By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Pleas from a pair of former Oshawa city councillors for the Durham Regional Police Services Board to order an OPP investigation into allegations of fraud at Oshawa city hall appeared to fall on deaf ears on May 14.
Appearing before the board, former Oshawa councillor Cathy Clarke, raised concerns surrounding the recent reports and the ongoing DRPS investigation into fraud claims surrounding a City of Oshawa land purchase for a new works depot in 2013.
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.
Following Rust-D’Eye’s findings being released, a tumult ensued inside Oshawa council chambers that led to two members of the public being pulled out of city hall in handcuffs by plain-clothed police officers. Clarke also claimed that in the aftermath of the scuffle, both of the men who were pulled from the council chambers reached settlements with the city and part of which required a non-disclosure agreement to prevent them from talking about what occurred.
Since that time, a group of citizens have been working to get further information surrounding the purchase, and following four years of Freedom of Information requests and many appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the group recently delivered their findings to the DRPS which has triggered the police investigation.
An investigation undertaken by the DRPS in 2013 into the allegations 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.
“We believe accountability and transparency and support for the auditor general were missing from our local government,” Clarke told the board, also writing in a subsequent letter that, “I am troubled by all of this because the rumours and discussions point to things I don’t want to believe. The public deserves an accounting of what happened that night.”
Another former councillor, Brian Nicholson, also wrote to the board in support of Clarke’s request.
“We are counting on the Police Services Board to protect the public interest and ensure that all steps are taken to ensure that the truth is found out and made public,” he writes. “I cannot stress strongly enough the need for both a thorough and transparent investigation into the events surrounding the night at Oshawa city council in September 2013 and the events that lead up to what occurred.”
However, board member Bill McLean questioned Clarke’s political motivations behind the request, noting that she brought a similar complaint before the board ahead of the 2014 election. Clarke noted that her request was not politically motivated, and she will not be running for office in the October election.
“The timing is all to do with the FOI responses,” Clarke added. “The FOI process has been unprecedented in my mind…it certainly was a ridiculous output from the City of Oshawa and I believe that this does warrant a new investigation.”
Her words did not do much to sway McLean’s opinion.
“I heard your report, it’s a recycled complaint as far as I’m concerned and I’m not going to recommend any action,” he said. “I think the police handled themselves well.”
Her request was received for information by the board.