Call the cops!
It’s now the rallying cry of Ontario opposition parties emboldened by a police force increasingly willing to stick its baton into political affairs.
The latest exhortation to interfere comes from the Progressive Conservatives who want the OPP to investigate inappropriate billings from nine power companies for silly items like scuba gear and parkas, but the total amount of money lost isn’t silly. The province’s auditor general recently said almost $90 million was never recovered, although the Independent Energy System Operator claims the total is closer to $30 million.
If you’re peeved about the parkas or revolted over raccoon traps, the usual course is to wait until the next scheduled opportunity to exercise your franchise and then toss the bums out. No more – now the opposition wants instant validation its pique is pure, and Ontario police appear willing to indulge by opening investigations.
It was the NDP and PCs combined who first requested gumshoes look into the Sudbury byelection mess. Police originally charged Gerry Lougheed criminally, then downgraded the charges using the never-before-tested Ontario Election Act, only to watch the case fizzle in court with a rare directed verdict.
In the data deletion trial, currently awaiting a verdict, it was the PCs who dropped a dime and called for the cops. Again there is evidence of bumbling. The crown’s case was neutered because detectives apparently didn’t understand the difference between an expert witness and an investigator.
This time PC MPP Todd Smith said calling in the cops is a “last resort” because the Liberals are not looking for ratepayers’ scuba gear money with enough gusto. The ‘had-no-other-choice’ messaging is perhaps an admission the PCs realize that dialing 911 too much can wear thin.
So far, there hasn’t been any response from police on this latest request.
Lawyers with experience in fraud cases will tell you they are labour intensive to investigate and very difficult to prove. Expect paperwork in reams and time in years.
WATCH: Ontario’s auditor general says ratepayers pay $30M more a year for power than necessary. Alan Carter has more. (Dec. 6)
In the case of the purloined parkas, there are numerous companies involved in billing inappropriate expenses and much of it has been recovered. However, proving criminal intent to defraud the system will be a tall order.
Most lawyers will admit that truth can be difficult to find in the adversarial atmosphere of the courtroom. If the opposition was more interested in answers than political points, then the request would be for an inquiry – not a criminal probe.
The complexity of the data deletion case, plus the leftover embarrassment from Sudbury, may give OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes reason to pause before again opening a politically-requested investigation, but the impact of past probes is already clear.
The PCs now routinely label the Liberals “politically corrupt,” even though senior party members triumphed in one case and await judgment in a second.
In the war of public opinion, the investigation itself means more than the verdict. Plus the more investigations there are, the more reason there is to believe in guilt – it’s the old ‘where-there-is-smoke’ theory.
We should all be suspicious of any police involvement in politics, especially as time ticks down to the June election.
Alan Carter is the host of Focus Ontario, which airs Sundays on Global at 11:30 a.m.