This view of the Red Hill Valley Parkway was taken in 2018 before repaving was begun. Many questions remain regarding the actions of Hamilton’s staff and if someone hid a report that indicated the road surface was substandard.

The Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) Judicial Inquiry has now completed the witness phase of its proceedings. Over 15,400 pages of testimony was logged from dozens of witnesses. The second phase is promised to be much shorter as it will provide summaries and opinions from the small number of Inquiry participants.

The Inquiry was requested by Hamilton’s politicians in the spring of 2019 after it was discovered that a technical report authored by Tradewind Scientific, reporting an inferior level of skid resistance on the RHVP, had become lost, or was deliberately buried. Some delays to the proceedings of the Inquiry were attributed to the Covid pandemic. The credit for uncovering the missing Tradewind report has to go to a number of professional journalists, but mostly to the Hamilton Spectator Newspaper. And there have been several other scandals.

Past Scandals

In early 2013 the City of Hamilton was rocked by news that 29 employees of its Public Works department were fired following an investigation of their illegal practices. There were allegations that these activities reached as far up in the department as supervisors and superintendents. The City’s Manager at the time, Chris Murray, said police would be contacted but no further information became available about further developments. A Hamilton Spectator Newspaper article written in January of 2013 indicated:

The city is investigating allegations that not only the front-line public works employees, but also supervisors and superintendents, were involved in the dishonesty, including the selling of city asphalt. City manager Chris Murray, who attended Bratina’s speech, said the situation is already starting to trigger questions of whether similar offences are occurring in other departments. He said it’s logical to think that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The fact that something like this happens creates concern right across the organization.”

Thus this scandal would have been an opportunity for the City of Hamilton to conduct further investigations about the operations of its Public Works Department, possibly directing how the actions of all employees should follow proper procedures. It is not clear what further actions were taken.

In another scandal in 2019 the Hamilton Spectator Newspaper wrote about the City of Hamilton’s failure to inspect sign structures along the RHVP. They reported that the City had no inspection reports between the years 2012 to 2017. In a Spectator article published on August 16, 2019 the following was stated:

“While the city has said it does not believe the public was at risk due to the delayed sign structure repairs, one civil engineering professor reached by The Spectator called the listed deficiencies concerning.

“By exceeding the recommended time to repair, Hamilton increased the risk of serious harm to the public and to motorists,” said Ahmed Shalaby, municipal infrastructure chair at the University of Manitoba, who reviewed the 2012 and 2017 inspection summaries.

“Any of these (problems), left unrepaired, could eventually lead to failure of a sign structure or components.”

It’s rare for a big metal sign structure to fall down – but it has happened.”

As an example of what could happen, on April 27, 2021 a large overhead sign fell onto the surface of the QEW at Nocola Testa Boulevard. The sign came down on an SUV, killing its driver. The sign was knocked over by excavations at a construction site. It indicates the dangers that exist if an overhead sign were to fall onto a highway and how important it is to conduct inspections of sign anchorages. Again little information is available about what was done to examine the actions of Hamilton’s Public Works department.

In another scandal, billions of litres of sewage was found to have leaked over a period of four-and–half years into Hamilton’s Chedoke Creek and this leak was not disclosed for over a year. The Spectator reported:

The Spectator revealed city council knew about the full duration and volume of the spill from an overflow holding tank into the creek, which flows into Cootes Paradise, since January 2019 but decided to keep the information secret.

After citizens complained about a stench in July 2018, the city told the public a spill had occurred and put up signs, but the full details were kept under wraps until The Spectator reported on leaked confidential reports.

Councillors have said they opted for secrecy to protect the taxpayers from potential regulatory fines and litigation amid an ongoing provincial investigation into the spill, which has been attributed in part to a gate on a holding tank that was left partially open for four-and-a-half years.

Staff and outside legal counsel advised council against publicizing the estimated 24-billion-litre volume and more-than-four-year span, as well as releasing consulting reports.

The rationale was that doing so could expose the city to financial risk amid a Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks investigation with potential fines of as high as $6 million.

There is a fine line between the claim of protecting a municipality from litigation and hiding those politicians and City staff from accountability to the public they ought to serve.

The Spectator also reported that one of the City’s councillors, Lloyd Ferguson, wanted an investigation into who leaked the documents that led to the revelation of the spill. The Spectator noted:

“City officials previously refused to confirm that councillors directed senior staff to track down the source of the leaked documents. People have speculated whether the leaker was a member of council or city staffer with access to the confidential reports. Regardless, the fact that the information was hidden by council sparked a gigantic public outcry over the lack of transparency.”

The City’s mayor, Fred Eisenberger, also supported the decision to keep documents and the spill secret. As reported by the Spectator:

“Eisenberger says he stands by the decision to keep detailed information about the spill confidential until the environment ministry’s investigation is complete based on expert legal advice and the obligation to protect taxpayers from potential penalties and lawsuits.”

Not surprisingly Hamilton’s risk management office and external legal counsel have been involved in advising the City’s staff and politicians to maintain secrecy. This was also made clear in the testimony provided by witnesses at the RHVP Inquiry.

RHVP Inquiry – Going Forward

Very few of those outside of the RHVP Inquiry participants would have the opportunity to examine all the evidence in detail. Not only are there over 15400 pages of testimony, there are also numerous exhibits, including a number of long reports that would need to be reviewed. For example, of the 218 exhibits, the first 10 are identified below along with their length in pages.

  1. Overview Report – 66 pages
  2. Hamilton Governance & Structure – 50 pages
  3. RHVP Construction – 82 pages
  4. RHVP Design & Geometry – 17 pages
  5. Ontario MOT Friction Testing – 200 pages
  6. RHVP Safety Studies 2008-2012 – 48 pages
  7. Cima Report 2013 – 153 pages
  8. Cima Report 2015 – 204 pages
  9. Pavement Evaluations 2017-2018 – 103 pages
  10. Events Leading to Discovery of Tradewind Report – 370 pages

These first 10 exhibits contain 1293 pages. It is impractical to expect anyone to examine the rest of the 208 exhibits if they contain a similar amount of detail. At some point there needs to be a reliable and unbiased entity that can condense all of these details into a more manageable summary.

One has to be aware that those who wish to hide information from the public can use unexpected methods to accomplish their task. The most direct way is to simply refuse to release the specific information. However a more indirect way is to flood the atmosphere with an enormous amount of detail, effectively hiding the relevant information within this very large forest of irrelevance. Because the review of such massive stores of information is daunting most entities would give up before finding the relevant information that is needed. This method of hiding information becomes more effective in the modern age when very large amounts of data is stored and capable of being released. It is hoped that this is not the process being engaged in the RHVP Inquiry, however it remains to be seen how and if the very large amounts of detail will be condensed to make it practically available to the general public.