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Supreme Court judge orders St. John's to release amounts paid to city employees, Growlers

The City of St. John's has been ordered to reveal what it paid city employees in a dispute involving the city's largest arena. (Andrew Wiseman/CBC - image credit)
The City of St. John's has been ordered to reveal what it paid city employees in a dispute involving the city's largest arena. (Andrew Wiseman/CBC - image credit)

The City of St. John's must release the total amount it paid to employees in the wake of a series of workplace harassment complaints in 2021, as well as how much it forked out to the owners of the Newfoundland Growlers to resolve disputes with the team.

Those details were in the financial statements of St. John's Sports and Entertainment, which is owned by the city and operates the Mary Brown's Centre.

Supreme Court Justice Alexander MacDonald issued the ruling in a decision released last week and distributed Monday afternoon.

"There is an important principle at stake in this application," MacDonald wrote.

"The city owns the centre. The city is a servant of the taxpayers. Financial statements describe how the city spends taxpayers' money. The taxpayers should know how the centre spends taxpayers' money."

City officials had balked at releasing those amounts in the financial statements, after an access-to-information request by SaltWire Network, publisher of The Telegram.

They argued that disclosing the information would prejudice the city's economic interests, and is subject to litigation privilege, solicitor-client privilege and/or settlement privilege.

MacDonald concluded that those arguments failed when applied to the totals as described in the financial reports.

"The financial statement shows aggregate payments that the centre already made. The centre may have paid people with whom it had legal disputes. These disputes might involve lawyers," MacDonald wrote in his decision.

"There is no principled basis to withhold disclosure of the centre's aggregate expenses as reported in its financial statement because lawyers may have been involved in paying the expense."

2021 dispute between city, Growlers ownership

The legal decision is fallout from a controversy that began years ago.

In the fall of 2021, the Newfoundland Growlers hockey team was barred from playing at the city-owned arena.

At the time, Mayor Danny Breen cited a pending investigation into allegations of "disrespectful workplace conduct" by team ownership staff.

A report later leaked to the media detailed complaints against Deacon Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Growlers, going back almost three years.

Team ownership called that report "one-sided" with facts that could be refuted.

The dispute between the city and the Growlers was ultimately resolved, with the team returning to Mary Brown's Centre later that fall.

It also sparked a series of payments to employees and the team. The total amounts have remained under wraps ever since.

The city did not immediately respond to a CBC News message seeking comment Monday afternoon.

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