by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Wade carefully in the Liberal swamp

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s former deputy chief of staff Patricia Sorbara tweeted five rather peculiar messages on Saturday that shed light into the cut-throat world of Liberal politics. Just before the charges were laid, she had taken a leave of absence to become party CEO and 2018 campaign director.

She had left her position under a cloud, charged for bribery under a provincial statute for an incident in Sudbury. But under our justice system, a charge doesn’t displace the presumption of innocence unless and until a court finds the accused guilty. She was acquitted a few months ago and expected to rejoin Wynne’s team.

Saturday, however, she tweeted that Wynne slammed the door on her. So much for the “Fairness Premier.” Sorbara, clearly disappointed in Wynne, tweeted that politics is “not for the faint of heart…if you work as political staff, you serve at the pleasure of the Leader…but decisions re-integrating into the the existing team proved too tough to overcome. The Leader made the decision she felt best and I am no longer part of the campaign. I am very saddened by her decision but I defend the Leader’s right to make it.”

Pretty ruthless move by Wynne. Sorbara’s name was cleared but Wynne’s political expediency trumped doing the right thing.

Wynne’s modus operandi was a continuation of former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office where the Liberal Leader expects unquestionable adulation and obedience from their staff. Creepily echoing North Korea’s dictatorship, the Leader rules supreme. Regardless.

Former McGuinty chief of staff David Livingston wasn’t so lucky before the criminal courts. He was found guilty of dishonestly deleting documents relating to the cancellation of power plants to protect the Liberals.

It was always an enigma to me as to why a highly successful businessman like Livingston would even consider working for McGuinty. Livingston had a lucrative 30-year banking career. He then spent about seven years as chief executive of Infrastructure Ontario. According the 2012 Sunshine List, he made $321,249 in his last year there. He then joined McGuinty for 9 short months until the former premier suddenly decided to cut and run.

He could have easily retired or worked elsewhere instead of joining McGuinty’s political swamp. Making small talk with him, I once asked: “why would you possibly want this job at this stage of your life?” He answered: “because I love the man. I’d do anything for him.”

Turns out Livingston wasn’t bluffing. He committed criminal deeds to cover-up the gas plant fiasco’s paper trail, which served not only McGuinty’s interests but also his successor’s Wynne.

He was found guilty of one charge of unauthorized use of computer and one charge of attempting to commit mischief to data. Of course, Wynne’s attempting at all costs to separate herself from the scandal.

And Livingston’s actions created a convenient way to allow her to shrug off the gas plant scandal and say she knew nothing about it. His crimes were of benefit to Wynne, whether she likes it or not.

The prosecutors in the case are seeking jail time for Livingston, as they should. He was acquitted of a breach of trust charge, there is no doubt that what he did offended any sense of public duty.

Livingston’s lawyer, who did everything to prevent the charges to be laid in the first place, scoffed at that suggestion saying: “We consider that to be an absurd position given Mr. Livington’s outstanding good character.”

That may well be the case, but when you play in the swamp, you take your chances. You might get bitten by an alligator.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Law applies to cops too

Our system of justice is based on the rule of law, which is in fact enshrined in our constitution through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It means that the law applies to everyone – no one is above the law. And the law must be applied the same regardless of race, gender, status or any other consideration.

The reality, however, is that the military and the police at times get the kid glove version of the law while visible minorities who happen to be male are at the other end of the spectrum.

One of the causes, perhaps not the main one, of cases being tossed from the courts because of the time it took for them to get to trial is over-charging by cops. For example, if you’re black and found shoplifting an item and damaging it all the while and you were agitated during the arrest, you might well face charges of mischief, theft, resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer out of one simple act or incident. And maybe more charges. These cases unnecessarily clog up the court docket.

But when a member of the military or the police allegedly commit a criminal transgression, the favoured instrument of trial is all too often their respective disciplinary code. Of course, this way of prosecuting miscreants keeps it “in the family.” And spares the offender from a criminal record and the stigma attached to having one. The consequence for police officers found guilty is generally a slap on the wrist in the form of a temporary rank reduction or some kind of fine.

Case in point, last week the Toronto Police Services Chief Mark Saunders was ordered by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIRPD) to hold a disciplinary hearing concerning Sgt. Eduardo Miranda. A video by a bystander showed “excessive force” being used by Miranda while arresting a man by repeatedly Tasering him six times when he was “prone face down on the ground being physically controlled by four officers,” according to the OIPRD. And stomping him repeatedly.

The hearing will be held Sept. 26 and the man who videotaped the incident, Waseem Khan, plans to attend.

Khan had a good point when he said: “I hope that there’s some sort of accountability, because I think officers, just like any other citizen, should be held accountable when they go beyond the law or do something criminal.”

Despite the video of the incident going viral, Toronto police apparently didn’t see anything wrong with one of their officers Tasering and stomping on a man repeatedly while being held on the ground. They had to be “ordered” to hold a hearing.

And logically, if the matter leads to reasonable grounds that a crime was committed, then the cop should be charged accordingly. The disciplinary hearing should follow.

As the video surfaced, Saunders should have immediately ordered a criminal investigation into the actions of his officer. He has so far shown himself to be a weak Chief, and too cozy with the police union.

The police board, supposedly his boss, should remind him that the thin blue line doesn’t override the rule of law.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Cops dodge responsibility

Most people in Ontario know that if police intervention leads to serious injury or death, the Special Investigations Unit must be notified – and notified “immediately.” It’s been the law in Ontario for almost 30 years, yet the police in our province will do anything to avoid oversight by the SIU. Absolutely anything. They will twist, turn and stretch the police statute and regulations that create obligations towards the SIU to keep the matter in-house. The cops, from Chiefs of police to Union types, make nonsense of ordinary words with clear meaning as if they were dealing with elastics. All for the self-serving practice of avoiding police accountability.

This last week’s example is just another case of cops playing this game and jeopardizing the search for the truth.

A 19-year-old Dafonte Miller, who is black, may lose an eye in an altercation with a Toronto cop, Const. Michael Theriault, last December 28, 2016. He was off duty, but identified himself as a cop. We’re not sure of what happened but the bottom line, according to his lawyer, is that the cop gave chase and Miller didn’t stop.

Ultimately, Miller was punched, and kicked in the face with a metal pipe, according to his lawyer, and suffered serious injuries. Durham cops attended to the scene and even if Miller suffered from a broken nose, broken orbital bone and the list goes on, the SIU was left in the dark. Durham police promptly charged Miller with a slew of criminal charges and predictably let Theriault walk free.

It wasn’t until April 2017 that the SIU was notified of the incident by the family’s lawyer. Why didn’t Durham Police not notify the SIU immediately upon discovering it was dealing with a Toronto police officer who had caused serious injury?

It appears Durham police took the liberty of re-writing the law that governs such cases. According to the creative minds of this GTA police service, “it is the responsibility of the police service that employs the (involved) officer to contact the SIU.” Oh really? How does that make any sense? Durham was first at the scene and couldn’t resist handing off the case. It showed favouritism toward the Toronto cop by charging the bloodied civilian. This is precisely the reason the SIU exists – to conduct independent, unbiased criminal investigations. The urge to keep control of the case outweighed their duty to follow the law.

While pretending the SIU didn’t exist, Durham apparently notified Toronto Police on December 28, 2016. Mark Pugash, Toronto police’s own version of the bombastic ex-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer wouldn’t even confirm that early last week. He said he “can’t comment on someone else’s investigation. This is the SIU’s investigation.” A not-so-clever play on words by Pugash. The media were asking him to confirm whether Toronto Police had notified the SIU. They weren’t asking for information on SIU’s investigation. Later, Toronto Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray, attempting to give credibility to the fact it had not broken the law by not calling the SIU insisted “an experienced (Toronto Police) SIU Liasion Officer” was notified of the incident but didn’t notify the SIU. Experienced exactly in what ways? Dodging oversight, perhaps.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

SIU misses the mark

Thursday we had the gift of a timely Special Investigations Unit annual report which, bonus, had some meat in it, even though some was hard to swallow.

For the last few years, the SIU’s reports came in many months late. In typical bureaucratic speak, both the SIU and its mother ministry, the Ministry of the Attorney General both pointed to the lack of legal requirement to even deliver an annual report. Where is the common sense in that? Must every good practice be legislated?

In investigating the SIU in my prior position as Ombudsman of Ontario, I found that the SIU had had its report, on at least one occasion, nixed or shelved by MAG because they were too explosive, i.e. too likely to rattle cops’ thin skin. In another SIU report, the unit attempted to duck controversy by cleverly distracting us away from the work the unit actually did.

For example, the SIU’s 2006-2007 annual report could have easily been mistaken for a glossy brochure for the Mountain Equipment Coop. Although it was ominously titled “One Law”, the message from dreary-looking, bow-tied former director James Cornish is juxtaposed by shining light through lush green woods.

On page 3, we see a bunch of happy kids white water rafting. What exactly does that have to do with investigating the police when serious injury or death occurs? Next we’re shown a picture of a woman rock-climbing with a serious look on her face.

Finally, Part 3 of the SIU annual report titled “Looking Forward” has someone in a Rocky-like pose with his victorious arms with clenched fists in the air. Hey, you’re located in Mississauga, not Philadelphia.

This particularly weird report made light of the seriousness of the SIU’s job. Investigating the police when they’ve caused serious injury or killed a civilian shouldn’t look like a fun outdoor adventure.

Ten years later, the SIU’s report is thankfully more serious and substantive. But a caveat about SIU reform in the Director’s Message shows that the SIU still has a propensity to shoot itself in the foot. SIU Director Tony Laparco appears to laud proposed reforms which would make individual case reports public when no charges are laid, but quickly points out that “significant issues are likely to arise if law enforcement agencies such as the SIU release information that has historically been implicitly confidential as per common law practice.”

Loparco talks of scary things like the impact on “criminal proceedings, other court processes, civil litigation, a coroner’s inquest or parallel investigations.” He then warns about the impact of potential witnesses who may think twice about coming forward if they think they’ll see their name in a public report.

All of this, of course, is hogwash. If no charge is laid by the SIU, it won’t affect its court proceedings as the report won’t be public. Currently SIU files are not protected from civil discoveries, nor are SIU staff immune from being subpoenaed or sued, so why be concerned about releasing a report? If the police have a parallel investigation that reaches different conclusions, it will justifiably raise red flags. Too bad. And there is no need to name witnesses. The report could easily be anonymized.

The SIU missed an opportunity to fully embrace reform. Instead, it preferred to raise bogeymen scenarios that do little but reinforce the notions it likes, the secretive status quo.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Stop Listening to Toadies

It didn’t have to be this way, Kathleen. You could have shown a bit of humility when you knew things were going south. You could have done like Dalton did when he realized not winning the next election was a no-brainer.

You could have quit months ago, paving the way for a leadership convention and maybe, just maybe, a fresh face, someone like the unctuous and vainglorious Yasir Naqvi could have won the leadership and created some distance from you and pulled off an election win and saved the great liberal party of Ontario.

But no, you even ignored the advice of former minister Greg Sorbara who’s career spanned 30 years in politics as finance minister, Ontario Liberal party president and campaign chair. He told you last month you were dead in the water. It’s not as if Sorbara had any animus towards you Kathleen. He lobbied for you to become leader and was on your transition team. You took the advice you wanted to hear, for example, from toady Deputy Premier Deb Matthews.

Another yes man, current Liberal campaign co-chair Tim Murphy said with a straight face that he talked with “lots of Liberals and not one of them wants her to go. Not a single one.” Right, drink the Kool-aid.

Look at yourself in the mirror, Kathleen. You have less than 1/3 of Donald Trump’s popular support. You’re sitting at 11%. And you think he’s a loser.

You’ve dragged your party down to 23% of decided and leaning voters. For months now you’ve been bribing the electorate with their own money in a spending frenzy. There’s been a ton of new vote-getting spending. Free drugs, discounted energy, a huge hike in minimum wage and the list goes on…The cupboard’s bare. And you keep insisting hubristically, Kathleen that all of this has nothing to do with the pending election.

Even firebrand OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas called the scope of the latest contract extension offer “unprecedented” and said he suspects it is related to the June 2018 election. “I’m kind of shocked the government actually made us any kind of an offer,” Thomas said. “It’s no secret that my union and myself, my executive board, we’re always in a battle with the government…We’re at odds with them on a lot of fronts.” Heck, just take it and run.

There’s an old legal expression that the “jury is never wrong.” In this case, I’d say the voters are never wrong. They saw through the stink of your orgy of spending. They might have taken the goodies you were throwing out, but they weren’t fooled by your cynical politics.

If an election were held today, the Liberals would be reduced to all of 9 seats. They’re even in trouble in Toronto and the GTA where popular mayor John Tory is waging war against what he sees are Liberals’ neglect of housing and transit.

I know you see yourself as some kind of rainmaker flying with the Gods and that you’ll pull a miracle and be back as Premier, Kathleen. But this time you’re going to have to be truly magical. Countless streams of puff pieces by the Star’s Liberal-in-residence columnist Martin Regg Cohn that you walk on water just won’t do it.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Giving away the kitchen sink

Free drugs if you’re under 25, free university, discounted hydro, rent control and the cherry on the sundae is a 30% increase in the minimum wage in one fell swoop. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s running government like a Giant Tiger – everything is priced to sell. It’s like Christmas in July, except were still just in May – and a little over a year from the provincial election.

But what do you do when only 11 percent of the population trusts you? Wynne’s giving away the kitchen sink, desperate to cling to power.

What’s particularly pernicious is what’s unfolding with your hydro bill. In January, the province cut the provincial portion of the GST out of your bill, saving you 8 percent, then plans to cut a further 17 percent on June 1. Wynne would have you believe it’s all magical. She waved her wand and zap, your hydro bill was cut by a quarter. That’s supposed to make you forget that you paid for massive green energy spending which we didn’t need leaving us on the hook for years, even decades, to come – and adding billions to our debt.

All Wynne did was to re-amortize our debt, shuffling it around so you get the illusion that it simply vanished.

But a cabinet document leaked to the Progressive Conservatives tells the real story. Between 2022 and 2027 we can expect 6.5% increases each year followed by a 10.5% increase in 2028. Given that we have set elections every four year, Wynne’s likely thinking she’ll win in 2018 and pack it in before the 2022 election, leaving the whole mess to be sorted out by whoever gets power after her.

Liberal Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, in an explanation that strains credulity, said he couldn’t confirm the document or verify its numbers. Poor fella explained how he’s been swamped with “thousands of documents” and “hundreds of briefings.” “I’ve been in this position for 11 months,” Thibeault pleaded.

He then pivoted à la US President Donald Trump contradicting himself to say the numbers were off as the document was just a “draft.” But he refused to give us the supposedly updated numbers.

Thibeault said he’d disclose the numbers when he updates his long-term energy plan. Expect that to land in the lazy days of summer once the Legislature has recessed and when most are at their cottage and likely around 4pm on a Friday.

If Thibeault doesn’t have the financial projections available now, as the bill is set to pass, we have a serious problem. We’re sailing blindly into the abyss. Isn’t that what first got us into this hydro mess – a lack of planning and sheer negligence?

Both New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath and PC leader Patrick Brown’s parties will rightfully vote against the hydro bill. Horwath called it a “$40-billion attempt to buy an election” while Brown said “in no world can I support a plan that’s going to cause vast new amounts of debt.”

Of great concern is that the poll finding that 89 percent of people distrust Wynne was conducted after all the goodies were announced. The same poll also found PCs still lead in popular support with 41%, the Liberals have 28% support and the NDP trail with 23%. That’s only going to spur Wynne to continue spending your money like a drunken sailor. You’ve been warned.