Complaint takes aim at Tory's ties to Rogers, alleging conflict of interest during ActiveTO debate

A complaint filed with the Toronto's integrity commissioner alleges Mayor John Tory had a conflict of interest when he voted to scale back the popular ActiveTO program.

Mayor's office denies allegations, says staff report made 'no mention of that organization'

Mayor John Tory's office denies allegations made in a complaint to the city's integrity commissioner. He's accused of a conflict of interest involving a debate on ActiveTO, a pandemic program that allowed pedestrians and cyclists to use Lake Shore Boulevard on summer weekends. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A complaint filed with the Toronto's integrity commissioner alleges Mayor John Tory had a conflict of interest when he voted to scale back the popular ActiveTO program.

The complaint, first reported on by the Toronto Star, stems from Tory's connections with Rogers Communications Inc., the telecommunications giant that also owns the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tory is a Rogers shareholder and an adviser to the Rogers Control Trust (RCT) — a paid role. The RCT is run by family and friends with voting rights; it was set up after Ted Rogers died. 

This summer, Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro wrote to the city urging it to stop the ActiveTO traffic closures on Lake Shore Boulevard so fans could drive to the games at Rogers Centre.

"We recognize ActiveTO played a crucial role in encouraging people to get outside and moving again, at a time when entertainment options were limited; however, the location of this program in 2022 drastically impacts fans' ability to access the ballpark on summer weekends, when baseball is a main attraction in the city," Shapiro wrote.

Tory chose to vote in favour of the motion, which scaled back the program.

Activist files application for alleged conflict of interest

Activist Adam Chaleff submitted the application for a Municipal Conflict of Interest Act Inquiry on July 22 through his lawyer Gregory Ko. The document, dated July 15, alleges Tory breached the act when he publicly commented during a debate on a staff proposal to revisit weekend road closures along Lake Shore Boulevard.

"I just don't think it's appropriate. And I think we deserve a mayor who has one master — the public interest — and not two masters," said Chaleff, who works in communications and has a history of activism at city hall with previous complaints against former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

ActiveTO closures allow cyclists to use Toronto's Lake Shore Boulevard without vehicular traffic. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Tory's office denies the allegations. 

"This vote was about a city program that the mayor introduced and championed throughout the pandemic and this was a very broad public issue involving all road users in the city," spokesperson Don Peat said when asked to comment on the complaint. 

"The city staff report made no mention of that organization," Peat continued, referring specifically to Rogers Inc.

Launched in 2020 during the pandemic, ActiveTO gives pedestrians and cyclists access to various roadways on summer weekends. Shapiro's letter to council asking for an end to the ActiveTO closures was dated June 6. 

Meanwhile, Transportation Services staff recommended in a report debated June 15 that the road closures be dialled back because of traffic delays and the impact on the bevy of events happening in the city this summer.

Given the number of planned events and the volume of construction projects, staff said there might be one more ActiveTO closure this year. Council then approved a motion to improve pedestrian and cycling as part of the 2023 Western Waterfront Master Plan. 

Chaleff alleged in his application to Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty's office that Tory had an indirect financial interest in the Rogers-owned baseball team that wasn't declared at the June 15 council meeting.

The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act prohibits councillors from participating in matters where they have either a direct or indirect financial interest. Councillors are barred from using their influence on decisions where there is a direct or indirect conflict. 

Tory has 'declared interests' before, Chaleff notes 

Following news of the complaint, Chaleff told CBC News he was surprised Tory didn't speak up about his connection to Rogers, adding that the mayor has done so in the past.

"[H]e's declared interests in more than two dozen files over the last three years, where he hasn't voted or taken part in the debate due to his ties to Rogers," he said.

The mayor's spokesperson told CBC News that when Tory has any conflicts he "studiously has declared them and he did not have one in this case."

Peat said his team wasn't aware of the complaint until a media request came in from the Toronto Star. He says they didn't receive any communication from the integrity commissioner about the matter.

"We respect the integrity commissioner and we won't be making any further comment about this while the complaint is in front of him beyond what we said at the time," said Peat.

With files from Samantha Lui, Camilla Bains, Sara Jabakhanji and Muriel Draaisma