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Port Coquitlam councillor’s censure was over ‘preservation of a tree,’ says lawyer

Court filings allege that the city accessed her email and purged correspondence related to the confidential leak
Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont

The disclosure that led to the censure of Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont last month was over the preservation of a tree, according to legal documents filed by her lawyers this week.

Dupont also alleges that her email account was accessed without her knowledge when the city was investigating whether she revealed confidential information from an in-camera meeting. None of the allegations have been proven in court and the city now has 21 days to respond to the filing. 

 “The whole hullaballoo is about disclosure concerning the preservation of a tree,” said Sebastien Anderson, Dupont’s lawyer.

They are seeking a judicial review of the censure and have put the city on notice that they intend to take legal action for defamation and libel. Anderson contends that the information was never confidential because council failed to pass a resolution to hold a closed meeting as required by the Community Charter — the statutory framework which sets out the municipality’s core areas of authority.

However, according to the court filing, most of the discussions concerning the tree occurred before the in-camera meeting was held.

According to Dupont’s version of events, the timeline starts in February when she met with a consultant to discuss tree preservation in downtown Port Coquitlam. The retention of one of the trees, which sits on an undisclosed site marked for development, forms the core of the confidential information the city says was leaked.

Dupont, a member of a group called PoCo Heritage Trees, believed the tree could be in danger. She forwarded an email from the consultant to two group members to “encourage them to reach out to their contacts on council to encourage the mayor and councillors to consider retention of the tree.”

The court documents state that Dupont no longer has access to this email and “it appears to have been removed from her email account.” 

A second email from city staff concerning the tree was also forward to the two members of tree-preservation group, according to the filing.

Dupont alleges that sometime between April 3 and April 7, the city accessed her email account without her knowledge and identified the emails she had forwarded. She was accused of leaking confidential information and told that an investigation would be launchd into her conduct, the documents state.

A summary of the investigator’s findings was forwarded to council, who voted unanimously to censure Dupont on May 26. As a result, she was removed from her various committee appointments and taken off the acting mayor rotation. 

In an interview with The Tri-City News shortly after the vote, Dupont apologized for her actions. She also called the censure “extremely heavy handed,” adding, “I think if the community knew the details of this, they would be surprised.”

Her comments prompted a statement from her five council colleagues and Mayor Brad West, who said the decision was based on independent third-party findings.

“Council has taken the matter very seriously and would not have taken such actions over a minor error,” the city said at the time in a statement. 

Dupont’s lawyers have indicated they intend to file a defamation case over the statements. 

While the city has yet to respond in court, Port Coquitlam’s chief administrative officer Kristen Dixon said they disagree with what is contained in Dupont’s latest legal filing. 

In a statement provided to The Tri-City News, she asserted that Dupont breached confidentiality and that the city will defend its actions in court.

“The statutory requirements are there for a reason and they apply to all members of council equally,” Dixon said. “Council members should not be taking it upon themselves to decide whether confidential information should be disclosed, particularly since the disclosure of confidential information can have serious consequences.”

The two sides will meet in court on July 15.