Is Vancouver’s whistle blower policy strong enough?

Councillor urges city staff to come forward with concerns of wrongdoing at city hall

12th and Cambie

Remember that movie The Insider, starring Russell Crowe?

Great movie.

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The plot revolved around Crowe playing a chemist who eventually tells the world that major tobacco companies concealed the dangers of their product. In other words, he “blew the whistle” on them.

I bring up this movie because I love it when people blow the whistle on sleaze bags, scoundrels, criminals and other people doing nefarious things — especially when such evil gets leaked to the guy typing this sentence.

Problem is not enough people do it.

Anyway, I was interested to see a report go before city council Tuesday regarding amendments to the city's whistle blower policy. Yes, the city has one.

Which is great.

The policy has been on the books since 2008, but Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr requested back in May that a whistle blower be better protected.

She wanted — and received in a unanimous vote Tuesday — independent oversight and investigation of alleged wrongdoings, a clause to "enable and protect" the anonymity of a whistle blower and language to ensure city staff are protected from reprisal.

But let's go back to May when Carr introduced a motion seeking amendments to the policy. At the time, she seemed to suggest something untoward was going on with developers and city officials.

The beginning of her motion from May: “Recent investigative stories by journalists regarding the city's waiving of development cost levies, or possibly undervaluing its land, are raising public concern of possible wrongdoings by the City of Vancouver that may favour real estate developers at the expense of the public interest.”

That's a pretty serious allegation.

In all my years of poking around this area, I have yet to find a smoking gun. That’s unless you count the times developers have given councillors various freebies, including wining and dining them in private boxes to watch the Vancouver Canucks and Bruce Springsteen, giving them $440 tickets to Cirque de Soleil performances and taking them on dinner cruises aboard a yacht to watch the summer fireworks displays in English Bay.

A week ago, a person who goes by the Twitter handle @InsiderDoug made some serious allegations about a Vancouver councillor and that person’s involvement with developers.

See how I didn’t mention the councillor’s gender. I’m doing that because I don’t know who Insider Doug is, or whether any of what Doug has written is remotely true. Also, I don’t want to be sued.

I should tell you I reached out to Doug when he or she first joined Twitter. He or she declined to meet and be interviewed. So keep that in mind as I quote the beginning of Doug's recent tweet thread: “Since I’m going to be putting in my papers for retirement soon, I feel like getting a few things off my chest about Vancouver politics.”

Then Doug went on a fast-fingered rant, accusing the councillor of undermining “the position of planners in negotiating with developers and pressures planners to change positions.” Another tweet: “If you believe that developers should have even more inappropriate influence at city hall, [this councillor] is your candidate.”

I wasn’t going to mention Doug, but then NPA Coun. George Affleck did at Tuesday's council meeting.

Here's what Affleck said about him: "There’s a staffer named Insider Doug who has made some accusations on Twitter, which isn’t necessarily the platform where I want staff people or anybody making accusations. If anything of what he or she is accusing certain people at city hall of doing [is true], then I would hope that with these changes, a person like Insider Doug will be able to go to city hall and be able to submit any issues that he or she might have related to what he’s discussing on Twitter. So I hope that these changes will free up the ability for anybody here at city hall to submit any concerns they might have and feel protected by our policy."

council
City council must abide by a "code of conduct." Photo Dan Toulgoet

Interestingly though, the policy states that it only applies to staff at the city and the park board. Politicians have to abide by the city's "code of conduct" and the oath of office. I'm also thinking the Criminal Code of Canada would be another set of rules that applies to any serious wrongdoing.

I'll leave you with this bit of history...

Way back in 2008, the city hired criminal lawyer Richard Peck to investigate how a confidential document regarding the Olympic Village was leaked to the media.

The Globe and Mail obtained the document and published a story during the 2008 civic election campaign. The story revealed council unanimously approved a $100-million loan to ensure construction of the Olympic Village would continue.

The leak became the focal point of the campaign.

Peck looked into the leak as the Vancouver Police Department conducted a simultaneous investigation that, as I revealed, involved several councillors agreeing to a polygraph test.

In the end, no charges were laid and the source of the leak was never found. Peck, however, recommended the city hire an "integrity commissioner," whose duties would include investigating city councillors who contravene the city's code of conduct.

A commissioner was needed, Peck said, because the oversight and accountability provisions in the city's code of conduct were lacking. The city updated its code of conduct but never hired a commissioner.

Final note: I accept plain manila envelopes filled with front-page worthy documents at any time of the day. My address is 303 West Fifth Ave. Attention: Mike "Truth Warrior" Howell.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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