Jus­tice slip­ping slowly as probe drags on

Toronto Star - - CANADA - Martin Regg Cohn

The OPP’s Anti-Rack­ets Branch is a for­mi­da­ble force.

Its name con­jures im­ages of Eliot Ness and the Un­touch­ables — the fear­less cops who brought Al Capone to jus­tice when gang­sters in­fil­trated the high­est reaches of po­lice and gov­ern­ment in Chicago.

More re­cently, the pro­vin­cial po­lice force has seemed like On­tario’s own over­seer, charged with keep­ing our politi­cians hon­est. But what if that over­sight role gets turned up­side down, with the po­lice be­com­ing a per­ma­nent part of the po­lit­i­cal process, not merely polic­ing it?

More than eight months af­ter open­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into op­po­si­tion al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion in a Sud­bury by­elec­tion, the cops are still on the case — if there is one. No doubt some cases take a long time — the com­plex­ity of crim­i­nal­ity, the ex­i­gen­cies of ev­i­dence-gath­er­ing, the la­cuna of the law.

This isn’t one of them. We’re not talk­ing about CSI-style foren­sics here.

The key ev­i­dence was posted on Face­book just weeks af­ter the al­leged of­fences took place last De­cem­ber: un­ex­pur­gated au­dio of prom­i­nent Lib­er­als clum­sily try­ing to per­suade a failed can­di­date (An­drew Olivier) to make way for a star can­di­date (Glenn Thibeault).

Eliot Ness never had it so easy in pre-dig­i­tal Chicago: The OPP down­loaded the tapes from Face­book, then went back to the source — Olivier him­self — to hear his orig­i­nals.

Thibeault, you may vaguely re­call, was not the sub­ject of any al­le­ga­tions or in­ves­ti­ga­tions. But other prom­i­nent Lib­er­als were ac­cused of try­ing to im­prop­erly in­flu­ence Olivier to not seek elected of­fice.

The big fish was Pat Sor­bara, Premier Kath­leen Wynne’s deputy chief of staff and chief po­lit­i­cal fixer, who was caught on tape sug­gest­ing a con­so­la­tion prize if he qui­etly made way for Thibeault. Bribery or im­pro­pri­ety?

Among her sug­ges­tions was volunteering for an un­paid po­si­tion on the party ex­ec­u­tive, or work­ing as a part-time con­stituency as­sis­tant (a job that pays roughly $38,000 a year, which doesn’t buy much in­flu­ence with a man of af­flu­ence like Olivier).

De­spite wild claims of crim­i­nal­ity, Sud­bury vot­ers long ago ren­dered their ver­dict, ig­nor­ing the op­po­si­tion al­le­ga­tions by choos­ing Thibeault as their MPP last Fe­bru­ary. Per­haps they con­cluded that this was stan­dard po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship played by all sides, and that there were more im­por­tant is­sues for the peo­ple — and po­lice — to fo­cus on.

Af­ter tran­scrib­ing the tape last win­ter and in­ter­view­ing ev­ery­one in­volved, the OPP promised a de­ci­sion on whether to lay charges by spring, then it set a sum­mer­time tar­get. With the chang­ing of the sea­sons, their timeline keeps chang­ing.

There’s noth­ing wrong with tak­ing your time to get it right, but it’s worth ask­ing how long the po­lice will let a cloud of crim­i­nal­ity linger. Is the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in limbo? Have the po­lice been go­ing back and forth with pros­e­cu­tors who won­der if there are rea­son­able prospects of con­vic­tion? Have the OPP been un­able to per­suade a jus­tice of the peace to ap­prove charges?

At a cer­tain point, some­one should say some­thing: Ei­ther lay charges, or say no charges. But the OPP’s sense of tim­ing has al­ways been odd. We have seen this law-and-dis­or­der movie be­fore.

In the fi­nal days of the last year’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion, the Anti-Rack­ets Branch rat­tled the cam­paign by leak­ing new de­tails to the media about an on­go­ing probe into the fi­nal days of Dal­ton McGuinty’s premier­ship in 2013. The sud­den com­mo­tion, so close to the June 12 vote, could have turned the elec­tion if the news cy­cle had gone another way, and crit­ics had a field day try­ing to cast the Lib­er­als as ir­re­deemably cor­rupt even with Wynne as his suc­ces­sor.

Vot­ers came to a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion, but you can’t blame ri­val par­ties for try­ing. For an op­po­si­tion politi­cian, the fastest path to the front page is to call in the po­lice, know­ing they have a tin ear on tim­ing and a le­gal­is­tic ap­proach to pol­i­tics.

It’s tempt­ing to el­e­vate back­room im­pro­pri­ety to court­room crim­i­nal­ity be­cause the two are easily con­flated. But one sus­pects that pros­e­cu­tors and judges charged with clean­ing up our streets might have big­ger pri­or­i­ties than try­ing to san­i­tize all po­lit­i­cal path­ways.

Time’s up. Catch them if you can, or clear the air and move on.

Ei­ther way, it’s time to ratchet up the pace at the Anti-Rack­ets Branch. Just as jus­tice de­layed is jus­tice de­nied, de­lay­ing de­ci­sions can be just plain un­just. Martin Regg Cohn’s On­tario pol­i­tics col­umn ap­pears Tues­day, Thurs­day and Sun­day. mcohn@thes­tar.ca, Twit­ter: @reg­gcohn

Record­ings by An­drew Olivier, seen here with Kath­leen Wynne, re­veal Lib­er­als try­ing to per­suade him not to run in a by­elec­tion.

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