with the proposed development.
"I’m pretty hopeful we’ll be able to get back to the table and actually discuss some of the more substantive issues," he said.
"Apart from this particular order, we’d like to see the Parker Lands developed."
But Jack said the contempt ruling was a surprise.
"The city proceeded as it felt was being within the confines of the law, and in fact was the most legally appropriate route," he said.
"We do have Justice Grammond’s ruling so we need to consider her ladyship’s comments, but it’s not what we expected. We were obviously proceeding administratively as we thought was most appropriate and was most legal."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.