Ac­cuser blasts Ruby with ‘Pinoc­chio’ jibe

Ad­vo­cate for care­givers says MP’s rec­ol­lec­tions are the op­po­site of hers

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SAN DELA­COURT IN OTTAWA DALE BRAZAO IN TORONTO

OTTAWA— An ad­vo­cate for care­givers in­voked the story of Pinoc­chio as she re­but­ted Ruby Dhalla’s ac­count of the treat­ment of two nan­nies in the Lib­eral MP’s home. Agatha Ma­son, who tele­phoned Dhalla’s Ottawa of­fice at the height of a dis­pute with one of her care­givers a year ago, knocked a cou­ple of holes in the Lib­eral MP’s ver­sion of events yes­ter­day when she ap­peared at the Com­mons im­mi­gra­tion com­mit­tee.

“She has a con­science,” Ma­son told the com­mit­tee when asked about how her ac­count con­flicted with that of the Lib­eral MP, im­ply­ing the MP should feel guilty about her ver­sion of events.

She said it was “one of the oc­ca­sions when I wish the chil­dren’s story of Pinoc­chio is true” and then ges­tured to­ward her nose — a ref­er­ence to the tale of the pup­pet whose nose grew ev­ery time he told a lie.

Ma­son is from the care­givers’ ad-

vo­cacy group known as In­ter­cede and told re­porters yes­ter­day the tales she’d heard of life in the Dhalla home were “hair-rais­ing” — in­clud­ing Richelyne Tong­son’s re­port of hav­ing to sit on the floor while in the same room as the Dhalla fam­ily. Ma­son pre­sented ev­i­dence that Ruby Dhalla was the main point per­son in deal­ings with the care­givers — not the chi­ro­prac­tor brother, Neil Dhalla, as the Lib­eral MP tes­ti­fied to the com­mit­tee on Tues­day. In fact, Ma­son said her at­tempts to deal with Neil Dhalla as the pri­mary em­ployer were redi­rected to Dhalla’s Par­lia­ment Hill of­fice — and that it was only af­ter she had an “un­pleas­ant” con­ver­sa­tion with Ruby Dhalla that mat­ters were set­tled re­gard­ing Tong­son’s pass­port and doc­u­ments. On Tues­day, when ques­tioned about In­ter­cede’s in­ter­ven­tion in the care­givers’ dis­pute, Dhalla ac­knowl­edged to the Com­mons com­mit­tee that she had a dis­cus­sion with the group, but “redi­rected it” to her brother, Neil. “From my rec­ol­lec­tion, I just had that one phone call where the phone call was redi­rected to my brother, who was the em­ployer,” she tes­ti­fied on Tues­day. But Ma­son said this ver­sion was up­side-down. Ini­tially, Ma­son said, she placed a call to Neil Dhalla, think­ing he was the “man of the house” and that Ruby, in Ottawa, must be his wife. She was told, how­ever, that she’d have to call Ottawa to set­tle the mat­ter of Tong­son’s pass­port and doc­u­ments, which the Dhal­las were with­hold­ing. It was the “tone of the con­ver­sa­tion” that made the call un­pleas­ant, Ma­son said — a “do-you-knowwhosor­t of thing.” Ma­son said she hadn’t known that the per­son at the other end of the phone was an MP — she learned that only in re­cent weeks, when the story first ap­peared in the Star.

The doc­u­ments were re­turned to Tong­son the day af­ter Ma­son’s con­ver­sa­tion with Ruby Dhalla.

Ma­son also said that what she heard from Tong­son, one of the ag­grieved care­givers, amounted to an “abu­sive” sit­u­a­tion at the Dhalla home in the spring of 2008.

A dis­traught Tong­son re­port­edly told Ma­son of how she’d been forced to sit on the floor — not lounge on the couch watch­ing TV in “state-of-the-art” lux­ury, as Dhalla de­scribed con­di­tions on Tues­day.

“Imag­ine you’re work­ing in a house­hold, you’re cook­ing, you’re clean­ing, you’re serv­ing some­one. She said she couldn’t sit at the same level. She had to sit on the floor, at their feet,” Ma­son said. “When they were looking at TV or some­thing, she men­tioned to me, as I re­call, that she had to sit on the floor.”

Dhalla’s lawyer, Howard Le­vitt, de­nounced Ma­son’s ap­pear­ance be­fore the com­mit­tee, say­ing she could have made bet­ter use of the time mak­ing sug­ges­tions on how to im­prove the care­giver pro­gram.

“In­stead she chose to at­tack Ruby Dhalla,” Le­vitt said at a hastily called news con­fer­ence held at his Bay St. law of­fice. “Maybe she thinks in some un­for­tu­nate way that gives her is­sue higher pro­file.”

Le­vitt said Ma­son’s tes­ti­mony that she called Neil Dhalla be­fore Ruby Dhalla was proof that Neil Dhalla was the em­ployer.

“I called him first be­cause I was try­ing to avoid a long-dis­tance phone call,” Ma­son said, adding that Neil de­nied any knowl­edge of Tong­son’s pass­port and sug­gested she call his sis­ter in Ottawa.

Ma­son said she re­sented Le­vitt try­ing to im­ply that some­how she is part of some nanny con­spir­acy. “I had no mo­tive ex­cept to help a woman in dis­tress.”

Le­vitt also in­tro­duced lawyer Shawn Philbert, who he said rep­re­sents a home­owner claim­ing he was left in a lurch when Ma­gada­lene Gordo, an­other nanny who al­leges she was mis­treated in the Dhalla house­hold,walked out af­ter only three weeks. When the home­owner com­plained to Gordo’s agency, Philbert said, Gordo al­leged she had been over­worked.

In an ear­lier in­ter­view with the Star, Gordo said she left her first job with a fam­ily cit­ing over­work and the fact that she had not been paid for the statu­tory hol­i­days of Christ­mas Day, Box­ing Day and New Year’s as stip­u­lated in her con­tract.

JIM ROSS/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Agatha Ma­son, seen talk­ing to me­dia last week, says she had an “un­pleas­ant” con­ver­sa­tion with Ruby Dhalla.

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