Saskatoon judge questions City Council seeking court ruling on Hill's late expense filing
SASKATOON -- A Saskatoon judge tasked with ruling on whether to disqualify Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill for filing campaign expenses late is questioning why council isn’t making the decision itself.
“I’m a little confused that council would not want to regulate its own affairs,” said Justice Richard Danyliuk.
On Wednesday, the City of Saskatoon brought forward an application to Court of Queen’s Bench under the direction of council who voted unanimously to have a judge make the decision.
In April the returning elections officer presented a report to council detailing nine candidates in the Nov. 13 civic election who did not file campaign expenses within three months of the election.
The returning officer, Scott Bastian, reported Hill was the only elected candidate to file late, more than two weeks past the Feb. 16 deadline.
According to the bylaw around election and campaign expense disclosure, if an elected official violates the bylaw they are disqualified from council and must resign immediately.
Because Hill did not immediately resign, citing numerous health issues including a COVID-19 diagnosis on Feb. 1, council opted to send the matter to Court of Queen's Bench.
Danyliuk heard from the lawyers representing the City of Saskatoon and Hill.
During the submission from Michael Solowan, representing the city, Danyliuk questioned why council isn’t deciding.
“Making the tough calls, that’s part of being elected,” Danyliuk said during the hearing. “Not every decision gets to be about bike lanes and happy days, sometimes there are difficult, even gut-wrenching decisions to make as elected officials and they are directly accountable to the electorate whereas a judge is at best indirectly accountable.”
Danyliuk noted that just a few weeks ago council revoked Hill’s nomination to the board of directors for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
“Regarding this application the mayor was quoted fairly widely saying ‘well this would be politicians deciding about one of their own,’ but isn’t that exactly what occurred on the FCM decision. Isn’t that what all politicians at all levels do on a regular basis,” Danyliuk said.
Solowan said the decision around the FCM nomination was something only city council could decide.
“Nobody other than council could make that decision, they had no option, there’s no one they could have delegated that too,” Solowan said.
Ward 4 Coun. Troy Davies told CTV News those two decisions have very different impacts on Hill’s career.
“The severity of removing a councillor from a board as per the request of the president is nowhere near the severity of removing someone from City Council,” Davies said.
The city’s submission included evidence of emails and phone calls between Hill and the returning officer reminding Hill about the deadline to file expenses.
Court heard how if Danyliuk finds Hill’s actions should disqualify him, Hill would not be able to run in a civic election for 12 years.
Representing Hill, lawyer Andrea Johnson told the court his late filing was the result of many health problems including a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on Feb. 1.
Johnson told the court how Hill was hospitalized in March for his worsening health issues.
“He experienced serious symptoms including his ability to think clearly and these symptoms did not begin to resolve until at least two weeks after his diagnosis,” Johnson said.
Johnson added Hill did eventually file his expenses.
“Hill’s actions were not deliberate or misleading,” Johnson said. “He has received no benefit from this contravention of the bylaw.”
Following the hearing, Hill declined comment.
“I eagerly await, and will respect, the judge’s ruling,” he said.
After an hour discussing the issue, Danyliuk said he was reserving his decision to a later date.
No date for a decision has been scheduled.