Lawyers want bribery case tossed

Judge ques­tions mer­its of charge against former top Wynne staffer

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - ONTARIO NEWS -

SUD­BURY, Ont. — The judge de­cid­ing a case against two On­tario Lib­er­als fac­ing bribery charges un­der the Elec­tion Act ques­tioned the mer­its of one of the charges against a former top staffer to the premier Tues­day.

Lawyers for Pat Sor­bara, who was Premier Kath­leen Wynne’s deputy chief of staff and Lib­eral cam­paign di­rec­tor, and lo­cal Lib­eral fundraiser Gerry Lougheed ar­gued in court for the case to be tossed.

Their di­rected ver­dict ap­pli­ca­tion calls on the judge to dis­miss the charges be­fore the defence has even called any wit­nesses, ar­gu­ing the Crown hasn’t proven its case. The judge is set to de­liver his de­ci­sion on Oct. 24.

Sor­bara and Lougheed, who have pleaded not guilty, are ac­cused of of­fer­ing would-be can­di­date An­drew Olivier a job or ap­point­ment to step aside for Wynne’s pre­ferred can­di­date in a 2015 by­elec­tion in Sud­bury, Ont. That pre­ferred can­di­date was Glenn Thibeault, then the NDP MP, and now the en­ergy min­is­ter.

Sor­bara also faces a sec­ond charge, al­leg­ing that she bribed Thibeault to be­come the can­di­date by ar­rang­ing for paid jobs on the by­elec­tion cam­paign for two of his con­stituency staff.

Her lawyer ar­gued the charge ap­pears to rely solely on Thibeault ask­ing Sor­bara if paid cam­paign jobs were a pos­si­bil­ity, while he was con­sid­er­ing whether to run for the Lib­er­als, and Sor­bara re­ply­ing that it was “doable.”

“We are hav­ing dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing why we’re here,” Brian Greenspan said.

Judge Howard Boren­stein said Tues­day he was hav­ing a hard time see­ing that as an of­fence.

“Why is that cap­tured in sec­tion 96 (of the Elec­tion Act)?” he said in court. “(Sec­tion) 96 is called cor­rup­tion. He’s not say­ing, ‘I want jobs for my fam­ily mem­bers, I want jobs for my friends.’ ”

“It seems to me that if some­thing like this would be con­sid­ered cor­rup­tion or bribery, it’s ex­tend­ing these terms be­yond what they seem rea­son­ably ca­pa­ble of bear­ing,” Boren­stein said later.

A fac­tual re­sponse to a po­ten­tial can­di­date is not an in­duce­ment and Sor­bara made no prom­ise to pro­vide paid po­si­tions for Thibeault’s staff un­til after he de­cided to be­come the can­di­date, Greenspan said in his writ­ten sub­mis­sions.

“To put it bluntly, the idea that Ms. Sor­bara in­duced Mr. Thibeault to leave his role as a fed­eral MP by promis­ing mod­est one-time stipends for two staffers, to­talling less than $5,000, is fan­ci­ful,” he wrote.

The charges faced by both Sor­bara and Lougheed in re­la­tion to Olivier come down to the def­i­ni­tion of a can­di­date un­der the law, Lougheed’s lawyer Michael Lacy ar­gued.

It is con­trary to the Elec­tion Act to of­fer a job “to in­duce a per­son to be­come a can­di­date, re­frain from be­com­ing a can­di­date or with­draw his or her can­di­dacy” but it was a le­gal im­pos­si­bil­ity for Olivier to be­come the Lib­eral can­di­date, since the premier had al­ready de­cided Thibeault would be ap­pointed, Lacy said.

The def­i­ni­tion of a can­di­date in the Elec­tion Act sug­gests some­one isn’t a can­di­date un­der that law un­til an elec­tion writ has been is­sued, and Lacy noted that Sor­bara and Lougheed spoke to Olivier roughly a month be­fore the by­elec­tion was called.

Lacy ar­gued the Crown is try­ing to broaden that def­i­ni­tion and if the judge rules in their favour, it would dras­ti­cally change how po­lit­i­cal par­ties op­er­ate.

“The Crown may not like the fact that in­ter­nal party pol­i­tics in­volve what some might de­scribe (as) wheel­ing and deal­ing for the bet­ter­ment of the party, but that’s not an of­fence in my sub­mis­sion,” Lacy said.

Lougheed, in a recorded con­ver­sa­tion, told Olivier he was there on be­half of the premier to ask him to con­sider step­ping aside for Thibeault and “in the course of that de­lib­er­a­tion” he should con­sider “op­tions in terms of ap­point­ments, jobs, what­ever.”

Sor­bara told Olivier they should have a broad dis­cus­sion about what he would be in­ter­ested in, be it a con­stituency of­fice job, ap­point­ments to boards or com­mis­sions or a po­si­tion on the party ex­ec­u­tive.

The Crown ar­gued that Olivier could still have be­come the can­di­date if Thibeault re­fused or changed his mind, and that Sor­bara was try­ing to iden­tify what would re­ally in­duce Thibeault to run.


Pat Sor­bara leaves court dur­ing a break in an Elec­tion Act bribery trial in Sud­bury, Ont., on Sept. 7.

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