Questions arise after controversial land swap deal mentions Chinese government

Documents released by the City of Vancouver through a Freedom of Information request are raising questions about a controversial land swap deal that made mention of foreign investors.

In 2013, the city traded its property at 508 Helmcken for a parcel of land at 1099 Richards, owned by Brenhill. The Community Association of New Yaletown fought the deal in court, and won, on the grounds that the city’s process lacked transparency and didn’t meet the requirements for public consultation.

Following its loss in court, the City asked Ernst and Young to review the land swap deal.

In a 2015 a letter of engagement, Ernst and Young’s Senior VP Kevin Brennan wrote that the company’s report would be disclosed to the City and its legal advisers, and could be provided to the China Investment Corporation (CIC) – the agency responsible for managing the foreign assets of the Chinese government.

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The CIC was never a partner in the land swap deal, and Vancouver’s Director of Legal Services Francie Connell says its inclusion in the letter was a mistake.

“We received the draft. I sent it forward to my staff to review, and then we reviewed that and we made some changes and suggestions, but in doing that we missed that reference,” said Connell. “It was entirely inadvertent. I knew nothing of that corporation, we knew nothing of that corporation. It was a simple drafting error which we very much regret, but it was an error.”

Connell says no information was ever shared with the CIC.

Brennan says he was working on two letters of engagement at the same time when the incident occurred.

“It was just an erroneous error,” said Brennan. “I was working on more than one engagement letter at the same time, I believe, and simply entered that sentence into the final draft of the letter that went over to that developer erroneously.”

The mistake follows another revealed last week that the city let Onni off the hook for 1.5 million dollars. The developer didn’t qualify for a waiver on constructions fees, but got one anyways for its Charleson development at Pacific and Richards.  After Global News confronted the City and Onni over the error, the developer returned the money to the City.

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READ MORE: City of Vancouver says it mistakenly gave $1.5M break to real estate developer

“There is something broken at City Hall and we need to fix it,” says NPA councillor George Affleck, following the errors.

“I find it very curious. You would think that this document would have been vetted by several lawyers and senior staff…you would think that this stuff would be caught.”

In the Brenhill case, the Court of Appeal eventually allowed the land swap deal to proceed. Brenhill built 13 stories of social housing and rental units in exchange for the land to build a 35-story tower.

The developer says it has no ties to the CIC and that it only wishes to continue building.

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