Conflict of interest case involving Vancouver councillor goes to B.C. Supreme Court
VANCOUVER -- A third-party commissioner has already found a Vancouver city councillor breached the city’s Code of Conduct and recommended that he step down, and now, a group of citizens is taking the councillor to court to make sure that happens.
Michael Redmond first filed a complaint that Coun. Michael Wiebe was in a conflict of interest when he voted on May 13 and 27 in favour of an outdoor patio program for restaurants, bars and breweries.
Wiebe is the owner of Eight ½ Restaurant and Lounge, which was one of the first few in the city to get approval for a temporary patio extension.
He is also the owner of Portside Pub in Gastown.
After Redmond’s complaint, an independent investigation was launched.
In September, the commissioner found that Wiebe should have recused himself from the votes and as a result, it disqualifies him from holding office in the city until the next election.
But despite the recommendation, Wiebe did not step down and the mayor and council did not remove him from office.
That’s when Redmond, the original complainant, got together a group of other Vancouver residents to take Wiebe to court.
“They all came together thought that this was somewhat egregious that Mr. Wiebe would use his power at city hall to his own financial advantage,” said Wesley Mussio, lawyer for the petitioners.
Mussio described the petition as an “apolitical application,” and said his clients’ motives are to ensure that an elected official doesn’t use their position of power for financial gain.
“We are trying to improve the integrity at city hall to make people accountable,” he said. “If people are simply allowed to use their public office for their own financial gain, that is a terrible thing that will happen in Canadian politics and it should be stopped. We're doing everything to try to stop that and prevent it.”
On Nov. 17, Wiebe filed a response to the petition saying at the time, he did not think he was in a direct conflict of interest.
“I have always taken conflicts of interest seriously and have acted in good faith to avoid them before and after the votes in issue” Wiebe wrote in a sworn affidavit. “I believed that I was not in conflict on May 13 and 27 because the effect of the votes was City-wide.”
The court documents also show that Wiebe had consulted with the city manager prior to the May 13 vote, asking if he would be in conflict of interest.
Wiebe confirmed with the city manager that the vote was a general application and everyone in the food and drink industry were eligible to apply for the program.
He said he was told it was up to him to seek his own legal advice, which he did not do because he said he didn’t think there was a concern he wouldn’t remain impartial.
The response also stated the councillor did not have any direct or indirect financial benefit to gain from the votes.
Mussio called that response “ludicrous.”
“Most of the restaurants with these restrictions under COVID-19 are really struggling and so this policy, that allow outdoor patios, has helped restaurants keep their doors open. So, it's definitely a revenue generator for Mr. Wiebe,” he said.
The lawyer said roughly 350 to 400 restaurants were able to get the temporary patio permits, out of thousands that applied.
Eight ½ Restaurant and Lounge was one of the first 14 to get a permit.
“He’s got an inside track,” Mussio said. “Having produced the system, voted on the system and actually helped, you know, produce the motions and so forth, so I mean, if that’s not a conflict, I’m not sure what is.”
CTV News contacted Wiebe, who said he’s following the court process and his response is already in the affidavit. He said he won’t be commenting further until after the hearing.
Mussio and Wiebe both anticipate the hearing will take place in February 2021.