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Victoria told to stop suing local gov't

Delta motion at UBCM convention gets support from other B.C. municipalities

Other B.C. municipalities have joined Delta's call for the provincial government to drop all claims against cities under the Healthcare Cost Recovery Act.

The act, which went into effect two years ago, allows the Ministry of Health to recover health care costs caused by the wrongful act of a third party.

An emergency resolution introduced by Mayor Lois Jackson at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Wednesday calls on the government to drop claims against local governments under the act.

"I'm really glad it passed. This really affects so many people, but who knows what's going to happen between now and when we have our next (UBCM) convention," Jackson told the Optimist.

The province this year filed legal action to recover the health care costs of a former NHL player who was seriously injured in an assault at a nightclub in North Delta. Delta police and the former owners of Cheers nightclub are named in the suit.

Garrett Burnett, a former enforcer with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, was struck in the head with a bar stool at the nightclub during a fight in December 2006. He was knocked unconscious and was in a coma for 20 days.

In its lawsuit, the government is claiming that a police exhibit, a surveillance video and hard drive, was lost or destroyed after it was seized from the scene.

The government's lawsuit also claims Delta, its employees and its police failed to control the frequent violence at the nightclub.

Jackson's motion notes Ministry of Health figures show more than 8,000 health care cost recovery cases were opened between April 1, 2009 and April 30, 2011.

Delta has been named in at least three, including the Burnett case where the health care costs are estimated at approximately $200,000.

The application of this legislation to local governments "merely transfers money from one government pocket to another," said Jackson.

After the government's lawsuit was launched against Delta in the Burnett case, police chief Jim Cessford took the unprecedented step of speaking publicly about the allegations.

"I take exception to the fact that an absolute untruth is left in the public domain bringing into question the integrity of the Delta police as an organization," Cessford wrote.

He said the "primary source evidence" in the original video surveillance footage still exists.

Burnett sued the nightclub owners and Delta police, alleging police failed to do a proper investigation. He settled with the nightclub out of court for an undisclosed amount. The judge reserved decision in the case against the police.

No criminal charges were ever laid in the assault.

sgyarmati@delta-optimist.com