Toronto Star

Accuser blasts Ruby with ‘Pinocchio’ jibe

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

- 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.
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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