THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Toronto Star - Nov. 14, 2009 - By Phinjo Gombu Urban Affairs Reporter.
Judge named in Hazel McCallion conflict case
Justice John Douglas Cunningham will probe a land deal involving Mayor Hazel McCallion and her son.
An Ontario Superior Court judge who dismissed corruption charges against Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien will preside over a judicial inquiry into a controversial, $14.4 million land deal involving the son of Mayor Hazel McCallion.
The selection of Justice John Douglas Cunningham means the investigative phase of the inquiry – into the mayor's presence in meetings about her son's land deal and broadly related issues – could begin as early as next week.
"Justice Cunningham will determine the timing and set all the rules and parameters surrounding the judicial inquiry, including how information will be gathered and be released publicly," said Mississauga city solicitor Mary Ellen Bench.
Also announced Friday was the selection of lawyer William McDowell as the lead counsel for the commission. McDowell was federal associate deputy minister of justice and has overseen several public probes, including the 2006 inquiry into the rendition and torture of Canadian Maher Arar in a Syrian jail.
Representing the city at the inquiry is lawyer Clifford Lax, counsel in the 1996 inquiry into the police investigation of serial killer Paul Bernardo. Lax was also involved in the Toronto inquiry into a computer leasing scandal.
The inquiry, requested after a 7-4 council vote in October, will probe the relationship between the city and World Class Developments Ltd., a company that included Peter McCallion and Vaughan-based businessman Tony DeCicco.
Last year, World Class attempted to buy land near city hall for $14.4 million – to build a hotel, convention centre and condominium complex – from OMERS, a municipal-employees pension fund that also owns the adjacent Square One mall and a 10 per cent stake in the city's hydro utility, Enersource.
Documents filed in court by De-Cicco, in a dispute over losing the deal to buy the property, showed the mayor had been involved in at least two private meetings while the issue of rezoning the land was before council.
As the city was finalizing its purchase of the land from OMERS – for roughly the same amount Peter McCallion's company would have paid – World Class Developments settled its dispute with OMERS for an unspecified amount.
Bench, the city solicitor, said the inquiry is also expected to probe how OMERS obtained the power to veto major decisions involving Enersource.
The veto has been a source of contention, with critics claiming lawyers added the veto to the documents after council voted to accept the agreement, and without council's knowledge.
The probe is also expected to examine how and why the minutes of a council meeting last year stated the mayor had declared a conflict of interest in matters involving her son's hotel project, while video footage showed she had not.
In a statement, Mayor Hazel McCallion said she had accepted the will of council to proceed with the probe, saying she intended to "fully defend my reputation and my good name."
OMERS spokesperson John Pierce said the pension fund believes the scope of the review goes far beyond the original conflict-of-interest issues brought by a group of councillors against Mayor McCallion.
"But now that the review is proceeding, we look forward to a timely resolution," Pierce said.
Friday's announcement followed a council decision this week to narrow the scope of the probe by removing language that said the judge would look at other real estate and business transactions involving World Class Developments.
The inquiry is expected to last 40 days and cost about $2.5 million.
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