The conflict-of-interest lawsuit against Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz was dismissed on Friday, Apr. 5 by Queen’s Bench judge Brenda Keyser.
Keyser reached her decision after hearing both sides of the case on Tuesday, Apr. 2. She claimed, despite her decision to dismiss the case, that the behavior displayed by Katz was unethical and a poor decision for a political figure to make. She concluded that the public would decide during the next election whether he is fit to continue as mayor.
“It’s now history. We just move forward [ . . . ] The reality is, let’s just keep on doing what we’re doing,” said Katz, who did not attend the ruling.
Restaurateur Joe Chan filed the initial lawsuit against Katz but later dropped the case and was ordered to pay $750 to cover court costs.
Human rights lawyer David Matas then teamed up with Chan to refile the lawsuit against Katz. Matas claimed that Katz violated a broadly defined conflict-of-interest law when he inappropriately used taxpayers’ money to fund a 2010 holiday party for city councillors and department heads at Hu’s Asian Bistro, which Katz owned. The bill totalled $3,084.35.
Katz is only one of many Canadian mayors who have recently been in the spotlight for questionable political decisions, with various corruption allegations levelled against them.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was recently under fire for failing to repay improper donations that had been made to his own charity, Rob Ford Football Foundation, and then voting on the matter during a 2012 city council meeting. Ford eventually won the conflict-of-interest case in January of 2013, avoiding the penalty of ejection from office.
Conflict-of-interest cases in Manitoba possess the same penalty of ejection from office.
“Where such an interest is found, both at common law and by statute, a member of Council is disqualified if the interest is so related to the exercise of public duty that a reasonably well-informed person would conclude that the interest might influence the exercise of that duty,” states the Manitoba Law Reform Commission.
In Katz’ case, a conflict of interest was found in the fact that the party was held at Hu’s Asian Bistro, a restaurant then owned by Katz, which was in financial trouble at the time. The restaurant has since closed.
Colin Craig, the prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told Yahoo! Canada News that taxpayers footing the bill for the party, which ultimately would have helped Hu’s Asian Bistro, should not have happened.
“This is Politics 101. You can’t get elected to office and then spend money at your own business, or a relative’s business. This isn’t a $5 cup of coffee and donut that he had at his brother’s Tim Hortons franchise. This is $3,000. It is significant.”
“The judge can only act within the current law. If anything, this whole process has shown the law has some big loopholes that should be closed. The mayor’s own lawyer has indicated it was a bad political decision to do what he did,” Craig continued.
The law surrounding conflict-of-interest cases is broadly defined and was last updated in Manitoba in 1998. It specifically states the law does not exist with the sole purpose of improving ethical standards of legislators. It does state, however, that a position in public office entails a level of trust.
“And the Act, by its broad proscription, enjoins holders of public offices within its ambit from any participation in matters in which their economic self-interest may be in conflict with their public duty,” states the Manitoba Law Reform Commission.
According to public documents, Katz held multiple city hall meetings at Hu’s Asian Bistro. It was reported that Katz spent approximately $10,000 of taxpayers’ money at the restaurant.
Winnipeg citizens are showing signs of frustration. On Apr. 5, the first day the trial, 50 people arrived at city hall holding signs demanding Katz resign.
A Facebook event for the Apr. 5 rally was created, entitled “Time’s up Sam!” The page was intended to recruit citizens wanting change, with the creators claiming that the mayor has a lack of integrity and vision.
We’re looking to our leadership and we should be able to have high expectations and they’re not following through on those expectations,” said “Time’s Up Sam!” creator Lindsay Stewart to Metro News.