Ex-McGuinty aides plead not guilty

Simcoe Reformer - - NEWS - Co lin Perkel

TORONTO — Two top po­lit­i­cal aides to for­mer On­tario pre­mier Dal­ton McGuinty pleaded not guilty Mon­day to charges over the de­struc­tion of in­ter­nal e-mails about the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s costly can­cel­la­tion of two gas plants.

Fore­shad­ow­ing what is ex­pected to be a bit­terly fought case, the lon­gawaited trial of David Liv­ingston and his deputy Laura Miller fi­nally be­gan with an at­tack on the prose­cu­tion over the in­for­ma­tion it had pro­vided the de­fence, lead­ing to a week-long de­lay in hear­ing ev­i­dence.

Liv­ingston’s lawyer, Brian Gover, stopped short of al­leg­ing Crown mis­con­duct but slammed the qual­ity and time­li­ness of the dis­closed ma­te­ri­als.

“The po­lice notes are cryp­tic, un­usu­ally sketchy, as if by in­struc­tion,” Gover told On­tario court Judge Ti­mothy Lip­son. “The de­fence has no idea what facts the wit­nesses re­ally con­veyed.”

In ask­ing for a de­lay in what was ex­pected to be a six-week trial, Gover said the prose­cu­tion had now cut its pro­posed wit­ness list in half to 12 with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

He com­plained the prose­cu­tion was re­fus­ing to pro­vide notes on re­cent in­ter­views — some last­ing sev­eral hours — with wit­nesses, who in sev­eral cases ap­peared to have pro­vided new in­for­ma­tion and doc­u­ments not shared with the de­fence.

“We should know what was dis­cussed dur­ing these in­ter­views,” Gover said. “De­fen­dants have a con­sti­tu­tional right to know the case they have to meet; they sim­ply want to know what facts the wit­nesses shared.”

Po­lice al­lege Liv­ingston, McGuinty’s chief of staff, and Miller hired her part­ner, a com­puter expert un­der con­tract to the Lib­er­als, to wipe clean about 20 hard drives in the pre­mier’s of­fice in 2013.

The drives ap­par­ently con­tained e-mails about the Lib­er­als’ de­ci­sion to can­cel the gas plants just be­fore the 2011 provincial election. The de­ci­sion set off a po­lit­i­cal firestorm given the es­ti­mated $1.1 bil­lion the can­cel­la­tion cost tax­pay­ers and led to McGuinty’s later re­sign­ing un­der a cloud.

The en­su­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Gover said, stemmed from a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated com­plaint by the op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tives.

“They were seek­ing to max­i­mize the gas-plants scan­dal,” Gover said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors charged Liv­ingston and Miller in De­cem­ber 2015 with breach of trust, mis­chief and un­law­ful use of a com­puter.

Pros­e­cu­tor Tom Lemon said he had no prob­lem with an ad­journ­ment, even as he sug­gested the de­fence was over-reach­ing with its dis­clo­sure com­plaints.

The prose­cu­tion, he said, was pre­pared to pro­vide a ta­ble to the de­fence that out­lined what each new or dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion wit­nesses had pro­vided com­pared to what they had pre­vi­ously given.

He also un­der­took a “sec­ond look” at po­lice notes to see what fur­ther in­for­ma­tion could be handed over. How­ever, he balked at pro­vid­ing notes of dis­cus­sions be­tween the prose­cu­tion and its wit­nesses, say­ing those were priv­i­leged.

The de­fence pressed for the judge to vet the prose­cu­tion notes to make sure they should be kept se­cret, and asked that rea­sons for drop­ping wit­nesses be dis­closed.

Lemon, how­ever, ex­plained some wit­nesses had sim­ply turned out to be re­dun­dant or to have no use­ful in­for­ma­tion.

“What it sounds like to me is the nor­mal as­sess­ment the Crown makes of his or her case,” Lip­son said.

Gover later called the Crown’s ex­pla­na­tion “ac­cept­able,” but said he re­served the right to raise the dropped-wit­ness is­sue in fu­ture.

Lip­son did warn the prose­cu­tion that any new in­ter­views with wit­nesses in the com­ing days or weeks should be done care­fully, with thor­ough note-tak­ing.

“Cur­sory or cryp­tic notes should be avoided,” he said.

While ev­i­dence is now slated to start Sept. 18, Lip­son did ask the par­ties to re­turn to court on Thurs­day so he could as­sure him­self the trial will get started in earnest.

“It’s a very un­for­tu­nate turn of events that we couldn’t start the ev­i­dence to­day,” Lip­son said. “I want to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion.”

Co lin Perkel/ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Laura Miller, deputy chief of staff to for­mer On­tario pre­mier Dal­ton McGuinty, ar­rives at court in Toronto on Mon­day. Miller and her su­pe­rior, David Liv­ingston, face al­le­ga­tions they il­le­gally de­stroyed doc­u­ments re­lated to a gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion to scrap two gas plants ahead of the 2011 provincial election.

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