Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Proof goes Poof!

When Robin Chatterjee was pulled over for having a missing licence plate, police claimed they smelled marijuana in his car.

They searched the car and found $29,000 in cash and a few items commonly used for growing marijuana. The police recognized they did not have evidence to charge him with any crime. Instead, they confiscated the items, along with the $29,000.

Shockingly, this happened in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled such forfeitures do not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If the police just "think" property in your possession may have come from criminal activity, it can be legally confiscated.

Ontario's Civil Remedies Act "does not require an allegation or proof that a particular person committed a particular crime," the court wrote. This is an extraordinary grant of police power and the potential for abuse or misuse is extreme.

Many readers have no problem with the notion of police powers being exercised against criminals. But Chatterjee was never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. This did not matter to the court, which wrote the trial judge "could have accepted wholeheartedly (Chatterjee's) claim that he was entirely innocent of any involvement with marijuana cultivation, yet still ordered forfeiture."

That is a remarkable statement. What happened to proof beyond a reasonable doubt? What ever happened to the principle that "the punishment must fit the crime?"

Chatterjee may have been a suspicious character. After all, it is rather unusual to travel with tools typically used for growing marijuana plus $29,000 in cash. But it is not illegal.

Receipt, please

Imagine the police pull your car over for a broken tail light or come to your house because you are waking your neighbours. Will you need to provide a receipt to justify any unusual or expensive possessions the police notice that you have?

And if you can't, should you lose your things, even with no criminal conviction?

I think it violates the principle of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to confiscate alleged proceeds of crime without any criminal charge. In a free and democratic society, we should not have to explain ourselves to the police any time we are pulled over.

In my view, if the police do not have grounds to arrest you, you should be free to go, and to take your property without having to prove it is lawfully yours.

The unfortunate trend, however, is our society's interest in personal privacy continues to degrade, coming close to the point of no return.

Since 2004, six other provinces have joined Ontario by enacting civil forfeiture laws. B.C., has confiscated more than $5 million since its law came into effect in 2006. B.C.'s Civil Forfeiture Office (BCCFO) is funded by proceeds of confiscated goods, and the office became entirely self-funded 18 months ahead of schedule.

This should be nothing to be proud of, but the BCCFO gleefully boasts it is "an exercise in efficiency" and it's "business model" is premised on "ease of access for law enforcement personnel."

It scares the hell out of me that a government forfeiture office sees itself as a business. Confiscating goods and money without sufficient proof of criminal conduct should not be undertaken so cavalierly.

U.S.-style abuses

Such programs are likely, if not certain, to suffer from the exact same sorts of abuses that have occurred in the U.S., where it is not uncommon to hear of forfeited goods going missing or forfeited cars winding up in the hands of law enforcement personnel.

The state took Chatterjee's money and other items because the cops smelled marijuana in his car. I am left to wonder what they would have confiscated had Chatterjee actually had drugs on him. Maybe his kidney?

The Toronto Sun

Saturday, June 6, 2009

OPP's conduct 'illegal'

Lawyer wants charges laid over background checks on jurors


Last Updated: 6th June 2009, 2:44am

BARRIE -- Either the attorney general or the OPP should be charged for allowing Barrie Crown attorneys to conduct illegal searches into the backgrounds of potential jurors, a Toronto lawyer said yesterday.

"It's illegal, and it's scandalous," said Mitchell Worsoff, who asked for a mistrial for his client because he claimed the entire jury panel was "tainted".

The issue arose in a Barrie court Tuesday when Worsoff asked for a mistrial for his client, Ravi Badhwar, because he believed the jury panel was "tainted," after he learned the Crown prosecutor obtained private information on hundreds of persons who were selected as possible jurors to sit on the man's trial.

In court, Worsoff produced the list to the judge that showed names, ages and occupations of more than 200 potential jurors.

Beside many of the names, handwritten notations were made.

"Suicidal in 2001" was written beside the name of retired manager from Collingwood.

Under present law to prevent a biased jury, the Crown and the defence lawyers are only allowed to know the name, age and occupation of a juror, unless they have a criminal record for an indictable offence, which would automatically exclude them as potential jurors.

"Ongoing neighbour dispute -- neighbour shot his cat," was written beside the name of a Penetanguishene man who is a machine operator.

"Witness to parent's domestic. Dad is a drinker and assaultive to her mother," was written beside the name of another woman from Victoria Harbour who is a student.

Several others on the list had drinking-and-driving convictions beside their names -- which is not an indictable offence.

Another man from Perkinsfield had "calls for minor complaints" as a notation.

In court, Worsoff produced another document endorsed by Barrie's deputy Crown attorney Mike Minns, that was sent to OPP detachments in Collingwood, Huronia West, Midland, Nottawasaga, Orillia and Southern Georgian Bay.

It was attached to a list containing the names of hundreds of potential jurors throughout their regions with a memorandum that stated: "It would be helpful if comments could be made concerning any disreputable persons we would not want as a juror."

"This is completely illegal," said Worsoff. "We are not supposed to know anything about them."

On Tuesday, Crown attorney Karen McCleave asked Justice John McIsaac for a publication ban on the proceedings to protect the integrity of Badhwar's trial. The judge granted a temporary ban until he could hear arguments from the Crown and defence.

The same evening, after an article was published on the Internet about the issue, McCleave told the judge she would be exploring contempt charges against the publication.

She added in light of the article, all potential jurors on the jury panel list of 120 may be biased and now must be dismissed.

Yesterday, Justice McIsaac lifted the temporary ban after finding there were no grounds to keep the information from the public.

An almost identical complaint from another defence lawyer arose in court just a week earlier.

After the issue hit the headlines last week, a directive from Attorney General Chris Bentley was sent out to the region's Crowns and OPP detachments to "cease and desist" collecting any information on potential jurors, other than the name, age and whether or not they have an indictable criminal offence conviction.

Worsoff said he's wondering why he ended up with yet another "tainted" jury panel well after the directive came out.

Erin Moroz, a spokesman for Bentley, said yesterday the minister would not be commenting because the case is still before the courts.

But Worsoff said trials from past years may also be tainted.

"It's going to create a disaster in the courts," he said. "Every jury case in the past several years will now have to be looked at."

In the wake of the controversy, at least one lawyer is asking the Court of Appeal to review the case for Ibrahim Yumnu, 52, of Wasaga Beach, who was convicted in the murder of a Toronto couple who were beaten and shot near the Barrie Drive Inn in 2002.
The Toronto Sun

Friday, June 5, 2009

MPs call for Dhalla nanny investigation

Probe abuse allegations: Committee

June 05, 2009
Dale Brazao
The federal and provincial governments should investigate allegations by caregivers that they were mistreated and abused while working at MP Ruby Dhalla's home, a Commons committee has recommended.

While stopping short of calling for a police investigation the report recommends, "the authorized bodies in the provincial and federal governments investigate allegations of the former live-in caregivers in the Dhalla residence and take measures as appropriate."

The 31-page report of the Citizenship and Immigration committee recounts the allegations of abuse made by caregivers Magdalene Gordo, 31, and Richelyn Tongson, 35, while working at the Mississauga home shared by Dhalla, the 35-year-old MP for Brampton-Springdale, her mother Tavinder and her brother, Neil.

The allegations were first reported in a Toronto Star investigation last month after the two Filipino nannies came forward saying they were interviewed and hired by Dhalla to look after her mother, but ended up working long hours in non-caregiving jobs, such as shining shoes, washing cars, shovelling snow cleaning at family owned chiropractic clinics.

Both admitted to working "illegally" at the Dhalla home without proper federal approvals (commonly called LMO's) or work permits. Both alleged Dhalla had taken and held on to their passports while promising to get them the proper federal documents they needed to work legally.

"The committee regrets that such situations may occur under the live-in program," according to a draft copy of the report obtained by Torstar News Service.

Both Gordo and Tongson "expressed concern about requests for passports or holding passports purportedly for the purpose of the LMO and work permit applications," the report says.

Dhalla, who appeared before the committee shortly after the women testified offered a different version of events, and vehemently denied any mistreatment of the nannies by any member of her family.

The report categorizes her testimony as having a "different perspective."

"She denied any involvement with the employment or immigration status of the caregivers and claimed the allegations against her were false," the report says. "She addressed some of the specific claims made by the caregivers concerning pay, tasks, and passports and asserted that people entering the family home were treated well and with respect."

The investigation will likely involve the federal departments of Citizenship and Immigration, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Canada Border Services Agency, as well as well as the provincial labour department as the allegations made by the caregivers touch on all these jurisdictions, a source told Torstar News Service.

HRSDC processes requests from Canadian residents wishing to hire a foreign caregiver. The Immigration department hands out the work permits necessary before they can began working in a home. But it is up to the provinces to enforce labour laws as it relates to hours of work, minimum wage, days off and overtime.

The federal live in caregiver program is governed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which calls for maximum penalties of two years in jail and $50,000 fine for anyone "employs a foreign national in a capacity in which the foreign national is not authorized under this Act to be employed."

Ignorance of the law is no excuse and "a person who fails to exercise due diligence to determine whether employment is authorized under this Act is deemed to know it not authorized."

Reached for comment yesterday, Magdalene Gordo said she welcomed the investigation.

"I have endured a lot of emotional trauma since I went public with this, but I felt I was doing the right thing to improve the working conditions for all caregivers working in Canada."

"I am confident the truth will prevail, and we have told the truth."

The Spec

Thursday, June 4, 2009

OPP asks if tow-truck firms paid off policeman!

I can't help but snicker at this situation as a whole, right from the very night that the Manchesters were killed in a collision in Conservative Frank Klees riding to Sgt. Dennis Mahoney-Bruer being charged last week, The whole thing stinks!
It was only after the legislation was passed that it became known that Mr. Manchester was twice over the legal limit that night, that left his daughter an orphan, whom became a poster child for BILL203

In my opinion, this SGT who is Suspended with pay until he's found guilty in a court of law, not on the side of the road, like his victims, is just the tip of the iceberg!

Jun 04, 2009 04:30 AM
Kenyon Wallace
Staff Reporter

The OPP is investigating whether a senior officer at the force's Port Credit detachment received kickbacks from tow-truck drivers after motorists had their vehicles impounded, according to towing companies interviewed by police.

Sgt. Dennis Mahoney-Bruer, 49, was arrested and charged last week with three counts of breach of trust and one count of attempting to obstruct justice after an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police Professional Standards Bureau.

The OPP says Mahoney-Bruer, a 12-year member of the force, allegedly used false evidence to lay charges last month against three drivers, two of whom had their cars impounded.

He has not been charged with accepting kickbacks. However, owners and managers of Mississauga towing companies say OPP detectives have been asking them if they had ever paid Mahoney-Bruer to use their services or heard about Mahoney-Bruer allegedly receiving kickbacks from other towing companies.

The officer has been suspended from duty with pay.

Mahoney-Bruer's lawyer, Harry Black, declined to comment to the Star about the case. Several phone calls to Mahoney-Bruer's Burlington home were not returned. Attempts to speak to Mahoney-Bruer in person at his home were unsuccessful.

The charges against Mahoney-Bruer stem from three incidents in May in which one driver was charged with speeding and two drivers were charged with "stunt" driving – travelling 50 kilometres an hour over the speed limit.

Under the Highway Traffic Act, motorists caught travelling 50 kilometres over the speed limit face a mandatory seven-day licence suspension and roadside vehicle seizure, in addition to fines between $2,000 and $10,000. Add to that the cost of towing and storage, and a potential increase to insurance rates.

Introduced in October 2007, the law was hailed by OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino as a tough measure to combat dangerous driving.

Critics say the legislation gives police too much power, allowing them to find drivers guilty before they have a chance to fight the charge in court.

In court documents, Mahoney-Bruer has been told not to communicate with six people, including Mark Bell and Doug Polus.

Bell owns Atlantic Towing and Polus runs Elite Towing, both in Mississauga.

When contacted yesterday, Bell said he didn't know why his name was on the court documents, but suggested it was because he owns "one of the biggest towing companies in Mississauga."

He said he had been interviewed by police, but was not asked about whether money changed hands.

"They asked me how many tows I did for that guy (Mahoney-Bruer) in a certain amount of time," Bell said. "But let me just make something very clear to you. All of it's rumour and there's no facts. I know nothing about it and it doesn't involve our company."

Polus said he has "no clue" why his name appears in Mahoney-Bruer's court documents, and said he had not been interviewed by police.

Other tow truck companies in Mississauga say they too were visited by detectives prior to the charges being laid against Mahoney-Bruer.

"Investigators came to my shop from the OPP asking about him (Mahoney-Bruer)," said Joe Mghraye, owner of Affordable Towing. "They asked me if I ever gave Mahoney cash. It never happened. They asked me, `Have you ever seen other companies doing that?' I said no."

Lisa Goncalves, a manager at Abrams Towing Services, said OPP detectives interviewed her last week and asked her if the company had ever paid money to Mahoney-Bruer for using the company's towing services. She said no.

According to the OPP, Mahoney-Bruer's full name is Leslie Dennis Mahoney-Bruer.

A Toronto Police Service spokesperson said yesterday that Leslie Mahoney-Bruer worked for the force as a traffic services officer but resigned in October 1997.

OPP spokesperson Insp. Dave Ross said police are working with the Crown to withdraw charges laid against the three drivers by Mahoney-Bruer.

Ross said the force is also reviewing other charges where Mahoney-Bruer was involved as an investigator, but "we haven't yet determined the scope of that review."

In a statement released last week, Fantino said he was "very disappointed" by the outcome of the OPP Professional Standards Bureau investigation.

"It was important for the OPP to initiate an immediate investigation and a comprehensive review, with the intent to bolster safeguards, to prevent similar situations in the future," Fantino said. "I believe that the public trust is a fundamental cornerstone of the OPP and policing."

Mahoney-Bruer will appear in a Brampton court on July 13.

The Toronto Star

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Minister orders review of spending at eHealth Ontario

First comes the review, then comes the inquiry!

The Ontario government has ordered an independent review of spending at eHealth Ontario in the wake of CBC News reports that the agency awarded nearly $5 million in untendered contracts.

Health Minister David Caplan said he asked for the third-party audit to make sure the agency was following best management practices.

"I thought that there were enough questions and enough areas where we needed more information and we needed expert advice," said Caplan.

EHealth Ontario says it has directed PricewaterhouseCoopers to perform the audit into the organization's procurement and employment practices, as well as any other related spending issues.

"We look forward to the completion of this work on an expedited basis," said Dr. Alan Hudson, who serves as the agency's board chair.

CBC News obtained documents last Wednesday that showed eHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer had doled out about $4.8 million in contracts during the agency's first four months of operation without opening up the contracts to competitive bids.

Documents also showed Kramer was awarded a six-figure bonus after her first few months, spent $51,500 on her office furniture, hired two consultants who live in Alberta and an executive assistant who costs about $1,700 a day.

One consultant, who charged $300 an hour, billed the agency for reading a New York Times article, reviewing Kramer's holiday voicemail greeting and a debriefing that took place during a chat on the Toronto subway system.

NDP questions board's role in review
Last week, Caplan's response to news of eHealth's questionable spending was markedly different. "No rules were broken," he insisted during question period.

The health minister said he met with Hudson over the weekend and expressed his concerns.

Caplan also said he'd be meeting with Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter, who had begun looking into spending practices at eHealth late last year.

McCarter had said his review of eHealth would be included in his annual report this December.

New Democrats questioned why eHealth's board should be responsible for naming the auditor to review its own spending practices.

"It's a bit frightening to think that the same board that's causing this government so much problem is still going to be responsible for this review. It's time for the minister to get involved and take responsibility for this mess," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Hudson refused requests from CBC News for an interview.

EHealth was created last September by the Liberal government when it merged the Smart Systems for Health Agency with the e-health program at the Ministry of Health.

It is tasked with creating electronic health records for all Ontarians by 2015.