The headline in CwoodToday reads, “OPP concludes investigation into JI events; no charges laid.” After ten years, the OPP finally shut down the investigation that actually concluded several years ago. And even then we knew the results: no one under investigation broke any laws. Not even the Municipal Act or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
Ten years during which innocent people were under suspicion, had their lives and work affected, were accused of wrongdoing, had reputations ruined, and suffered defamation. Why did it take so many years for the OPP to close this and clear their names?
The story quotes (emphasis added):
“I can confirm that the OPP investigation has concluded, finding there were no grounds for any criminal charges,” OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson told CollingwoodToday in an email late Monday.
Let me repeat myself: no one the OPP investigated was charged or will be charged for any criminal acts. The OPP read emails, interviewed people, interviewed town hall staff, interviewed employees, accessed bank accounts, and may have even had phone taps on some. And after all that, after ten years, NO ONE was charged because NO ONE was found guilty of any criminal behaviour. NO ONE broke any laws. NO ONE violated the Municipal Act or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
I have been saying this was what they already knew for several years now and I have been vindicated. So is everyone who protested that they did nothing illegal. But it took ten years for the OPP to tell us. Ten years, three municipal elections, and one provincial election before they told us the truth. Either there was incompetence or political interference in the investigation. Maybe both.
Millions of taxpayers’ dollars were wasted on this police investigation. For what? Because a small group of petty-minded people wanted to launch a vendetta against those on council and town staff who thwarted their political ambitions back in 2012. If you don’t realize this was politically motivated, then you have not been paying attention.
And, now it’s closed. Expect freedom-of-information requests to be filed to reveal the names of those behind this investigation. Yes, lawsuits may follow, too.
But the story is wrong when it says, “In 2013, the OPP first announced they would be opening a criminal investigation into the events covered by the inquiry.” In fact, the inquiry wasn’t even requested by council until February 2018, five years later as a pre-election stunt, and six years after the town refused to grant the YMCA a $35 million handout and build them a new facility— the event that spawned the vendetta. The media should know this, and know the difference between a judicial inquiry and a police investigation. Apparently not.
The inquiry (aka Saunderson’s Vindictive Judicial Inquiry, or SVJI) was itself a politically-motivated investigation into the bureaucratic process, but not a criminal inquiry. Residents were assured at the time it would only cost under $2 million, We were lied to. Everyone involved was warned it would be a lot more expensive.
By the time all the sole-sourced lawyers and consultants were paid (including our former mayor Saunderson’s and our current mayor Hamlin’s employers), it had cost Collingwood taxpayers more than $10 million. For what? A 900-page PDF file with 306 recommendations, a large portion of which relate not to Collingwood or even the mandate for the inquiry, but to provincial procedures and legislation. Most of that money went to lawyers and legal firms.
Remember when our CAO claimed the inquiry was more important to residents than clean drinking water? No one at the council table or in local media at the time, questioned whether someone making such a risible statement was competent to be the town’s top civil servant. The previous council’s abject mishandling of our water treatment plant and the pipeline contract was an utter disaster affecting not only Collingwood but communities connected to our water system. It ended up costing residents many millions more because of their bumbling ineptitude and ignorance. But the inquiry was more important than our water, right?
Instead of interviewing any of those who were under investigation, who might have something to say about how this news affected them, who did the local media turn to for a comment? Our new mayor, Yvonne Hamlin, who wasn’t even on council when the judicial inquiry was called, and who didn’t participate in the inquiry. And what did she say?
I am disappointed that no individuals are being held accountable for their unethical behaviours as evidenced through the report of the Judicial Inquiry. The concerns documented in the report, and the financial hardship and duress that have been inflicted on our community as a result of these behaviours are significant.
Twaddle! And poorly-written twaddle at that. She wants to hold innocent people accountable for… what? Making legal decisions? Obeying the law? Acting in what they believed was in the best interests of the community? This codswallop is coming from a lawyer!
Unethical? Coming from someone who as a councillor voted for sole-source contracts for her former employers of 22 years without declaring a conflict of interest, or even publicly stating her lengthy relationship with the firm she voted for, that’s massively ironic. And very hypocritical.
Coming from the mayoral candidate who broke our town’s sign bylaw during the recent campaign, yet offered no public apology for her behaviour, calling others unethical is pot vs. kettle.
Coming from someone who voted to replace Coun. Tina Comi who was bullied out of office with a lobbyist, major campaign donor, and personal friend of the mayor and others at the table, rather than the candidate who got the next number of votes, shows a remarkable lack of ethical values. Yet here she is bad-mouthing others.
These words come from someone who voted to rescind the Order of Collingwood from Ed Houghton for community service he did decades before any investigation was opened. But she didn’t say a word about that abuse of power by a morally bankrupt council kowtowing to the personal whims of its narcissistic mayor.
Oh, to have credible, competent local media who pursued a story as if it was their actual job, rather than falling back on convenient piffle and trite reactions from predictable sources. Who might actually ask tough questions rather than just reprint the propaganda from town hall.
Notice our mayor didn’t address the simple fact that even after a decade of effort, the police could find no grounds for any criminal charges. Nor did she offer a public apology to those wrongly accused. Yet in her blame-the-others Saundersonite fashion, she whinged about “the financial hardship and duress that have been inflicted on our community” when she should have been healing the wounds, not re-opening them.
That expense was the direct result of the vote by five people at the council table to pursue a judicial inquiry against the former CAO’s advice, who knew that costs would soon spiral. It was inflicted on Collingwood by then-Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson who made the motion, plus his lackeys: councillors Kathy Jeffery, Bob Madigan, Cam Ecclestone and Deb Doherty. And after them, the previous council continued to spend even more taxpayers’ money on sole-sourced lawyers (including Hamlin’s previous employers) to look for ways to punish people long after the inquiry had shut down. Those at the table who voted should be held responsible for any “financial hardship.”*
Our roads and sidewalks are crumbling. Parks and the downtown are looking scruffy. All of which could have been remedied by spending the $10 million on our own community’s infrastructure instead of paying a passel of out-of-town lawyers to pursue this vendetta. The money is long gone into lawyers’ pockets, yet our mayor still continues to perpetuate the blame game instead of trying to find reconciliation with those wronged.
Nothing positive, nothing about moving forward, nothing about closure, nothing about healing the community. Nope; she’s all, “We’ve got this albatross around our necks and no matter that it’s dead and stinking, we’re proud to wear it.”
Local resident John Megarry recently wrote a letter to CwoodToday recommending “our new councillors now in the majority, decline to consume any more of council’s time or money in this never-ending sinkhole.” I agree: the public is weary of the cult-like adherence to the inquiry. It’s time for this council to focus on the community, and stop gazing into the shallow void of the SVJI.**
Collingwood deserves better.
* Saunderson deliberately made the motion when councillors Mike Edwards and Kevin Lloyd were absent and unable to debate the motion. Coun. Tim Fryer (now our deputy mayor) inappropriately (and spinelessly) declared a conflict of interest when the motion was made and didn’t comment. That left former Mayor Cooper as the sole dissenter against Saunderson and his abjectly loyal sycophants.
** This includes the clumsy efforts at virtue signalling by changing the town’s already byzantine Code of Conduct to include vapid, Stalinist repressions like trying to prevent people from falling in love and having office romances. Surely, there are more important things to attend to managing other peoples’ biology. Our mayor is wading headfirst into this nonsense, so it will probably continue to waste our council’s time with such trivial claptrap. Typical lawyerish obsession with crafting petty rules and regulations for others to follow.
The revised Code of Conduct, according to a recent story in CwoodToday, contains “57 of the 306 recommendations” from the SVJI. That’s fewer than one in five. Which shows you how much irrelevant material we got for our $10 million. So why didn’t local media ask what happened to the other 249 recommendations taxpayers paid for? Did they just evaporate?
The new code includes hiring even more staff including “a fairness monitor to oversee the town’s purchases.” WTF is that? None of the bobbleheads at the table spoke up to protest this waste of taxpayer dollars. And if you think a piece of paper will make people behave better, you haven’t been paying attention to the last two councils, or my many blog posts here.
- The Father of Modern English - © March 19, 2023
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- More Venery - © March 12, 2023
You have brought up excellent points Ian.
But I would like to add a couple. The first shows either Ms Hamlin is a terrible lawyer or she plays political games a la Saunderson.
She is correct when she says the bar for criminal conviction is high.. beyond a reasonable doubt. Not so for civil matters. it Is just balance of probabilities.. Greater than 50 per cent. Yet the town never launched any lawsuits, a sure fire method of regain lost funds and seeing responsibility assigned
One can only assume their legal team thought the case didn’t meet the balance of probabilities. So it does appear that Hamlin should apologies. She certainly owes an explanation.
And of course there is our former mayor now Ford lap dog at QP. The recent revelations of Ford family schmoozing with developers who quickly got rich with governments reversal of the greenbelt, make Collingwoods so called scandal look like a game of tiddlywinks. You’d think our *cough* clean MPP, would be leading the anti sleaze charge. Strangely though crickets. BS maybe the sleaziest politician ever
Gosh… You really think Hamlin plays political games? Like, for example, promising residents on the campaign trail she wouldn’t allow Third Street to become a speedway like Sixth Street, then letting the widening and 1950s’ vehicle-friendly/pedestrian-hostile widening go ahead?
Thanks for all your good efforts, Ian.
I see in his latest email blast, our chinless MPP doesn’t comment on the OPP’s closure and how it absolved those under investigation. No apology from the narcissist in Queen’s Park for his persecuting innocent people. but then, why would he act honourably now? Why break a long record of unethical behaviour?
Interesting comment in the town’s media release:
“In 2013, the Town of Collingwood became aware of the launch of an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) criminal investigation being conducted through its anti-rackets branch on various concerns brought forward from the public on alleged inappropriate actions undertaken by individuals representing the Town. The concerns brought forward were substantial and included matters considered in the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry (CJI) in 2018. ”
“Representing the Town?” Does that mean that staff or elected officials in town hall were behind it? Sure sounds like it… FOIs will soon uncover that,
“The concerns brought forward were substantial …” How would anyone in town hall be aware of this when the police did not publicly state what or who they were investigating? And if the police found nothing criminal, how could they have been “substantial”?
And where is the apology to those whose lives were negatively affected by an investigation that proved them innocent?
The town’s media release then continues to beat the dead horse of the SVJI, and make such risible, self-serving statements in word salad like this: “The Town of Collingwood is poised as a high-performing customer-centric 21st Century organization…”
Utter bollocks. Collingwood deserves better.
So the Connection finally decided to do a story, ten days after the event. That’s not news, it’s history. Must have read my blog post about it last week. But kudos at least for interviewing some of the people involved in the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry, something CwoodToday didn’t bother to do.
But there’s a BIG mistake in the headline that continues to cast aspersions against some people. I can’t help think it was deliberate.It says, “With OPP case against former Collingwood council closed, mayor feels ‘it’s time to move forward’…” No, there never was a “case.” A case is when an investigation closes and evidence is brought forward to charge someone and take them to court. The prosecution has a case, not the police.
The OPP never had a “case” – it had an investigation, one that failed to provide any evidence of illegal activity after a decade of searching. (If the Connection had a competent editor, they should have caught this).
The story doesn’t even quote the OPP who announced they could find no evidence of illegal activity after ten years. It doesn’t say the people being investigated were INNOCENT, which again seems deliberate.
But they quote our mayor, who complained “I think our community hoped someone would be punished for those wrongdoings or pay in some fashion.” Here’s a lawyer suggesting someone should pay for being innocent. Very Stalinist of he and following the Saunderson tradition of blaming and attacking opponents rather than holding accountable the members of council and staff who actually cost the town $10 million to pursue this witchhunt.
Why didn’t the paper call her out and question her on this statement?
And let’s be very clear: the SVJI was about process, not criminal behaviour. How can someone be forced to pay for following a legal process even if it might be later improved? Why didn’t the Connection ask her?
But now, after I complained last week how she failed to talk about “moving forward,” Hamlin muttered the wishy-washy “I feel strongly, it’s time to move forward.” (why the Connection put the misplaced comma in there is beyond my editorial explanation; maybe they don’t have an editor after all…)
The article notes, “more than 300 recommendations for better transparency, many of which have been implemented by the town.” Again, misinformation: a large portion of those recommendations had to do with provincial policies and legislation, and have nothing to do with Collingwood, let alone transparency (maybe the writer should have read them before making that claim). And the town has implemented roughly 20% of them; rather a small minority than the vague “many.”
And why didn’t the reporter ask the mayor about why she voted to sole-source her former employers in a post-inquiry investigation to punish people, last term? (why didn’t the paper ask her about it last term when she was doing it?) Why didn’t she declare a conflict of interest instead of voting for her former employers, as would have been the ethical thing to do? Hamlin whinging about the behaviour of others is both ironic and hypocritical.
Finally, it notes “Paul Bonwick, the brother of Cooper, one of the key figures in the inquiry, was involved in both transactions and was paid about $1 million for his services.” But once again, critical information is withheld: Bonwick was NOT employed by the town nor was he paid a penny by the town or from taxpayer funds. He was employed and paid by private corporations. He was not involved in either “transaction”and he did not make presentations or speak to the utility board or council on behalf of his clients. And, as the police investigation showed, everything he did on their behalf was legal.
Hamlin also commented that “the town now has a lobbyist registry in place, a public list for anyone wishing to lobby council.” Well, that registry has been in place for several years, but it didn’t stop her from voting to put a lobbyist and campaign donor into a vacated council seat last term. And the list isn’t “for anyone wishing to lobby council.” That’s what the registry is for. It lists everyone who wishes to lobby council (there’s that missing editor again).
There’s still so much disinformation and innuendo going around in this sad chapter of Collingwood’s political life. But don’t hold your breath waiting for local media to expose the actual facts. They follow the corporate line and won’t embarrass their friends with inconvenient truths.
Collingwood deserves better.