Collingwood town officials face OPP probe

Ontario Provincial Police are investigating allegations of corruption and conflict of interest levelled against elected officials in the town of Collingwood, a popular ski and summer destination northwest of Toronto.

Complainants question mayor, council's ties to prominent former Liberal MP Paul Bonwick

Corruption in Collingwood?

9 years ago
Duration 2:05
The O.P.P. are investigating allegations of corruption levelled against elected officials in the town of Collingwood. Dave Seglins has the story

Ontario Provincial Police are investigating allegations of corruption and conflict of interest levelled against elected officials in the town of Collingwood, a popular ski and summer destination northwest of Toronto.

CBC News has learned the OPP's anti-rackets branch has received three separate complaints from citizens over a string of recent council decisions and proposals involving multi-million-dollar projects, and a proposed casino in the town.

The force is also investigating a complaint from a resident and outspoken blogger and critic of town council after someone anonymously posted a satirical video online depicting Nazi officers gunning him down for his campaign of Freedom of Information Act requests, and writing about town affairs.

Mayor defends actions, ties to lobbyist brother

"Well this is the first I'm hearing about the police is from the media… from Toronto media," Mayor Sandra Cooper told CBC News in an interview this week at Collingwood Town Hall.

The mayor fielded a range of questions for 10 minutes, but abruptly stood up and left when pressed about a series of complaints filed with the OPP.

Mayor Sandra Cooper said elected officials don't have to declare a conflict when considering matters involving a sibling. (CBC)

A number of citizens have formally complained to the OPP about what they say is a lack of transparency involving a number of town deals — and the relationship some elected officials have with a prominent local lobbyist and consultant, former Liberal MP Paul Bonwick.

Bonwick is the mayor's brother. He is also close family friends with the deputy mayor. As well, sitting councillor Ian Chadwick works as a contract employee for Bonwick's lobbying and consulting firm, Compenso Communications.

The complaints to police include concern that Bonwick was hired to represent a local group looking to bring a slot machine facility to town. The citizens also complained that he worked for PowerStream, which last year successfully bought a 50 per cent stake in Collingwood's public utility company Collus. They are upset that no one on council disclosed Bonwick's business involvement; nor did anyone on council declare any potential conflicts of interest.

"According to the [Ontario] Municipal Act, there is not a conflict in that matter," said Cooper, pointing out that elected officials don't have to declare a conflict when considering matters involving a sibling. They do by law, if matters involve a spouse, parent or child.

Deputy Mayor Rick Lloyd also said his family friendship with Bonwick does not constitute a conflict.

When confronted about Bonwick's business dealings, Coun. Chadwick told CBC News he didn't recall voting to approve the sale of the public utility to Bonwick's client, although it was confirmed in town documents that he voted in favour. Chadwick also said he wasn't aware Compenso was hired to work on the casino proposal, pointing out he initially voted against Collingwood hosting a gaming facility back in November (a vote that was reversed earlier this week).

OPP probe allegation of bid influence

CBC News has also learned that a town councillor has brought information forward to the OPP, including allegations from a local entrepreneur who claims town officials tried to influence his bid on a on a property owned by the town.

Dr. James McCrimmon was involved in a proposal to buy the defunct Collingwood grain terminals on the town's developing waterfront to open a mushroom growing business.

McCrimmon refused an interview request.

But CBC News has learned he complained to a local councillor alleging that during a meeting with the deputy mayor, he was instructed on how to win the bid to secure the land.

The OPP are also examining a claim by McCrimmon that the mayor tried to discuss McCrimmon's tender by telephoning him several times over the weekend before the submission deadline.

Cooper told CBC News she doesn't recall making those calls. The deputy mayor disputes the allegation he did anything improper. McCrimmon's proposal to buy the land was ultimately rejected and the land remains unsold.

Police seek source of 'blogger Nazi' video

Collingwood is facing growing pains due to a decade of unprecedented growth from a booming tourism industry and an influx of new families and retirees arriving from the Greater Toronto Area.

Political tensions have been running high over the last year as residents' groups demand improved recreational facilities and wider public input into decisions of town hall. The public debate — including in online citizen blogs and social media — has even turned nasty.

The OPP are now looking into the anonymous posting of a satirical video on the internet depicting a local teacher who blogs being shot and killed by Nazis.

Steven Berman, an early childhood educator with the local school board, began blogging about town affairs last summer following two key decisions by council — the firing of the town's CAO, and a rapid vote on a sole-sourced $12-million project to build two domed structures over a community pool and ice rink. 

Berman, who has a large online readership and has attracted much attention recently complained to police after someone posted a video of a Nazi film, superimposed with subtitles to make it appear the film was about Collingwood town officials burning records to escape Berman's Freedom of Information Act requests, and with Nazi officers ultimately machine-gunning Berman to death.

"It makes me feel like whoever posted it was telling me to stop doing what I was doing, to stop digging," Berman told CBC News noting that being Jewish in small town Ontario and new to the community, he is taking it very seriously. 

"It's the Nazis killing a Jew and then it ends with no humour, no context, the message seems to be the bad guys wanted to kill me."

The OPP refuses to discuss any of the complaints or the status of their various investigations.

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With files from John Nicol, Jeremy McDonald and Brigitte Noël