Brother of accused in triple-murder testifies

The brother of a man on trial for the alleged killings of three people in June 2007 says he confronted the accused about his financial problems earlier that same month.

Norman Bush testifies he confronted his brother Ian about his financial problems just prior to 2007 killings

Ian Bush, 61, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and has pleaded not guilty. (Sketch by Lauren Foster-MacLeod for CBC News)

The brother of a man on trial for the alleged killings of three people in June 2007 said he confronted the accused about his financial problems earlier that same month.

Ian Bush is facing three counts of first-degree murder in the June 2007 deaths of retired Tax Court of Canada judge Alban Garon, 77, Garon's 73-year-old wife Raymonde, and their friend and neighbour Marie-Claire Beniskos, 78.

Bush, now 61, was charged in 2015 and has pleaded not guilty.

From left, Raymonde Garon, her husband Alban Garon, and their friend and neighbour Marie-Claire Beniskos were found dead in the Garons' apartment building in June 2007. (Photo collage by CBC)

Norman Bush, the accused's brother, appeared in court Tuesday via a video link from the courthouse in Dryden, Ont., where he lives.

He told court during examination-in-chief by Crown attorney James Cavanagh that he learned from their mother that Ian Bush owed her thousands of dollars and wasn't keeping up with rent he owed her.

Then, in the first few days of June 2007, their mother put an unconditional offer on a house in British Columbia. To come up with the money, she needed to sell the house Ian Bush was living in with his family, Norman Bush told court.

Court had earlier heard the plan was for Ian Bush and his common-law spouse to eventually buy the house. But in light of what their mother confided to him, Norman Bush said he was "very skeptical at the outset that [Ian Bush] would be able to come up with the money to purchase the home."

Mother's house sold

Norman Bush told court he called his brother about the issue at least two times, and possibly three or four times, beginning in early to mid-June 2007, not long after the house was put up for sale. The conversations ended in the week or two prior to the closing date at the end of July 2007, he testified.

Ian Bush acknowledged he was behind with the rent and said he didn't have the money to pay his mother the $50,000 he owed her, even in small increments, Norman Bush recalled. 

Ian Bush later told his brother that he'd been unable to secure a traditional mortgage through a bank, and was looking into alternative financing, using the house as collateral.

Norman Bush told court he made it clear to his brother there was no way he'd allow their mother to go down that path, as it would place her in greater financial risk. He told Ian Bush he needed "to quit stringing her along and be more forthright with her," and said his brother agreed.

The matter became more urgent as the closing date approached at the end of July, Norman Bush testified.

Court earlier heard someone else bought their mother's house on Boake Street, and that Ian Bush and his family moved into a rented house on Valade Crescent in September that year.

Judge called to fake hearing

Assistant Crown attorney Tim Wightman then called Elizabeth "Betty" Toniello to the stand. She was the Tax Court of Canada employee who handled a fax, sent in July 2001 by Ian Bush's consulting company, to then chief justice Alban Garon, calling him to a fake review hearing at Ian Bush's Boake Street home address.

This fax was sent to then Chief Justice Alban Garon of the Tax Court of Canada on July 30, 2001, calling Garon to a hearing at Bush's then home on Boake Street, court has heard. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Toniello told court she acted as a kind of gatekeeper for documents, choosing which would be brought to the attention of another worker who liaised with judges directly.

The "bizarre" and "odd" fax sent to Garon met that bar.

"Never in my 12 or so years had I ever received a notice of review for a judge. I'd never seen anything like this, especially coming from an appellant, and I felt that it was important that judge Garon see this," Toniello testified.

"Hi Donna, for Judge Garon?!?!," Toniello wrote on a cover page for the fax, along with her name, "Betty."

Another note on the page reads, "the CJ directed that we PA this on file." CJ stands for chief justice, and PA stands for put away, Toniello told court.

In cross-examination by defence lawyer Geraldine Castle-Trudel, Toniello told court she didn't recall any security-related consequences of the fax, and that she didn't recall any reaction from Garon or the people who ended up putting the fax on file.

Toniello also told court she didn't recall getting any threatening or intimidating reaction from Bush when a Tax Court--related adjournment he'd requested was denied, and that the notice of denial didn't mention Garon by name.

The trial continues Wednesday.