12/13/2013 12:42 EST | Updated 02/11/2014 05:59 EST

Tim Stevenson's Sochi Trip Funding May Be Conflict Of Interest

The City of Vancouver is taking on homophobia  — and the International Olympic Committee — by voting to send an openly gay deputy mayor to the winter games in Sochi.

However, concern over who would pay for Vancouver City Councillor Tim Stevenson's trip to Russia next February may be detracting from the human rights message.

If council passes the motion next week, Stevenson will replace Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson as the city's ambassador. The motion includes a mandate for Stevenson to lobby the IOC to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in the Olympic charter and ensure host cities have a pride house.

"As a former Olympic host city, it's important to speak up for gay rights, particular[ly] when Russia is trampling those rights with recent legislation," said Stevenson.

Under Russia's anti-gay legislation, support and so-called propaganda of non-traditional relationships is illegal.

"It's important for the athletes to have a safe house, a safe place to go when they are part of the Olympics," Stevenson said.

Public donations from major developers are covering the cost of the trip. Taxpayers are not.

"The key thing [is] if people are willing to put money forward for initiatives, that's fantastic," said Robertson. "If it takes the burden away from taxpayers then that's good for all of us."

But $50,000 of that money has come from condo marketer Bob Rennie and one of his clients, developer Wall Financial. Both are major players in the world of Vancouver real estate.

There is a perception that the donations could influence future development decisions at city hall.

"If Rennie and Wall want someone to represent the case for LGBT rights, perhaps they should find someone who is not in a conflict of interest," said Maxwell Cameron, director of the University of British Columbia's Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

It's for that reason that NPA Councillor George Affleck said taxpayers should pay for Stevenson's human rights mission.
"I think this is an issue that the city of Vancouver and the people of Vancouver would absolutely support and fund," he said.

Affleck plans to introduce an amendment to the motion to send Stevenson to Sochi when council meets next week.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation director for British Columbia Jordan Bateman said it's a good cause, but a bad plan.

"When you pay your property taxes in the city of Vancouver, you are not expected to send councillors all around the world on issues like this. You're talking about things like sewer, water, garbage pick-up: the nuts and bolts that are important to Vancouver," he said.

Next week's motion will look at finding money in the existing budget to fund Stevenson's trip to Sochi. He feels if this is an important issue for the people of Vancouver, it should be discussed and funded through council.

Investor and hotelier Peter Wall, who is no longer tied to his namesake company Wall Financial, has contributed $25,000.

Wall told the CBC he wrote a cheque for Stevenson and gave it to Rennie because the Russian regime imprisoned his father when the Wall family lived in Ukraine.

"People have the right to live [the] way they want as long as they don't harm anyone," Wall said.

However, Wall said from experience, donations to the city don't mean any influence or breaks for developers on influencing policy decisions.

Wall said he has given millions of dollars to the Orpheum (for extra density for Capital Residences) and millions more for the York Theatre in East Vancouver, but he still wasn't permitted by the city to install dark windows at one of his developments, One Wall Centre, when he first built it. 

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