Sudbury byelection investigation at a standstill
OPP continues to dig for evidence eight months into bribery probe of Liberals
The eight-month Ontario Provincial Police investigation into allegations of Liberal bribery during the Sudbury byelection is stalled.
Detectives are trying to prove to prosecutors they have enough evidence to proceed with criminal charges against Pat Sorbara, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s deputy chief of staff, and Sudbury Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed.
“Because of a pile of stuff that is going on there I am obviously frustrated with the progress,” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes told the Star. While Hawkes declined to assign blame for the politically sensitive case being in limbo, he insisted it’s not the fault of his investigators.
“I am definitely satisfied that the men and women of the OPP involved in this whole process have done an exceptional job in their part of this whole investigation,” he said.
Sources say the police are having trouble getting the case to court. Sorbara and Lougheed have maintained they did nothing wrong in the leadup to the Feb. 5 Sudbury byelection won by the Liberals.
Morris Pistyner, chief federal prosecutor for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s Ontario regional office, which is handling the case, said, “You’re really getting into an area that I don’t think I can comment on.
“What you can draw from all this is they are — certainly even from an objective point of view — they’re being very, very careful with their investigation,” said Pistyner.
“When a police agency or an investigative agency wants to bring charg- es against a person or a company they will go to a justice of the peace and they will swear out an information before a justice of the peace to say they have reasonable, probable grounds that an offence has been committed,” said Pistyner.
“If the justice of the peace is satisfied that they have made out what the (Criminal) Code requires . . . then the justice of the peace will sign that document and will issue process. Process would be either a summons or warrant for arrest.”
Asked why things have ground to a halt, Det.-Supt. Dave Truax, director of the OPP’s criminal investigation, said: “I am not able to speculate as to when it will reach completion.”
Lougheed, a Liberal organizer and fundraiser whose family owns a Sudbury funeral home, said it’s been some time since he last heard from the OPP. “I’m just waiting to hear from the people that will make the decision. I just assume the process is the process,” said the Liberal appointee to the city’s police services board. Sorbara declined to comment Wednesday.
The controversy erupted after NDP MPP Joe Cimino resigned last Nov. 20, five months after winning Sudbury in the June provincial election.
Runner-up Andrew Olivier hoped to again be the Liberal candidate and become the first quadriplegic MPP in Ontario history. That hope was dashed after Wynne lured local New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault from federal politics to run provincially as a Liberal.
The premier, Lougheed and Sorbara each appealed to Olivier to move aside and rally behind Thibeault.
“The premier wants to talk. They would like to present you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever, that you and her and Pat Sorbara could talk about,” Lougheed told him in person on Dec. 11.
Olivier records conversations for note-taking purposes, although a call from Wynne wasn’t taped because he was in an elevator. He released the recordings in January.
On Dec. 12, Sorbara said, “We should have the broader discussion about what is it that you’d be most interested in doing . . . whether it’s a full-time or part-time job in a constit office, whether it is appointments, supports or commissions, whether it is also going on the exec, there are lots . . .” Those were references were to positions in an MPP’s constituency office and on the Liberal party executive.
Weeks later, Olivier went public, saying: “I will not be bullied, I will not be bought.”
But Wynne, who’s not a subject of the investigation, said she was merely paying “Andrew the respect of giving him an opportunity to know there was another candidate.”
Even before Olivier went public, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats had called the OPP and Elections Ontario to see if the conversations broke any laws.
Greg Essensa, the province’s chief electoral officer, found the Liberals in “apparent contravention” of bribery laws. At the same time, the OPP’s investigation was proceeding.
Thibeault won the byelection and is seen as a shoo-in for cabinet the next time Wynne shuffles her ministers.
Liberal Glenn Thibeault won the Feb. 5 Sudbury byelection.