Judge appointed to lead judicial inquiry into buried Red Hill report

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel will be charged with investigating how and why the public only learned in February of a 2013 report that showed parts of the parkway were below UK safety standards and in some cases, well below.

The city has set aside $7M so far to cover the costs of the inquiry

Traffic drives along the Red Hill Valley Parkway on Feb. 8, 2019. The city is spending millions on a judicial inquiry to determine how a report raising concerns about friction levels on the road was buried for years. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel has been appointed as the head of the multimillion-dollar judicial inquiry into how a damning Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) report stayed buried for six years.

The Superior Court announced the appointment in a letter from Chief Justice Heather Forster Smith dated May 3.

Wilton-Siegel will be charged with investigating how and why the public only learned in February of a 2013 report from Tradewind Scientific that showed parts of the highway were below UK safety standards for friction and in some cases, well below.

The study, which used UK standards because none exist for North America, stayed in a locked folder on the city's network for years.

Shortly after news of the report broke, the city apologized and immediately lowered the speed limit and pledged to expedite planned resurfacing this spring.

Some local MPPs, including NDP party leader Andrea Horwath, also called for a judicial inquiry.

The decision to undertake the inquiry came after council ignored the opinion of lawyers who said an auditor general or ombudsman investigation would cost far less.

Instead, councillors voted in favour of the inquiry because the process, including interviews, is public and set aside $7 million as a start to cover costs — but an outside lawyer said it could cost millions more.

Judge hopes to get started in the 'near future'

In a letter to the city, Wilton-Siegel said he's appointed Robert A. Centa from Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP as his counsel to help with the inquiry, noting he'll also be appointing other staff to help with the investigation.

"It is my hope that, with the assistance of the City, we will establish facilities and commence our work in the near future," he writes.

The judge also added he plans to set up a website for the inquiry and someone to handle communications from the public and media.

The inquiry won't be Wilton-Siegel's first interaction with Hamilton.

Residents may remember his name as the judge who oversaw the most recent restructuring for U.S. Steel Canada, now known as Stelco, and approved its sale to U.S. investment firm Bedrock Industries.

Wilton-Siegel also rejected Hamilton council's attempted appeal to get out of paying part of its Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) levy.

The city has supplied the judge with a list of 24 questions it wants tackled, including who saw the report after it was produced, if the city acted correctly once it was discovered and whether the delay put the public at risk.

But it the chief justice says it will ultimately be up to Wilton-Seigel to decide the scope of what the inquiry will consider.