London

OPP complaint a 'witch hunt,' Blackridge Strategy says

The Ontario Provincial Police is now involved in the ongoing municipal election controversy surrounding London PR firm Blackridge Strategy.

The OPP is now looking into whether it should investigate the PR firm for Municipal Elections Act violations

Blackridge Strategy's owner Amir Farahi is linked in court documents to two websites that smeared female candidates in London's municipal election campaign. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

A police complaint against London PR firm Blackridge Strategy is a "witch hunt" that is taking away from "real problems" in the city, the company says. 

John Hassan, a concerned Londoner, told CBC News he filed a complaint with London police on Monday, alleging Blackridge Strategy and campaign volunteer Barry Phillips violated the Municipal Elections Act by paying for advertising without registering as a third party during last year's city hall elections. 

London police passed the complaint on to the OPP. 

"Blackridge Strategy has not seen a copy of a complaint but if it has anything to do with the Municipal Elections Act there has not been a violation," the company wrote to CBC News in an email. 

"It is time to end this witch hunt and turn our attention to real problems the city is facing like the jobs crisis, the gutting of our downtown, the explosion of property tax rates, the opioid crisis and the housing crisis."

Hassan said he wants to see the issue "professionally and fully investigated." 

'Compel people to talk'

He went to police after a city hall compliance audit review committee found it had no jurisdiction over the matter.

"Ideally it's something I believe should've been undertaken by the municipality … it's disappointing I have to go to the point to of contacting police," Hassan said. "But, maybe police are in a better position to compel people to talk."

The controversy began during the municipal election campaign, when a pair of websites that attacked two female council candidates appeared.

Court documents show Blackridge Strategy was behind two attack websites against incumbent city councillors Virginia Ridley and Maureen Cassidy. Ridley was not re-elected.

"It's of great public interest," Hassan said of the issue.

OPP confirmed to CBC News that they have been asked to look into the matter. 

"Once we get the file, we will review the matter and determine if an investigation will be launched," said OPP Sgt. Carolle Dionne.

The OPP's anti-racket squad has expertise in Municipal Election Act violations, Dionne said. 

CBC News has reached out Phillips for comment about the latest development but has not heard back. 

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