City calls in integrity boss
Former judge to look into details of Nenshi’s Uber comments
Calgary city hall’s new integrity commissioner will investigate Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s comments last week that city officials enlisted criminals to test Uber’s background screening process.
However, Calgarians are still in the dark on the inner workings of the administration’s undercover operation against Uber drivers last fall after the San Francisco-based ride-share company launched here.
Nenshi maintained Monday he does not know the finer details about the dragnet and that he misspoke by suggesting the city sent sex offenders and violent criminals to apply to be drivers to evaluate the competency of Uber’s background check.
He previously said at least one person with an assault conviction passed through Uber’s screening, but his allegations “went further than that and that’s not fair, that’s not right,” Nenshi told reporters.
“The limit of my knowledge is the limit of what I’ve already told the public, which is that we know anecdotally that someone slipped through,” he added.
“I’m very sorry that I made it sound like there was a lot more to it than that.”
The story broke after a video emerged showing Nenshi catching a ride with a Lyft driver last Thursday during his trip to Boston, where he was scheduled to speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The driver was broadcasting the conversation through Periscope, a live-streaming app.
Over the course of the 27-minute fare, Nenshi, who was unaware he was being live-streamed, called Uber the “worst people in the world to deal with,” called Uber CEO Travis Kalanick a “dick,” and possibly revealed details of the city’s livery enforcement operation against the company in Calgary.
“We sent people to sign up to be Uber drivers to see if they could get through the background check,” Nenshi said in the video.
“How we found registered sex offenders, I don’t want to know, and people with convictions for violent crimes, I don’t want to know why we know those people.
“I just don’t want to know, nobody will even tell me and I don’t want to know, but they all made it through Uber’s theoretical background screening,” he said.
The mayor issued a statement on Saturday in which he apologized to the company, Kalanick, and for his uncivil language.
He repeated his apology at Monday’s council meeting.
A spokesman for Uber Canada called the episode “unfortunate” and that Nenshi’s comments had “spread damaging untruths” about the company’s practices. “(Nenshi’s) apology is a first step in what we hope will become a more constructive dialogue about ride-sharing in Calgary,” Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said in an email on Monday.
Nenshi maintains his words were being conflated and he was trying to highlight the need of police background checks on ride-share drivers — something he’s said before. The city knows of at least one person with an active assault charge who slipped through Uber’s background check, he said.
“We’ve said from the very beginning that there was two concerns about Uber’s background check process,” he said Monday.
“Concern No. 1 is that it didn’t necessarily check registered sex offenders, and concern No. 2 was that people with convictions might slip through that process.
“I was referring to both of those things and I did so very, very badly and I confused them,” Nenshi said.
Several councillors said the mayor’s remarks last week raise serious questions about the city enforcement tactics and demanded answers from administration.
City solicitor Glenda Cole stopped councillors from talking publicly about the administration’s undercover enforcement operation.
“That is a legal matter and that matter should be discussed incamera,” said Cole.
In a statement, the city — which refused comment on the matter until Monday — said staff used “customary and appropriate investigative techniques to assess public safety, develop an understanding of the (transportation network company) industry, and determine whether offences were being committed.”
Most councillors and the mayor spent roughly 30 minutes behind closed doors to discuss the matter with administration and the city’s legal department.
Only Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart refused to join her colleagues for the in-camera portion.
“I’ve been in those in-camera sessions and rarely do they stay on topic,” Colley-Urquhart said. “If we’re going to have the integrity commissioner look into this, the worst thing in the world is to go behind closed doors and start getting into the merits of what was said.”
Council subsequently emerged and passed Colley-Urquhart’s notice of motion directing integrity commissioner Allen Sulatycky to examine Nenshi’s comments and report back at his discretion.
Coun. Druh Farrell voted against the motion.
Farrell raised concerns over the mayor being recorded live without his consent or knowledge, asking the city’s solicitor for advice on the right to privacy.
“Whatever the laws with respect to privacy are, I think increasingly the expectation is that at any point in time any of us could be taped saying anything, anywhere, by anyone,” Cole responded.
Sulatycky’s investigation is limited to the appropriateness of the mayor’s comments. He won’t examine the city’s enforcement tactics.
We sent people to sign up to be Uber drivers … How we found registered sex offenders, I don’t want to know …. They all made it.