Proving alleged fraud, kickbacks in Winnipeg police headquarters case easier in civil suit: law prof

The Winnipeg Police Service headquarters. Shane Gibson/Global News

A University of Manitoba law professor says a civil suit is much more likely to prove alleged wrongdoings surrounding the construction of the Winnipeg police headquarters.

Prof. Karen Busby said it’s much easier to prove your case in civil court rather than criminal court, thanks to three main differences.

“The first is the burden of proof in a criminal case,” she said. “You have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Whereas in a civil case, you just have to prove it on a balance of probabilities. That’s No. 1.

READ MORE: City launches massive lawsuit alleging fraud, kickbacks over Winnipeg Police Headquarters

“No. 2, in a criminal case, the accused people have the right to silence. They don’t have to co-operate. They don’t have to say anything. But in a civil case, they do. And they have to produce documents on demand.

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“And then thirdly, there could be differences in what exactly needs to be proven in terms of the elements of the alleged wrongdoing. So, you know, that the standard of a fiduciary and for a criminal charge could be different than the standard of a fiduciary for a civil allegation.”

The City of Winnipeg launched a civil suit against Caspian Construction, the company’s owner, several sub-trades and former Winnipeg CAO Phil Sheegl on Monday.

This came just a few weeks after Manitoba Justice declared it would not pursue charges over alleged fraud, forgery, money laundering and kickbacks during the Winnipeg police headquarters’ construction.

READ MORE: No charges to be laid in building of Winnipeg Police Service headquarters, Canada Post plant

The province then said a public inquiry wasn’t warranted, either, because a police investigation into the issue was “comprehensive” enough.

“To be clear, the provincial and municipal governments should be standing shoulder to shoulder to protect taxpayers on something as serious as the police headquarters scandal,” Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said.

The projected costs of moving and renovating the Winnipeg Police Services headquarters skyrocketed from an initial $135 million in 2014 to its current cost of $214 million.

Click to play video: 'City of Winnipeg looks for information with suit over police headquarters' City of Winnipeg looks for information with suit over police headquarters
City of Winnipeg looks for information with suit over police headquarters – Jan 6, 2020

The city alleges Caspian Construction, sub-trades, employees and others instituted a complicated “kickback scheme” in an effort to defraud the city.

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“It’s really hard to prove fraud when the other side doesn’t have to produce their documents,” said Busby.

“But in a civil case, you get all of the documents. So it should be much easier to prove fraud and conspiracy in a civil case than in a criminal case.”

The city lawsuit also alleges Sheegl and his company were given kickbacks to the tune of $527,000, and eight other people, all named John Doe in the lawsuit, are implicated.

Read the full statement of claim:

Those names may be made public once documentation is received, Busby said.

She also added that taxpayers may be concerned about the cost of suing but that the city likely wouldn’t pursue legal action unless it was sure it could prove its case.

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So, you know, 40 litigants in the case, they all have to produce all of the evidence that they have that might in some way be relevant to the case. That gives the city a huge advantage over what happens in the criminal case,” Busby said.

Click to play video: 'City of Winnipeg takes legal action in police headquarters scandal' City of Winnipeg takes legal action in police headquarters scandal
City of Winnipeg takes legal action in police headquarters scandal – Jan 6, 2020

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