Tim Tierney charged over alleged offer to opponent
Beacon Hill-Cyrville councillor accused of trying to induce election rival to drop out
Coun. Tim Tierney has been charged with corrupt practices under municipal election laws for allegedly trying to induce an opposing candidate to drop out of the recent municipal election in Ottawa.
The Ontario Provincial Police have charged the Beacon Hill-Cyrville councillor under section 90 (3) of the Municipal Elections Act, which states that it's an offence to offer or promise "any valuable consideration" to induce a candidate to withdraw his candidacy in an election.
If found guilty, Tierney would be forced to vacate his position on council and barred from running in the next two elections.
Tierney issued a brief statement on his Twitter page Friday afternoon.
"I have every faith in the process before us and will vigorously defend myself. In the interim I will continue my hard work on behalf of the people of Beacon Hill-Cyrville," he wrote, adding that he will have no further comment out of respect for the provincial court process.
In the same statement, the councillor's defence team at May Irwin Adam Defence Attorneys wrote that the allegation, "while not criminal in nature, ... is nevertheless taken very seriously" by Tierney.
"Tierney is committed to participating in the process and looks forward to clearing his name," it reads.
On July 27, the last day for candidates to register to run in this fall's municipal election, it appeared Tierney would be acclaimed.
But minutes before nominations closed at 2 p.m., Michael Schurter arrived at the Elections Ottawa office to register as a candidate.
Alleged to have offered donation
What happened next has been the subject of the OPP's anti-rackets investigation for the past two months.
In the elections office at the time of the alleged call were Schurter, his campaign manager, Justin McAuley, and a city election official.
According to sources, Schurter received a call from Jeremy Wittet, who used to work for outgoing Innes Coun. Jody Mitic, and who is known to both Tierney and Schurter.
Sources said once Wittet had Schurter on the phone, Wittet patched Tierney into the call, some of which could be heard on a speaker phone. Wittet stayed on the line, those sources said, but it was unclear if any others were also listening in.
According to sources, the two-term councillor allegedly offered to make a donation to a local food bank if Schurter didn't register to run against him.
Staying on council
In light of the charges, Schurter has called for Tierney to take an unpaid leave of absence until the matter is resolved.
"I think for a guy that ran on his credibility and his reputation, to now have that called into question, it may be worth having a rethought," Schurter said Friday.
CBC confirmed in late August that Tierney, in order to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest, stepped down from his position on the Ottawa Police Services Board.
Ottawa police referred the case to the OPP, which worked with the crown attorney's office in Brockville, Ont.
Nothing officially prevents Tierney from staying on council either after being charged, or during any possible court procedures — unless the proceedings are expected to force him to miss three consecutive council meetings.
If that's the case, he'd have to ask for a formal leave of absence from council, although that leave could be with pay.
When former mayor Larry O'Brien was charged with allegedly bribing a candidate to drop out of the 2006 election, he voluntarily took an unpaid leave of absence during the trial. O'Brien was later found not guilty.
City considered separate investigation
In the hours after the alleged call, city clerk Rick O'Connor, who is ultimately responsible for the administration of the municipal election, began to investigate whether the city should take any legal action.
In an emailed statement to CBC, O'Connor confirmed that he was advised by the election staffer in the room with Schurter of the "experience relating to a candidate registering to run for the Office of City Councillor in Ward 11, Beacon-Hill Cyrville."
That same afternoon, O'Connor — also the city's solicitor — consulted with the city's outside lawyer for an opinion on what action the clerk should take, given the "limited information" he had at that time.
"Based upon that legal opinion, a review was undertaken to interview both city staff and other persons to discern what the facts were and, ultimately, whether or not the matter would merit further consideration," said O'Connor in his statement.
Interviews with staff and other city hall officials were to be held by the outside lawyer in mid-August.
But before those interviews could take place, O'Connor was told that an investigation was already underway by Ottawa police and the OPP. The police forces suggested the city "stand down," which O'Connor said he "did so immediately."
A number of city officials have been interviewed in this case and their cell phones have been searched by the OPP.