By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A former leader of Oshawa council has joined the call for the Durham Regional Police to hand its investigation into a 2013 city land deal over to the Ontario Provincial Police fraud unit.
John Gray, the mayor of Oshawa for two terms between 2003 and 2010, appeared before the DRPS Police Services Board at its most recent meeting, appealing to the board to have DRPS’ ongoing investigation handed over to the OPP to ensure things are transparent and accountable.
The current investigation relates to the 2013 purchase of land plots on Wentworth Street East for the city’s new Consolidated Operations Depot.
That purchase was mired in controversy when former auditor general Ron Foster released a report claiming wrongdoing on behalf of city staff, including the former city manager and claimed the city overpaid for the property by as much as $1.5 million. However, when an independent investigation was commissioned by council, investigator George Rust-D’Eye found no wrongdoing with the purchase of land at 199 Wentworth Street East and an adjoining portion on Ritson Road.
“It’s abundantly clear the investigative process was flawed,” Gray says. “In this particular case, it was slanted in one direction only.”
The same was said by Oshawa resident Jeff Davis, who also appeared before the board requesting the investigation be handed over to the OPP, pointing to current and past connections between the City of Oshawa and the board as being potential conflicts.
“There is a perceived conflict of interest between the DRPS and the City of Oshawa, and it is my opinion that regardless of the outcome of any investigation by your force, public perception will always have doubts as to the independence if not legitimacy of your investigation,” he says. “It will be extremely difficult to convince the public that any decision not to forward this investigation to an external, independent authority is anything but politically motivated or an attempt to quash justice. Such perception would do nothing more than fuel the fire of a perceived lack of transparency and accountability at the City of Oshawa, and extend such outrage to this police service.”
The DRPS undertook an investigation in 2013 into the allegations and found them to be unfounded. However, that investigation has been criticized by the public due to the fact that the police never obtained a full copy of the auditor general’s report on the land purchase. Portions of that report still remain confidential to this day.
This also isn’t the first former Oshawa official who appeared before the board to make the same request, as former councillor Cathy Clarke was before the board in May. Her delegation was subsequent to a letter from another former councillor Brian Nicholson who made a similar request in written form. At that time, members of the board questioned her timing for bringing her concerns forward so close to a municipal election, and questioned her political aims.
Gray was greeted with similar treatment, as the board questioned Gray’s connections to John Mutton, a candidate for regional chair, and his business Municipal Solutions, to which Gray was formerly a consultant.
However, police chief Paul Martin did take the time to address concerns around the 2013 investigation, though he noted he could not speak to the scope of the investigation at the time.
“Whether it’s a thorough investigation or not, I guess it depends on whatever information we were provided at the time,” he says. “We had a very seasoned investigator look through that material.”
Martin also stated that now the DRPS has a “very experienced investigator” looking through the material, which includes 26 banker’s boxes of documents and 52 electronic files. He estimates it will take six months to comb through.
With that said, Martin noted he had reached out to the OPP to look at the possibility of their availability to look into the concerns. He says the OPP shared it would take a least two years before they would be able to look at it.
In terms of the independence and objectivity of the DRPS, Martin said if residents have concerns with that, they can file a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.