Gas plants trial postponed a week after defendants plead not guilty

Gas plants trial postponed a week after defendants plead not guilty

Two former Dalton McGuinty aides charged in connection with alleged deletion of public records pleaded not guilty to several charges on Monday before their trial was postponed for a week. 

David Livingston and Laura Miller each pleaded not guilty through their lawyers to breach of trust, misuse of a computer system to commit mischief, and mischief in relation to data. 

Police allege the two political staffers were involved in the deletion of records related to the Liberals’ controversial decisions to relocate two power plants.

Defence counsel argued Monday that continued investigation by the Crown has created new material, sparking the need for further disclosure and more time to prepare for trial.

Scott Hutchison, a lawyer for Miller, said the defence would need “at least” a one-week adjournment amid continuing witness interviews by the Crown. 

Justice Timothy Lipson adjourned the proceedings until Thursday, when the parties will return to discuss disclosure, in anticipation of a Sept. 18 start date. Lipson said the delay caused by late disclosure was “very unfortunate.”

Brian Gover, a lawyer for Livingston, said Crown interviews of witnesses took place in June and July. The new material arising from these ongoing interviews suggested that the Crown was looking to tilt the field in their advantage, Gover said. 

“Crown counsel are re-investigating the case,” he said.

Gover also pointed out that the recent interviews were sometimes longer than previous interviews of the same subjects. 

Defense counsel argued that the facts from these interviews should be disclosed and said the Crown should explain why its witness list has been cut by about half. 

Gover said police notes from recent, lengthy witness interviews were “cryptic (and) unusually sketchy, as if by instruction.” 

The Crown continues to interview witnesses, Gover said. 

The Crown agreed to provide a breakdown of new information provided by witnesses, as well as documentation. 

Crown prosecutor Tom Lemon argued that its witness list was cut for practical purposes. Lipson said the Crown appeared to have made “a normal assessment” of its case in reducing the number of witnesses. 

Hutchison also said records of police and Crown communications with an expert Crown witness were redacted, and should be disclosed in full. 

The provincial government announced in October 2010 that it was cancelling the construction of a proposed gas-fired power plant in Oakville. Fighting for re-election the following year, the party announced it would relocate a Mississauga plant if they won re-election. Construction on the Mississauga plant stopped in November 2011. 

Since then, political critics and opposition members have slammed the move as more political than practical, aimed at winning votes and maintaining power — whatever the cost.  

The province’s privacy commissioner criticized the Liberals in a 2013 report, writing that a failure to retain records anda culture of avoiding the creation of written and electronic records, assists in explaining the apparent paucity of documents relating to the gas plant closures.” 

According to police documents published by the Star, police allege Livingston’s executive assistant, Wendy Wai, was granted special access to computers in the premier’s office in February 2013. Days later, Peter Faist, Miller’s partner and a Liberal party contractor, accessed computers of two staffers in the premier’s office. The staffers were subsequently unable to access their files or log on to their computers and Wai’s account had been used to access the staffers’ computers, according to a police document. 

The Ontario auditor general’s office wrote in a 2013 report that the cost of cancelling and relocating the Oakville plant could be $675 million, a figure that could increase by as much as $140 million. The auditor general pegged the Mississauga cancellation and relocation at $275 million in a separate report.

The trial is expected to last for six weeks.

-By Stephen Spencer Davis for QP Briefing

Stephen Davis

QP Briefing Freelancer

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