PC party fights to keep conversation with would-be Hamilton candidate under wraps

A Dundas man is battling the Ontario PC party in court this week over a secretly recorded one-hour conversation the party has already spent more than $245,000 trying to keep under wraps.

Police say they're looking into getting a copy of the conversation between the party and Vikram Singh too

Patrick Brown cuts a cake alongside Vikram Singh at a fundraising dinner held by Singh's family on Dec. 28, 2016. A year later, lawyers for the two are battling in court over what Singh says was a botched nomination process. (Patrick Brown/Twitter)

A Dundas man is battling the Ontario PC party in court this week to try to make public a secretly-recorded one-hour conversation the party has already spent more than $245,000 trying to keep under wraps.

Vikram is very determined to act in the public interest.- Richard Macklin

And Hamilton police now say they're interested in accessing the recording. 

Vikram Singh, a would-be nominee for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas (HWAD), recorded his talk with party brass this year. They met in Toronto to discuss Singh's allegation that the party rigged the HWAD nomination meeting, causing him to lose and Ben Levitt to win.

Hamilton police are investigating the nomination meeting now. And Singh has asked for a judicial review. Court documents earlier this year show the party has already spent more than $245,000 in legal fees to keep the conversation private.

"Vikram is very determined to act in the public interest," said Singh's lawyer, Richard Macklin.

It isn't clear what difference the conversation would make to the police investigation or the court case. 

Hamilton police say they're looking into trying to get the recording.

"We are aware of the situation you are advising," Const. Jerome Stewart said Wednesday, "and we are currently investigating the feasibility of gaining access to that information."

Police are already studying ballots and other materials, and were not part of a hearing at Osgoode Hall on Tuesday.

Lawyers for party officials, including leader Patrick Brown, wouldn't comment Tuesday. But the recording, they say, is part of "settlement privilege" because the conversation was part of an attempt to reach a settlement. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Macklin said he's not sure whether police can use the sealed conversation as evidence.

But Macklin said, without the conversation, the judges who conduct the Feb. 5 judicial review won't have the full story.

"Right now, they won't have a complete record," he said. "This is too important to decide without a complete record."

Both the NDP and Liberal parties issued media releases urging Brown to let the public hear the recording.

"It would best serve the public interest to cease to conceal the conversation between would-be candidate for the Conservative party, Mr. Vikram Singh, and your campaign chair, Walied Soliman," NDP house leader Gilles Bisson wrote in a letter to Brown Wednesday.

"I'm sure you would agree this is the right thing to do, assuming you and your campaign have nothing to hide."

There's a lot at stake financially for Singh, a 31-year-old lawyer with a small firm in downtown Hamilton. Earlier this year, the court ordered him to pay the party $136,315 for legal costs, although the court temporarily stayed that.

He's also funding the judicial review on his own dime.

The issue dates back to May 7, when the party held an HWAD nomination meeting in Ancaster. There were four candidates — Singh, Levitt, Jeff Peller and Jobson Easow. Levitt, then 25, works for Conservative MP David Sweet.

"I'm sure you would agree this is the right thing to do, assuming you and your campaign have nothing to hide," said Gilles Bisson, NDP house leader, in a latter to Brown. (Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press)

Witness accounts say the meeting was disorganized, confusing and sometimes hostile. Singh won the combined vote of the seven regular voting tables. Levitt's win, Singh said, came mainly from the credentials table, which was staffed by party insiders.

Singh and Peller asked the party to review Levitt's nomination. In June, leader Patrick Brown certified Levitt's candidacy, along with several other contentious nominations. Brown also hired Pricewaterhousecoopers to oversee future nomination meetings.

No hint of compromise

In a court document, party president Rick Dykstra also said Brown can choose whoever he wants as a candidate anyway. Singh, he said, inspired mistrust and didn't fit the right demographic.

In court Tuesday, the party argued that the recording should remain confidential because it was part of trying to reach a settlement — a legal term known as "settlement privilege."

Singh's lawyers maintain there was no talk of a settlement at all — just the party telling him how it is. It lacked, they said, a "hint of compromise."

A three-judge panel heard the matter. Most of it was in closed session with no media or members of the public allowed to be present. A ruling is expected in the near future.

Lawyers for party executive director Bob Stanley — Matthew Gottlieb, Paul Fruitman and Fahad Siddiqui — wouldn't comment. Neither would Mitch Koczerginski, who is representing Brown, Dykstra, staffer Logan Bugeja and the party as a whole.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca