Friday, September 2, 2011

Riot report ghost writer reluctant to talk about BC Rail briber

I got a call from Stewart Muir on Friday afternoon. Turns out he was the ghost writer for the report on the 2011 Stanley Cup riot that bears the names of John Furlong and Doug Keefe. Furlong, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics boss, hired him, he said.

The former Vancouver Sun deputy managing editor didn't seem very enthusiastic when I asked him about whether his wife, Athana Mentzelopoulos, influenced or was informed about the content of the report. His denial was emphatic, yet defensive.

It's not an unreasonable question. Muir is a veteran journalist who obviously knows our job is to watch those in power and keep an eye on those close to them. He has a family connection in the Office of the Premier. Mentzelopoulos was hired in August as Premier Christy Clark's deputy minister of corporate priorities. Mentzelopoulos was a deputy minister under ex-Premier Gordon Campbell and even served as a bridesmaid at Clark's wedding. Clark is a big Canucks' fan and enjoys the support of donors like Canucks and Rogers Arena owner Francesco Aquilini.

You can read my story on Muir here.

Before I finished the interview, I took the opportunity to ask about records mentioning Muir and Mentzelopoulos that are displayed on this blog entry by Alex Tsakumis.

Tsakumis managed to obtain expense reports filed by OmniTrax lobbyist Erik Bornmann that were collected by the RCMP in their investigation on the corrupt 2003 sale of BC Rail to CN Rail.

Bornmann was an admitted briber of public employees while he worked as a lobbyist for the BC Rail bidder. He was never charged in the BC Rail affair, but he agreed to become the star witness against ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk. Those two men accepted cash and gifts from Bornmann in exchange for information about the BC Rail sale.

Basi and Virk mysteriously copped a plea bargain in October 2010 just when the trial was about to get interesting. The B.C. Liberal government, under then-Premier Campbell, agreed to pay their $6 million legal bills, despite the fact they were guilty. Auditor General John Doyle is examining the highly unusual transaction.

Bornmann was admitted into the Law Society of Upper Canada, meaning he can practice law in Ontario, after this 2-1 decision. Read BC Railscam ace chronicler Bill Tieleman's blog here.

Bornmann's records on the Tsakumis blog show that Muir met with Bornmann on three occasions for what appear to be expensive meals, in the months before the BC Rail privatization was announced and the infamous raid on the B.C. Legislature happened:

July 8, 2003: "Entertainment Stewart Muir/Athana" $366.44
July 15, 2003: "Entertainment Stewart Muir and guests" $319.21
Oct. 7, 2003: "Entertainment - Business Editor - Vancouver Sun" $774.18

I sought Muir's comments on his infamous host and whether it was simply a traditional "reporter-source" relationship. (I was hoping he might have some insight about the scandal that dominated headlines in British Columbia for more than seven years.)

"I haven't seen the material," Muir said.

I offered to email him a link, but I told him I didn't have his email address. Could I have his email address? He didn't seem interested.

"You can Google it," he said.

I have no proof whatsoever of any wrongdoing by Muir or Mentzelopoulos. Just because they met with Bornmann does not mean you or I should think less of them.

I remain interested in what Muir might have to say about those meetings with someone who eventually became known as a central player in the BC Rail scandal.

If he wants to comment, he does not have to Google my contact information.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fan zone? Secrecy zone!

On Dec. 8, 2008, when Mayor Gregor Robertson was sworn-in, he promised the following to citizens of Vancouver.

"As your city government we will lead with a bold vision. We will set clear targets, measure success, and be accountable for our actions.

"That accountability must extend to every aspect of City Hall. When the city uses your money, you have a right to know where it’s being spent, and what it’s being used for. When leaders fall short of that standard, public confidence is shaken.

"Over the next three years, we will rebuild that confidence, and ensure transparency, accountability and public debate at City Hall.

"Politicians do not always live up to that responsibility, I know. But I also know that there were literally thousands of people voting last November for the very first time.

"My commitment to them, on behalf of every member of my team, is that I will not let you down on making City Hall more open and accountable."

That's right. Mayor Robertson promised more transparency, not less. No asterisks. No ifs, ands or buts.

So why all the secrecy about anything related to the 2011 Stanley Cup riot? Is it because of the Nov. 19 civic election and the fear that the ill-fated fan zone and his handling of the riot may cost him his $144,394-a-year job?

In the absence of a truly independent and transparent review of Vancouver city hall's planning for the fan zone and response to the riot, it is incumbent on us in the media to dig for the facts and show them to you. City hall has undergone an information clampdown and is delaying disclosure until at least mid-September. It has offered no assurance whatsoever that any information will actually be provided. It is a question of both if and when the information gets to daylight.

City of Vancouver's Freedom of Information office, which falls under the office of Robertson-hired city manager Penny Ballem, is making great efforts to delay requests for all manner of information about the fan zone and June 15 riot. The city is even hiding behind the FOI process (that it claims is over-burdened), instead of routinely releasing information to journalists -- even when confronted with facts verified by third-parties! Perhaps Robertson and Ballem are truly embarrassed that I found out they hired a company to manage the Stanley Cup fan zone just two days before the series started on June 1.

Here is the Contracts Awarded status report. The most recent update was June 8. None of the fan zone contractors appear here.

From my own photographs of the fan zone before June 15 and from talking to sources close to the situation, I was able to piece together a list of some of the contractors. A list that city hall doesn't want to confirm or deny.

Here is the Brand Live Group website. The company is known for staging high quality public and corporate events. Its credits include Vancouver House for the City of Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Celebration of Light fireworks festival, Canada Day at Canada Place, various events to "animate" the in-receivership Olympic Village and the Live at Squamish music festival. Brand Live was hired to oversee the fan zone. Was it in over its head with the Stanley Cup fan zone? Was it misled by Vancouver city hall? Was Brand Live doing a favour?

Paul Runnals of Brand Live said that Fresh Air Cinema was hired by the city to subcontract the truck-mounted big screens from Impact Video.

Pit Stop Portables was hired to provide the portable toilets. Its website even links to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news story about the fan zone -- before the riot, of course.

Super Save Fence Rentals provided the barriers, which became projectiles on riot night.

On Aug. 23, I was advised that my requests for lists of payments made to the above companies would be released within 60 days of my Aug. 12 requests. The Freedom of Information Act counts business days, not calendar days. So I'm expecting such information could be released around Nov. 4. The election is Nov. 19.

Would they try to delay any or all information I seek until after the election?

Say it ain't so. Vision Vancouver's party leader promised better than that. Why would they stoop so low?

Our File No. 2011-156 - ack

Our File No. 2011-157 - ack

Our File No. 2011-158 - ack

Gmail - FOI Requests 2011-156, 157, And 158

What was Gregor Robertson doing during the Finals?

What was Penny Ballem doing during the Finals?

Blog Archive