A political rival has launched a civil lawsuit against Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson for alleged conflict of interest, claiming Robertson benefited from leasing a city building to the social media company Hootsuite.

Cedar Party mayoral candidate Glen Chernen and nine Vancouver residents filed the petition in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, alleging Robertson "attended a meeting, participated in discussions, attempted to influence voting, and voted on a matter" in which he had a direct or indirect financial interest.

The building in question — located at 5 East 8th Avenue — used to be occupied by the Vancouver Police Department. Chernen says the City agreed to lease the property to Hootsuite after it failed to sell, and that the property was not re-tendered for lease under a transparent process.

Chernan also says he has obtained hundreds of internal documents and emails showing Hootsuite provided substantial campaign and political assistance to Robertson when he ran for his second mayoral term in 2012.

"Nobody else had a chance to get this deal like this deal was obtained. At first, they went through the process in what appears to be a proper fashion. But it was marketed, it seems, in such a way that nobody would want it," Chernen told CBC News.

If the allegations are true, municipal law expert Jonathan Baker, a former NPA councillor and current NPA member, says the potential outcomes for Robertson could be serious.

"Courts are very reluctant to overturn the role of the electorate, and the burden is the on the party who's alleging this," said Baker.

"But the allegations are serious enough to get the mayor disqualified from office. It depends on what actually happened."

Hootsuite and Robertson deny conflict of interest

Robertson called the allegations "bizarre" and "disappointing." 

"As mayor, I'm very proud of the strong local tech companies that are investing in Vancouver, and city hall will continue to support the new jobs they are creating in our city's growing economy," said Robertson in a statement.

Hootsuite, meanwhile, insists the deal was struck fairly.

"On January 22, the City of Vancouver released the terms of that lease to the public, and the details of the transaction are found in that document. HootSuite doesn’t have any additional information to release on the topic at this time, however believes the transaction was done at fair market value," said Hootsuite spokesperson Sandy Pell in a statement.

None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the City has 21 days to respond.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story only identified Jonathan Baker as a expert in municipal law. Jonathan Baker is not only a municipal lawyer with a long history of engagement in civic politics. He is also a former NPA councillor and in November he rejoined the NPA.
    Feb 18, 2014 3:54 PM PT
With files from CBC's Bal Brach