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Markham arena details stay under wraps

Warning from city solicitor trumps delegations calling for open government.
Feb. 10, 2015
By Noor Javed

The secret documents behind a secret deal to build an NHL-size arena in Markham will stay secret - even though the project was defeated by council more than a year ago.

At a council meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Frank Scarpitti called the motion to release ten confidential reports that the city has kept secret around the public-private $325-million arena deal, out of order.

Staff advised council to wait for the outcome of two outstanding appeals to the information and privacy commissioner in regards to the release of reports before making a decision. They said making any decisions before this would breach information privacy laws.

“The Act prohibits the release of information of a technical and financial nature provided by a third party, without that party’s consent. I can’t say it any clearer than that,” said city solicitor Catherine Conrad, referring to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA).

Rookie councillor Karen Rea, who brought forth a motion to publicly release all documents related to the arena project, admitted that both appeals had been brought forth by her.

“They are both mine,” said Rea, adding that she filed the appeals more than two years ago, and is still waiting. “They have no date on when they will have the decision.”

On Tuesday night a number of delegations beseeched the new council to start the new term with transparency.

“The project is dead. There is no proponent. There is no team,” said Marilyn Ginsburg, representing the Grandview Area Residents Association. “Remember it is our right to ask for information and it is our right to receive it. You have the power to release the reports,” she said.

On Tuesday, when asked by a resident, many councillors admitted they hadn’t read the documents up for discussion.

“The information contained in those reports has been conveyed to members of council either through staff presentations or directly from the consultants themselves,” said Scarpitti.

Before she was councillor, Rea had filed numerous Freedom to Information requests and the appeal with the IPC to make the reports public.

At the time, staff denied the requests, claiming that complying would divulge confidential information and put ongoing negotiations at risk. On Tuesday, staff advised council that it wasn’t in council’s jurisdiction to decide to release confidential information in the documents.

“It’s not our jurisdiction to make a decision on which reports get released to the public on the arena or anything else,” said Scarpitti, adding that it also circumvents the city’s own code of conduct. Scarpitti, one of the few members of the previous council who supported the project to the very end, then ruled the motion out of order.

The bulk of the city’s pitch to build the arena project was based on the information - including legal, economic and municipal opinions - that came from the consultant reports.

With the project no longer in the works, such concerns are no longer relevant, says Rea. She feels residents are still entitled to see the information that councillors had been using to make such an expensive decision.

“We paid $726,000 for them, and the residents of Markham should know where their money is going,” she said. “I believe we should release those documents, let the public see them and make their own decisions and move on.

It’s a new term, and we should make clear that we want to move forward with accountability and transparency.”