Manitoba

Judicial investigation could allow fresh look at police HQ scandal

Provincial Municipal Affairs Minister Rochelle Squires says she will "look into" changing Manitoba's Municipal Act, which could allow the city of Winnipeg to request a judicial investigation of the police headquarters scandal — and potentially answer many lingering questions.

Province will look into changing legislation to allow municipalities to trigger inquiries

Ontario's Municipal Act allows communities to call for a judicial inquiry without the consent of the provincial government. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Provincial Municipal Affairs Minister Rochelle Squires says she will "look into" changing Manitoba's Municipal Act, which could allow the city of Winnipeg to request a judicial investigation of the police headquarters scandal — and potentially answer many lingering questions.

Ontario's Municipal Act gives all municipalities in the province the power to call their own judicial inquiries. Municipalities in Manitoba do not currently have this ability.

The possibility of the legislative change was raised in a meeting between Squires and Mayor Brian Bowman last week.

Squires and Bowman spoke about the possibility of changing the legislation with Squires committing to "follow through and have a look at it," although she says she has done no research about how those kinds of changes might happen.

If municipalities had the power to call a judicial investigation, they would also be responsible for all the costs of the inquiry.

In December the Progressive Conservative government turned down a request by Winnipeg's city council to call a public inquiry into the police headquarters scandal and other controversial real estate transactions.

Squires and Premier Brian Pallister said because there were no charges laid in the police investigation into the headquarters project, there is no reason to call a public inquiry.

Municipal Relations minister Rochelle Squires says her government hasn't researched changing the legislation but would look in to it. (CBC )

The project was millions over budget and many questions remain over why the building was chosen and the contracts issued to do the renovation.

Ontario municipalities can call own inquiries

Ontario's legislation does not require municipalities to get provincial consent for an investigation into alleged misbehaviour by employees or individuals or companies that have done or do work for them.

The Municipal Act in Ontario allows city councils to request a Queen's Bench judge to "investigate any supposed breach of trust or other misconduct of a member of council, an employee of the municipality or a person having a contract with the municipality in relation to the duties or obligations of that person to the municipality."

At least two such judicial investigations are underway in Ontario —one in Collingwood over the sale of the city's utility to a private company, and another in Hamilton into why a report, which showed parts of a highway were too slippery to meet safety standards, was buried.

Squires says the provincial government will look at several ways to protect taxpayer's money.

"I'm certainly willing to have conversations with our municipal leaders on how to best mitigate risk on taxpayer dollars and their investment," Squires said.

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman says it would "appropriate for the province to consider changing the legislation in the absence of calling a public inquiry themselves." (CBC )

Bowman maintains the province should trigger a full public inquiry into years of controversial issues at the city, calling it "my preference," and said the answer he has received from the provincial Conservative government on their decision is "less than satisfactory."

In the wake of the provincial government's decision to turn down an inquiry, the city launched a civil suit against its former chief administrative officer and other individuals linked to the construction of the police headquarters, accusing them of a "scheme" of fraud, embezzlement and kickbacks.

Bowman says he still hasn't had a formal response from the province around declining a public inquiry and the reasons behind the decision, but he did offer support for the idea of changing the Municipal Act and giving cities the power to call their own investigations.

"You know, if the province is open to providing the legal authority for judicial investigations by municipalities across Manitoba that's obviously something that I think would be appropriate for them to consider, in absence of calling a public inquiry themselves," Bowman said.

Bowman says he did point out the legislation in Ontario to Squires, but says neither he nor Winnipeg's city council has made a formal request to the province to change its legislation.

CBC News has asked all city councillors for comment on if they would support changing the Municipal Act in Manitoba.