Judge dismisses conflict of interest charge against Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz

Sam Katz hosted a Christmas party for city councillors at Hu's Asian Bistro in 2010. He owned the restaurant at …Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz showed “bad political judgment,” but did not violate Manitoba’s Conflict of Interest Act, a judge ruled on Friday.

Queen’s Bench Justice Brenda Keyser dismissed a claim that Katz abused his position of power by holding a city council Christmas party at a restaurant he owned in 2010.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter Mike McIntyre, Keyser determined that he may have exhibited “bad political behaviour” but did not violate the public’s trust.

She added that throwing Katz out of office and triggering a costly election would not be the correct course of action.

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Colin Craig, the prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told Yahoo! Canada News that, regardless of the outcome in court, it was wrong for Katz to hold a taxpayer-funded party at his own restaurant.

“This is Politics 101. You can’t get elected to office and then spend money at your own business, or a relative’s business. This isn’t a $5 cup of coffee and donut that he had at his brother’s Tim Hortons franchise. This is a $3,000. It is significant,” Craig said on Friday.

“The judge can only act within the current law. If anything, this whole process has shown the law has some big loopholes that should be closed. The mayor’s own lawyer has indicated it was a bad political decision to do what he did.”

The conflict of interest allegation stemmed from a city hall Christmas party in 2010, which was held in Hu’s Asian Bistro, a restaurant Katz owned at the time.

A $3,084.35 bill was racked up by city councillors and department heads. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, invitations to the party came from the mayor’s office and the bill was paid for with public money.

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Restaurateur Joe Chen, backed by human rights lawyer David Matas, had claimed it was inappropriate to hold the party at the financial benefits of Katz’s restaurant.

Katz’s lawyer Robert Tapper, however, maintained the mayor did not breach Manitoba's Municipal Council Conflict of Interest Act. He further claimed Chen muddied the waters of the trial by publicly discussing a settlement offer and urging a reporter to say they received the information from another source.

Tweeting from court, CBC Winnipeg's Nelly Gonzalez said the judge ordered Chan to pay $10,000 toward the mayor’s legal fees.

Earlier this year, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was temporarily stripped of his position for breaching conflict of interest laws. Ford was found guilty of impropriety for debating a council request that he return donations to his private charity, which he had collected while using his clout as a city official.

Ford’s guilty verdict was later overturned at a higher court and he was permitted to stay on as mayor.

Craig pointed out that in Ford’s case, even some of his most ardent political opponents were swayed by the fact the conflict of interest allegations came from running a charity for high school football programs.

In Katz’s case, there was no such intent.

Here is some quick reaction to the ruling from Twitter: