Vancouver Sun

2005.10.06 Final WestCoast News B7 Peter O'Neil Vancouver Sun OTTAWA Colour Photo: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun / Delta MP JohnCummins uncovered ILLUSTRATION: documents showing that CMHC knew 25 years ago that federal regulations could lead to rotting walls. WORD COUNT: 486

Leaky condo lawyer in 'conflict': MP: Representing CMHC in condo case, he also was responsible for disclosing documents in B.C. cases
OTTAWA - A federal lawyer who was scolded by a B.C. judge earlier this year for "unacceptable" and "sloppy" disclosure of documents in a leaky condo court case is the same official responsible for ensuring release of documents to the public through the Access to Information Act, Conservative MP John Cummins complained Wednesday. That official, Douglas Tyler, is in an "obvious" conflict of interest for representing Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. in the condo case while he remains coordinator of CMHC's division responsible for dealing with Access to Information requests. The conflict "completely undermines and taints the fair administration of the Access to Information Act at CMHC," Cummins wrote in a complaint to Information Commissioner John Reid. "Your review of this obviously incestuous conflict at CMHC would be, I believe, very much in order." Cummins (Delta-Richmond East) accused the federal government last week of trying to cover up its complicity in the $1.5-billion-plus leaky condo disaster, which resulted in thousands of West Coast homeowners being left with massive repair bills as a result of moisture-induced rot.

The MP uncovered internal documents earlier this year that showed CMHC officials knew as early as 1980 that federal requirements brought in to make homes air-tight, and therefore more energy efficient, could lead to rotting walls. The documents suggest that officials discussed launching a public awareness campaign, but then didn't follow through due to concerns about CMHC's potential liability, according to Cummins. These and other documents have become the new focus in a number of ongoing and pending lawsuits in B.C., including a case earlier this year in which a B.C. Supreme Court judge criticized CMHC's disclosure record. Tyler, CMHC's general counsel as well as its Access to Information Coordinator, has been responsible for disclosing documents in the B.C. court cases. He has also handled the government's formal written responses to Cummins in the House of Commons, as well as administering CMHC's release of documents requested by the MP under the access law. Cummins has already complained to Speaker Peter Milliken that his rights as an MP have been violated because the government, on Tyler's advice, is refusing to release the vast majority of information requested. Judge Sandra Ballance criticized Tyler's "muddled and even irresponsible" approach to document disclosure, and criticized CMHC for suddenly discovering important new documents when it had previously said all relevant material had been provided to the court. "CMHC's most recent discovery appears to suggest a pattern of conduct in relation to its pre-trial disclosure of documents," she said. "Whether this conduct is deliberate or just sloppy, I cannot yet say. However I will say that, either way, it is unacceptable." Alasdair Roberts, an expert on the Canadian access law who teaches at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said he doesn't see an obvious conflict. But he said it would be a "healthier" move to separate the two roles, since a general counsel to a government department or agency is primarily responsible for defending its interests. An Access to Information coordinator, however, has a greater responsibility to consider the "public interest."

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