Justice Richard Danyliuk is tasked with determining the political future of Saskatoon city Coun. Darren Hill, but the judge doesn’t want to overstep.
During a court hearing Thursday, Danyliuk said he finds it odd that he is to rule on whether Hill should be disqualified from council. He noted city councillors are elected to do many things, including “making the tough calls.”
“Not every decision gets to be about bike lanes and happy days,” Danyliuk said. “Sometimes there are difficult, I would even say, gut-wrenching decisions to make.”
Saskatoon city councillors voted to seek the judge’s ruling after the Ward 1 councillor missed the deadline to file his civic election campaign expense disclosure by just over two weeks. A city bylaw states an elected official who misses the deadline “is disqualified from council and shall resign immediately.”
During a special meeting called earlier this month, councillors voted to withdraw their backing for Hill to be considered for roles with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
Hill has not stepped down from council. Rather than disqualify him themselves, councillors sought a judge’s ruling.
“I have to admit, it struck me as a curious way to manage this issue given the parallel unanimous decision regarding the nomination to the FCM,” Danyliuk said.
Michael Solowan, a lawyer representing the City of Saskatoon, said Hill’s election win in November 2020 represented the will of people — not the will of council. He said a judge’s ruling removes any suggestion of impropriety of councillors investigating themselves.
“The city has a history of wanting to avoid perceived conflicts of interest or interference,” Solowan said.
The lawyer stated the city isn’t taking a side in the dispute, but it is seeking a judicial decision.
Danyliuk also pondered whether he could dismiss the application in order to send it back to city council for them to decide. Solowan said it’s his understanding that a dismissal would simply end the matter.
Danyliuk has reserved his decision. There is no scheduled date for the ruling to be delivered.
Hill’s explanation for the missed expense filing deadline has been that he was dealing with COVID-19 symptoms, the lingering effects of a head injury, a relationship breakdown and his son’s death.
Both Solowan and Hill’s lawyer noted disqualification from council should be a last resort, according to case law.
If Danyliuk finds Hill’s error resulted from inadvertence or an honest mistake, then he’s required to allow him to continue on city council.
“(Hill) is now receiving treatment and believes he is capable of fulfilling his duties as a councillor,” said Andrea Johnson, Hill’s lawyer.
Johnson noted Hill still faces the prospect of prosecution under the city’s rules. A bylaw states Hill could be fined up to $5,000 per day until he is in compliance.
If disqualified from office, Hill will lose his seat and be barred from running in Saskatchewan municipal elections for 12 years.
Hill attended the court hearing via teleconference, but wasn’t called upon to speak.