OPP union scandal implicates former Manitoulin officer

BARRIE—Officers from the RCMP executed a search warrant at the head office of the OPP Association (OPPA) in Barrie on Friday, March 6. The RCMP were conducting a criminal investigation and apparently believed that evidence to support that investigation could be found in the OPPA head office as well as the offices of OPPA President Jim Christie, Vice-President Martin Bain (formerly of Little Current) and CAO Karl Walsh.

In the days that followed, tantalizing revelations of what is suspected has gone on at the OPPA have followed on the heels of the unceremonious termination of Mr. Walsh’s employment with the association, a demand for the return of all equipment and vehicles in his possession, along with the suspensions with pay of Mr. Christie and Mr. Bain. None of the above had been charged with any crime and no allegations have been proven in court.

Constable Bain was an officer with the Manitoulin OPP detachment for several years.

The sequence of revelations appearing in the media has provided a cascade of information and a flurry of press releases from the organizations impacted by the raid, which included homes and vehicles.

A press release from the OPPA indicated that they cooperated with the RCMP investigation by providing them with the items identified in their search warrant. Those items were not identified in that release.

According to the release, “in the best interests of the association and its membership, effective immediately, President Jim Christie and Vice-President Martin Bain have taken voluntary leaves of absence from the OPPA. In addition, CAO Karl Walsh has been placed on administrative leave by the board of directors.”

The release goes on to state “these actions should not be considered admissions or implications of wrongdoing or liability by anyone or by the association. The association has no knowledge of any charges being laid against any persons at this time.”

All lawful authority of the OPPA is now vested with acting-President Doug Lewis, Acting Vice-President Todd Provost, the board of directors and acting CAO Michael Briscoe. The release assures all members that steps have been taken to ensure that the day-to-day operations of the OPPA continue uninterrupted.

The release goes on to add, “Acting President Lewis and the board of directors would like to thank the staff of the association for their dedication during this difficult time. They wish to reassure members of the association that the high level of professional service they have received in the past will continue.”

The association notes in the release that it “is in the process of obtaining specialized independent legal advice with respect to this matter.”

Due to the ongoing investigation, the press release adds that the OPP Association will not be commenting further at this time.

But comment they did. With a new release to members, the OPPA indicated that the search warrant stated there were “reasonable grounds for believing that the following offenses have been committed: Section 322 Theft Criminal Code; Section 336 Criminal Breach of Trust Criminal Code; Section 380 (1) Fraud Criminal Code; Section 462.31 Laundering the Proceeds of Crime Criminal Code; and Section 341 Fraudulent Concealment Criminal Code.” In addition, continues the notice to members, “an internal investigation is being conducted by the independent legal firm of Stikeman Elliott. Counsel from Stikeman Elliot is conducting the investigation under the oversight of the Acting CAO, Michael Briscoe.”

Media reports indicate that RCMP Const. Jean Juneau has said the search warrant was ordered sealed by an Ontario Superior Court judge, ensuring details of evidence sought by the RCMP are not available to the public. Constable Juneau was adamant that no charges were imminent in the recently begun investigation.

Media reports indicate that the RCMP investigation alleged the top leaders of the OPPA “set up a sophisticated network of schemes involving secretly owned companies and offshore investments to defraud union members.”

According to media reports, a travel agency (First Response, a division of Leximco, a corporation which lists Andrew McKay, a lawyer also named in the warrant documents, among its directors) had been set up in a sweetheart deal involving “the unusual investment of union money in condos in the Bahamas; the formation of a company to provide exclusive travel services for both union business and personal travel by members; the formation of a consulting company to advise the union about investments, including a three-year deal that would bill the union $5,000 a month; and questionable vacation and travel expenses billed to the union, in some cases totalling more than $100,000 a year.” None of the allegations against Mr. McKay have been proven in court.

A subsequent press release from the OPPA indicated the suspensions of Mr. Christie and Mr. Bain and a subsequent release from the OPPA provided a link to a statement by the Ontario Pensions Board. The linked statement reads: “Effective immediately, the OPPA has withdrawn Karl Walsh’s nomination to the Ontario Pension Board (OPB) Board of Directors and has put forward a replacement nominee to the government. Earlier this week, OPB became aware that Mr. Walsh is currently under investigation by the RCMP. We have been actively monitoring the situation and have been in communication with the OPPA and the government. While the allegations against Mr. Walsh remain unproven, OPB wishes to reassure our members that Mr. Walsh was not involved in the operations of OPB. Mr. Walsh was one of nine members of the board of directors of OPB. The board provides oversight and acts by majority vote. It is not involved in operational matters. Mr. Walsh had no signing authority or ability to make commitments on OPB’s behalf, did not determine pension entitlements and was not a member of the Investment Committee or the Audit Committee of the board of directors. We would also like to reassure our members that OPB has never used the travel agency, or the consulting firm, being investigated.”

Mr. Walsh was a Barrie provincial Liberal candidate in the 2011 election and was at the administration helm of the OPPA when it created two videos attacking then Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak for “wanting to cancel OPP contracts, reduce pay and cut pension plans for new recruits.”

There are about 6,200 uniformed and 3,600 civilian members of the OPPA, which is currently in contract talks with the provincial government.