Ottawa mayor acquitted of influence peddling

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien was found not guilty of influence peddling Wednesday morning in one of the city's most closely followed criminal trials.
Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien reacts as he leaves the courthouse after being acquitted on Wednesday. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien was found not guilty of influence peddling Wednesday morning in one of the city's most closely followed criminal trials.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Cunningham delivered his ruling in the non-jury trial just before 11 a.m. ET at the Ottawa courthouse.

O'Brien, who spoke with reporters shortly before noon, said he was happy about the acquittal, but would need some time to recover from what has been a difficult time for both him and his family.

"As you can all appreciate, this has been an emotional roller coaster. This has been a very difficult two years for my wife, my two children, my family, my ex-wife and her family and all of my friends and supporters and people in the city of Ottawa," O'Brien told reporters.

"I regret that we had to go through that. But, quite frankly, it was important for me to take this battle and have the truth come out so I can look my two boys in the eyes and say their family name is still what it was before."

Mayor Larry O'Brien is surrounded by reporters after the verdict. ((CBC))

O'Brien was charged on Dec. 10, 2007, after allegations of influence peddling were made against him over his conduct in Ottawa's 2006 municipal election.

Terry Kilrea, O'Brien's opponent in that election, alleged that he was offered a chance to have his campaign expenses paid and to get help with an appointment to the National Parole Board if he dropped out of the mayoral race.

O'Brien was found not guilty of two charges:

  • Pretending to have influence over the Government of Canada or a minister of the government in order to gain a benefit contrary to Sec. 121(d) of the Criminal Code.
  • Soliciting, recommending or negotiating an appointment in order to gain a benefit, contrary to Sec. 125 of the Criminal Code.

Kilrea swore to the allegations in an affidavit submitted to the Ontario Superior Court and the trial began May 4.

Throughout the trial, O'Brien's lawyer, Michael Edelson, disputed Kilrea's account of emails and conversations he'd had with O'Brien, and he questioned the former mayoral candidate's credibility.

Edelson also asked that Cunningham deliver a directed verdict in the trial.

A directed verdict is usually delivered when the prosecution has not met the burden of proof for the given charges, but Edelson argued that one should be delivered in O'Brien's case because the charges should have been thrown out before the trial began.

Edelson said charges under those sections of the Criminal Code exclude political appointments.

On June 26, Cunningham rejected the defence's request, ruling that the trial would continue over the charges that had already been laid against the mayor.

Mayor Larry O'Brien arrives at the Ottawa courthouse with his wife on Wednesday morning. ((CBC))

On July 2, the defence announced that it would not call any witnesses, and closing arguments were completed by July 7.

In the end, Cunningham said he found the Crown prosecution's case against O'Brien to be insufficient.

O'Brien said he was very appreciative of the hard work done by his legal team, which was followed by applause outside the courthouse.

"As you can understand, when there's a blizzard of attacks on you as an individual, it's very difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff — very difficult to sort out the truth," said O'Brien.

O'Brien said that he felt Cunningham's ruling had given everyone involved a clear insight into what actually happened around the 2006 election.

"I am hoping that we can now put this sad ordeal behind us and move forward because there's 141,000 people in the city of Ottawa who voted for me to get to work and that's what I plan to do."

O'Brien, however, said he would take some down time before that work began.

"It's been tough on all of us," he said.