Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart and city manager Peter Steblin are named in a court petition by Metro Vancouver alleging that confidential information was leaked in January to a company that Metro Vancouver was about to sue.
In court papers filed last Friday (Dec. 16) at BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, Metro Vancouver is seeking an order to preserve evidence about the unauthorized disclosure to Acciona, the Spanish firm hired by Metro Vancouver in 2017 — and then fired in early 2022 — to design and construct the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant (NSWWTP) to replace the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The petition states that Metro Vancouver wants to conduct a forensic audit of Acciona’s computer systems and of Anika Calder’s electronic devices.
It is alleged that Calder, a former Acciona employee and Steblin’s daughter, took photos on her personal cell phone from her father’s laptop of a sensitive report that came before Metro Vancouver directors during a closed meeting in January.
That confidential report, which sought the termination of the Acciona contract, as well as advice on future legal action against the company, was accessed using Stewart’s unique ID and password, the court papers read.
The application states that Calder then passed on Metro Vancouver’s report to her employer, which in March sued the regional authority for wrongful termination of its contract.
In May, Acciona notified Metro’s legal team that it had Metro’s confidential report in its possession and at least four other Acciona employees had seen it.
When Acciona didn’t co-operate in a joint investigation with Metro on disclosure, the regional authority launched the petition to save the evidence and to stop all recipients from reproducing or making further copies of Metro’s confidential document.
In an affidavit signed last Thursday (Dec. 15), Jerry Dobrovolny, Metro’s commissioner and chief administrative officer, stated that Stewart — who, at the time, chaired Metro’s liquid waste committee that was overseeing the NSWWTP project — had restricted access to the confidential report on Jan. 17, 2022.
That report was to be considered, behind closed doors, the next day to “seek approval from the [Metro] board to terminate the Project Agreement and discuss potential litigation,” according to Dobrovolny’s affidavit.
The legal report noted it “is highly likely that Metro Vancouver will be headed to litigation as it relates to this project. Confidentiality continues to be of the utmost importance.”
However, “portions of the Confidential Closed Meeting Report had been provided to Acciona by the daughter of Peter Steblin, the City of Coquitlam’s city manager. Peter Steblin had obtained access to the Confidential Closed Meeting Report using Director Stewart’s Metro ID and Password.”
Dobrovolny further stated that Metro’s IT director, Brent Krezan, found that Stewart’s login details were used to obtain the confidential report four times: twice on Jan. 18 and twice on Jan. 19.
Acciona was officially fired from the project on Jan. 20.
“Under no circumstances was Mr. Steblin authorized by or on behalf of [Metro Vancouver] to disclose the Confidential Closed Meeting Report to any person whatsoever, let alone his daughter as an employee of Acciona,” Dobrovolny stated in the affidavit.
Dobrovolny also noted that, like all Metro directors, Stewart had signed an oath of office before a judge to keep documents confidential until they are released to the public.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
The Tri-City News reached out to Stewart last Friday (Dec. 16) when the court papers were filed.
On Monday (Dec. 19), Stewart said he was “unable to comment” on Metro’s allegations.
“I truly wish I could comment, and correct inaccuracies, but as this is a legal proceeding, I am prevented from doing so,” he texted later to the Tri-City News.
At the Dec. 5 city council meeting, Stewart told council he would be making good on a promise to his wife to cut back on his regional roles in his last term. (He advanced his name to be on two regional committees in 2023; however, Metro did not select him for any committee other than the Mayors committee).
Last month, Steblin also announced he would be retiring early in the new year.
According to the 2021 Statement of Financial Information, Steblin earned $356,991 in 2020 while Stewart took in $183,365 (and claimed $13,074 in expenses) for his civic duties.
Kathleen Vincent, Coquitlam’s communications manager, said there is no date set for Steblin’s retirement, and “because this involves third parties and active litigation, no city officials will be granting interviews nor commenting on this matter.
"We are cooperating with the parties involved to support the best interests of the city and the community we serve.”
A spokesperson for BC’s RCMP E-Division declined to confirm whether Mounties are investigating a complaint of criminal breach of trust against Stewart, Steblin or Calder.
A request for comment from Acciona was not returned; Metro Vancouver spokesperson Don Bradley also declined to weigh into the legal matter.
But Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, who now takes over the senior Metro board spot for the city (with Coun. Teri Towner filling in Hodge’s former seat), told the Tri-City News on Monday that council is aware of the court case; however, “it doesn’t directly affect the operations of the city because Metro operates independently.”
This spring, Stewart told Hodge that he would be stepping down from his regional duties if he ran for mayor again, “and that was a personal decision that he made…. He asked me if I would be interested to step up and assume a greater role. I said yes.”
Hodge declined to comment on the accusations against Steblin, saying, “We are very fortunate that we have assembled a good team under Peter Steblin. Our general managers are really doing a great job. It’s business as usual to get the city’s work done.”
The next council meeting in Coquitlam is on Jan. 17, 2023.
Acciona is currently building the Pattullo Bridge and the Broadway subway extension of the Millennium Line.
At 3 p.m. today (Dec. 19), Acciona responded to the Tri-City News' story by providing a statement through its media spokesperson:
"When ACCIONA became aware that confidential information of Metro Vancouver had been circulated by an employee, the company immediately launched an in-depth internal investigation and took the appropriate corrective steps, including the dismissal of that ACCIONA employee.
"Once the internal investigation was fully completed and verified, it was ACCIONA who brought the incident to Metro Vancouver’s attention, advising it to launch an investigation of its own. Seven months later, Metro Vancouver has not shared information about how municipal policies govern management of confidential information, whether those policies were followed, and what kind of corrective steps have been taken to address disclosure by civil servants.
"The confidential information had no bearing on ACCIONA’s planned course of legal action and no links with ACCIONA’s claim, which is based on Metro Vancouver’s failures in administration of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project.
"ACCIONA operates under strict code of conduct and compliance rules that are enforced rigorously in all the countries in which the company operates, as demonstrated by the prompt internal action to resolve the matter and notify the third party impacted by this incident."