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Cries of 'shame' greet move to withhold NHL arena documents
Feb. 11, 2015
By Laura Finney

In the end, it never even got to a vote.

A group of residents who were hoping confidential documents from the now dead GTA Centre would be released were disappointed during the Tuesday council meeting, after hearing the information would not be made public.

Many in the crowd yelled “shame, shame,” to council and the mayor as they got up and left the meeting when the decision was made.

A motion to make the reports related to the proposed NHL-size arena public was brought forward by recently elected Councillor Karen Rea, who was outspoken about the use of public money to build the $325 million arena.

But during the meeting, Mayor Frank Scarpitti called the motion out of order after lengthy discussions council had with the city solicitor Catherine Conrad and Kimberly Kitteringham, city clerk, who made a presentation about the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act (MFIPPA).

According to the act, council is not able to make the decision to release the information.

“The Act prohibits, actually prohibits, the disclosure of information of a technical, financial nature provided by a third party, without that party’s consent,” said Conrad. “I can’t say it any clearer than that, it’s prohibited.”

Staff recommended council give deference to the appeal process established and provided by the MFIPPA, and wait for the decision from the information and privacy commissioner (IPC) on two outstanding appeals that were made by Rea before she became a member of council.

“Under the law, the IPC is the decision maker,” explained Kitteringham, but she admitted that she did not know how long the appeals will take, adding it has already been two years.

After the presentation some councillors questioned what would happen if they released the information anyway.

“I can’t see who is going to sue us if we do release the information,” said regional councillor Jim Jones, who asked if someone could independently call the consultants who created the reports to ask for their consent for disclosure.

“You give me their phone numbers, and I will phone tomorrow,” he said.

Others supported finding other legal ways of releasing the information.

Hamilton, who had seconded the Rea’s motion, said he did not want to do anything illegal, but he did not feel comfortable in the position he was in.

Scarpitti supported staff’s suggestions and said council would adhere to any decisions made by the ICP.

“It’s not our jurisdiction as a council to determine what reports get released to the public on any issue,” he said, adding that Markham’s code of conduct also does not allow council to disclose confidential information.

He ruled the motion out of order because it contravenes a provincial act, and Markham’s code of conduct.

The proposal for the arena died in July, but many wish to see the documentation and reports related to the project made public, including Marilyn Ginsburg, who spoke on behalf of the Grandview Area Residents Association during the delegations made at the beginning of the council meeting.

“The plans for the GTA [arena] were hatched in secrecy, paid for with public money and remain secret to this day in spite of the fact that the project is now long dead,” she said and noted the credibility gap between government and the residents of Markham because of this issue is unhealthy. “There is nothing in those reports, if released, that will hurt the city as much as continued secrecy damages the reputation of the city and its relationship with its residents.”

With no project and no hockey team, she wanted to know why things were being kept secret.

“We do not have to justify our reason for wanting to know, you have to justify your reasons for not wanting us to know,” she said.

Ginsburg was one of several residents who spoke in favour of releasing the documents. Other commenters questioned why the documents were being kept confidential and others reminded the councillors of transparency promises made during the election campaign.

The arena was first proposed with the support of the mayor by businessman Graeme Roustan in a public-private partnership that would see the city securing financing to build the NHL-size arena in Markham’s new downtown centre.

However after public objections, councillors voted not to put public money behind the project and after a six-month grace period, no other party came forward with funding.

Failure to release the arena documents, which critics say were cherry-picked for positive arguments to support the arena, has been a sore point for those who opposed the arena.