Metro Vancouver claims confidential report leaked to fired $1B wastewater plant contractor

Click to play video: 'Coquitlam mayor, city manager embroiled in multi-million dollar lawsuit'
Coquitlam mayor, city manager embroiled in multi-million dollar lawsuit
WATCH: The Metro Vancouver board alleges the Coquitlam mayor and city manager were somehow involved in a leak of a highly confidential report. As Emad Agahi reports, it has to do with the firing of a Spanish construction company building a wastewater treatment plant on the North Shore – Dec 20, 2022

The legal saga over North Vancouver’s late and overbudget wastewater treatment plant has taken another twist, this time with allegations of leaked confidential information involving big names in Coquitlam civic politics.

Metro Vancouver officially cancelled its contract with international construction giant Acciona for the wastewater treatment plant on Jan. 20, 2022. The district claimed the company had failed to meet key milestones and that the cost of the project had swelled from $500 million to $1 billion.

In March, Acciona filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the district alleging breach of contract.

In a legal action filed last week in B.C. Supreme Court, Metro Vancouver is now alleging a confidential report — which included legal advice about the decision to cancel the contract and future litigation — was leaked to the company.

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Click to play video: 'Acciona sues over North Shore sewage plant dispute'
Acciona sues over North Shore sewage plant dispute

In a release to Global News, Acciona says the company “was aware that confidential information of Metro Vancouver had been circulated by an employee, the company immediately launched an in-depth internal investigation and took the appropriate corrective steps, including the dismissal of that Acciona employee.”

Acciona claims after their own internal investigation, the company brought that information to Metro Vancouver and advised the regional district to conduct its own investigation.

But the company says after seven months Metro Vancouver had not shared information about how municipal policies govern management of confidential information.

However, Acciona maintains the confidential information was not tied to their legal claim.

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“The confidential information had no bearing on ACCIONA’s planned course of legal action and no links with ACCIONA’s claim, which is based on Metro Vancouver’s failures in administration of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project,” the release reads.

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The notice of application seeks an order forcing Acciona to identify everyone who received the confidential information, banning those persons from possessing, copying or sharing the information, and appointing a forensics expert to audit Acciona’s computers regarding the data.

The filing alleges the Jan. 17 report, which was stored on an ID- and password-protected secure network, was accessed with Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart’s login credentials, by Coquitlam city manager Peter Steblin on behalf of Steblin’s daughter Anika Calder — who was at the time working for Acciona or an affiliate.

It claims Calder used her personal cellphone to take photographs of the report, then gave them to Acciona and at least four other people within the company and its affiliates.

“The Confidential Closed Meeting Report explained and summarized the facts and legal advice regarding Acciona’s breaches of the Project Agreement and sought approval from
the GVS&DD (Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District) Board to issue a notice of termination of the Project Agreement, and begin the litigation process,” states an affidavit by Metro Vancouver chief administrative officer Jerry Dobrovolny included in the filing.

“The Photographs depict portions of the Confidential Closed Meeting Report which, as noted above, was and remains privileged and confidential. Under no circumstances was Mr. Steblin authorized by or on behalf of the GVS&DD to disclose the Confidential Closed Meeting Report to any person whatsoever, let alone his daughter as an employee of Acciona.”

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The affidavit further alleges that Stewart’s credentials were used to access the report four times, all of them in the two days before Metro Vancouver officially terminated its contract with the construction company.

And it claims that Acciona was in possession of the confidential information, but did not disclose that fact when it filed its lawsuit in March.

The company told Metro Vancouver that it had the information — directly naming Calder as the source — on May 16, the notice of application alleges.

The filing alleges that Metro Vancouver and the company corresponded back and forth between May and September about the breach, including the prospect of Acciona giving the district notes from its interview with Calder.

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But it claims the company pulled out of any joint efforts in September, after it had interviewed her.

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“To date Acciona has not provided the GVS&DD with details of any internal investigation it undertook, if any, to determine the extent of the breach or the scope of other Confidential Information taken by Ms. Calder, nor has it provided the GVS&DD with any steps it took to ensure that the Confidential Closed Meeting Report was destroyed and protected from further disclosure, or allowed any independent verification.”

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Calder declined to comment.

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The City of Coquitlam confirmed that Steblin remained the CAO, but said, “Because this matter involves third parties and active litigation, neither the City nor its elected officials will be commenting.”

Metro Vancouver similarly declined to comment while the matter was before the courts.

The B.C. RCMP would not confirm or deny whether there was an active criminal investigation open on the file.

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