Confidential documents were regularly left unattended at city hall

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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shadowy figure
Will we ever find out who the shadowy figure was that stole confidential documents from Vancouver City Hall?

Just hours before the polls closed on yesterday's BC provincial election, the Vancouver Police Department chose to hold a news conference regarding their findings related to the case of the missing Olympic Village documents. The timing of the news conference virtually guaranteed this story would get no major media coverage. Last October, a copy of a confidential document went missing from an in-camera meeting. Soon after, information from that meeting ended up in the hands of the Globe and Mail's intrepid reporter Gary Mason.

Mason subsequently reported on confidential details regarding the financing of the project as well as the fact Estelle Lo, the City's former Director of Finance had some reservations about the project. Luckily for Vision Vancouver, this all happened in the midst of the last civic campaign, thus helping to play a role in the NPA's disastrous election loss.

There is so much to say about the VPD report it's hard to know where to start. Well, how about the timing of the release - does anyone believe that selecting May 12th, general election day in BC was accidental? Not for a minute. The $1.2 million media relations department is smart enough to know if they released the information on Election Day, it stood a much better chance of being buried in the daily news coverage. On this one, they were right.

Then there is the report itself. Here is an astonishing excerpt:

A number of city councillors declined to participate in the polygraph examination and investigators believe that this resulted in an inconclusive outcome.

There you have it. The police indicate they have given up investigating because all Vision Councillors along with NPA Councillor Kim Capri refused to conduct the lie detector test. Let's hope this is not the litmus test the police use to put closure to other serious cases. If so, there will be a lot of other people refusing lie detector tests in the hope their case will be dropped.

Just imagine if the VPD announced they were closing other cases simply because people were refusing to conduct lie detector tests. I suspect more than a few irate crime-fighting citizens who would be demanding the police reconsider that policy.

What makes the VPD's decision even more offensive is that Vision had committed during the election to participate in the lie detector tests. It was only after the election (and a comfortable majority victory) they had a change of heart and decided that participating in the polygraph was no longer necessary.

If you review the VPD report, a large swath of the material has been blacked out. Therefore, you can't even tell if staff were asked to conduct polygraph tests or who it was that actually refused the test.

One of the more interesting excerpts relates to a police theory on how the Olympic Village information got into the hands of Mr. Mason:

Investigators believe that it is most likely that the source of the two quoted paragraphs in Mason's November 6th, 2008 Globe and Mail article was taken directly from the October 14th, 2008 in-camera minutes.  With the most likely source of the leaked information being the in-camera minutes to the October 14th, 2008 meeting, investigators set out to determine the distribution list of everyone receiving the minutes.

Firstly, we'll never know why the police have come to the conclusion that Mason likely got his material from the minutes, rather than the original document, given how much of the report has been blacked out. But does it really matter?

The police were only concerned about finding out who alledgedly stole the Olympic Village document, not who may have leaked that information to the Globe. Therefore, once they determined they couldn't find the culprit who stole the document, they basically wiped their hands of any requirement to do any further investigation. This is despite the fact that providing in-camera information to a third part about a multi-million dollar land deal is a punishable offense.

This report reminds me of when I worked at the Mayor's office a few years ago. On more than one occasion I had my staff come to me in the morning to indicate that a number of councillors had left their in-camera information on the Mayor's boardroom table overnight.

This meant the cleaning staff, or anyone else that had access to the Mayor's office after hours could have read all that in-camera material. It lead me to do a bit of finger wagging and even write a full blown memo to Council reminding them they needed to ensure those secure documents were properly stored and/or destroyed.

Despite my concerns, confidential materials continued to remain strewn all over the boardroom table when I arrived in my office early the following morning. It became painfully obvious to me City staff responsible for maintaining these records were not as concerned as I was that they might get into the wrong hands. If they had been, you'd think my alert to them and Council would have triggered a review of the handling of these documents long before the Olympic Village document went missing. However, it didn't.

I suspect with the police investigation now over, Vision will have no interest in keeping Richard Peck on to conduct his investigation into the matter. Peck actually has special investigative powers that the police don't even have.

Within a matter of weeks Mayor Robertson will likely announce with that boyish grin that Vision wants to put a close to this chapter in the City's history, and to the event that helped catapault him into government.

In summary, we know that someone (you know who you are) made a decision to fundamentally alter the outcome of a democratic election in Vancouver. We know they released confidential material that ended up benefiting the electoral prospects of the Vision Vancouver candidates. We know that they timed the event to have maximum impact on Peter Ladner and his NPA campaign team. The only item that truly remains a mystery is the identity of that culprit.

Neither the police nor Richard Peck should stop their investigation until they have gotten to the bottom of this whole sordid mess. In my opinion, doing anything less would simply be an affront to democracy and keep a cloud over the final results of the last election.

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