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Port Coquitlam fires back at Dupont in court filings

Emails and meeting to save tree in McAllister project breached confidentiality, cost city money in extra work: CAO
Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont has petitioned the court for a judicial review
Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont has petitioned the court for a judicial review and an injunction against the city’s censure and sanctions, resulting from an investigation in which an independent legal consultant found she breached confidentiality on three occasions. Dupont disagrees with those findings and a Supreme Court hearing is scheduled for tomorrow at the Vancouver Law Courts.

Legal documents the city of Port Coquitlam will use to defend its case against Coun. Laura Dupont claim the popular politician initially refused to admit forwarding two confidential emails related to a downtown development.  

The affidavit provided by Kristen Dixon, the city’s chief administrative officer, lays out her version of a timeline of events leading up to the council’s decision to censure Dupont for three breaches of confidentiality.

It states an investigation, which Dupont allegedly called a “witch hunt” and declined to participate in after discussing the matter with her lawyer, was initiated because it was unclear how members of the public had come to know specific details about a major city initiative to revitalize the city’s downtown.

That initiative, which involved a city-owned parking lot at 2251 McAllister and property owned by Quarry Rock Development Group at 2241 McAllister, had up until then been discussed only in camera.

Court documents submitted for a Supreme Court hearing via telephone scheduled for tomorrow Wednesday, July 15, reveal the city was in the midst of negotiations about the development when Dupont initiated a meeting with the city’s consultant, and a member of PoCo Heritage Trees, who was also a city horticulturalist, to discuss retaining a large healthy cedar tree on the property.

According to Dixon, the meeting resulted in new plans being drawn up for the proposal and was the reason for an April 7 in-camera meeting to get council’s direction whether to incur the costs of changing the plans to keep the tree — a change that would have altered the design, eliminated needed parking and cost the city $440,000 in lost revenue. That money, the city argues, was needed for the project, which includes a public plaza and the extension of the Donald Pathway.

Dixon said in her affidavit that Dupont said she “had not” forwarded any emails to members of the public, “and seemed offended by my question.”

“Council members then discussed what we could do about the potential breach. I advised that council could resolve to engage a third party to conduct an investigation. The Petitioner stated it would be a witch hunt and a waste of money to do so.”

The subsequent investigation found that Dupont breached confidentiality by forwarding two emails and holding a meeting about the project with a member of the public from the tree group and the city’s consultant.

Dupont, a two-term councillor known for her environmental stands, disagrees with the city’s position, arguing that council failed to pass a resolution to hold a closed meeting as required by the Community Charter so one of the emails and the meeting were not required to be confidential.

The other email, forwarded on April 5, was marked for a closed meeting and Dupont has admitted in a statement it was an “inadvertent error” to send it.

She has petitioned the court for a judicial review and an injunction against the city’s censure and sanctions, which remove her from a number of committees, the acting mayor’s position, and limit her access to in camera materials. She is also seeking damages for defamation based on the city’s press releases.

Among her concerns is that her emails were accessed without her knowledge, but Dixon said in her affidavit the emails were recovered during a search using the word “tree” as part of the investigation.

For Dupont, the development is an issue of public interest, and in her petition she argues that governments must be open and accountable. But Dixon maintains in her affidavit that the information that was shared was confidential, and the resulting impacts cost the city time and money in the preparation of alternate concept drawings for the site.

An early rendering of the McAllister Avenue project by developer Quarry Rock.
An early rendering of the McAllister Avenue project by developer Quarry Rock. - File

“These expenses were not authorized by council,” Dixon states in her affidavit.

In documents filed in court July 2, the city maintains that details related to city-owned property located at 2251 McAllister Ave. in Port Coquitlam had always been discussed in camera and the councillor should have known not to disclose information related to the emails.

“Council only considered issues relating to the sale and development of the site in camera. The Petitioner was present at those meetings and voted along with the rest of council to consider the site in camera. The assertions made by the petitioner are not borne out on the evidence.”

The Quarry Rock development is a major project for the city, in that it revitalizes an important street, provides a plaza and continues the Donald Pathway, as well as providing 63 homes and commercial space in the city’s downtown.

Tomorrow's hearing is to consider Dupont's request for an interim injunction to postpone the sanctions until after the main matter can be heard.