By Christopher Reynolds and Jessica Smith Cross
The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party has turned over materials to police in a criminal investigation into the party's nomination in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, police say.
"Hamilton Police Service is currently investigating any criminality involved into the Provincial Progressive Conservative Nomination Process for the Ancaster riding in early May 2017," Hamilton Police said in a statement Friday. "Hamilton Police detectives are reviewing materials turned over by party officials and this process is expected to take several months."
PC party president Rick Dykstra said the party was co-operating with the police. “We have been providing assistance in regard to the investigation. We will continue to remain open and transparent should there be any further requests,” he said in a statement.
QP Briefing broke the news of the police investigation in August after nomination candidate Vikram Singh filed a police complaint. Singh finished second in the race.
Singh and fellow would-be candidate Jeff Peller also filed lawsuits in June over allegations of ballot-box stuffing and voter fraud at the May 7 nomination meeting at Ancaster High School, in which candidate Ben Levitt was declared the winner. The suits named PC Leader Patrick Brown, Dykstra, PC executive director Bob Stanley, and Brown staffer Logan Bugeja.
The lawsuits — Peller dropped his last month — sought to overturn the outcome of the nomination race. They also followed internal party appeals quashed by Brown, who then declared the nominee to Levitt.
Singh's lawyer Richard Macklin said Thursday his client "is confident that the Hamilton police service will conduct a thorough investigation into what he feels is an issue of high public importance."
Police spokeswoman Const. Lorraine Edwards told QP Briefing Friday that the probe is a "criminal investigation" and has been a "criminal investigation" since it began last spring — even though that's a label some of her colleagues have declined to apply to the probe in the past.
"We are investigating for the criminality of the actual incident itself. So, we're trying to gather as much information as we possibly can. So is it a criminal investigation? It's kind of splitting hairs — yes, it is," Edwards said.
"I think it's always been a criminal investigation," she said. "I know at the very beginning we just gather information, but, I mean, yeah, once we start to go into it — the whole reason for us doing that is to see if there's any criminality to the event that's occurred. I mean, that's what we do."
After gathering information, police will determine whether or not criminality has occurred and whether to lay charges, Edwards said.
Launched in mid-May, the case was handled initially by the fraud unit and has been passed on to the criminal investigations unit, Edwards said in August.
She did not divulge any targets in the probe.
"It's not an easy investigation," Edwards said Friday. "This is not something you can do just today, and hope that next month we've got an answer to it. It's pretty involved."
The probe comes in the wake of controversy around previous nomination meetings that sparked mass resignations from three PC riding associations and alleged breaches of voting rules. It also arrives following repeated criticism from Brown about "Liberal political corruption" around the gas plants trial — which continues next week — and bribery charges related to the Sudbury byelection that were dismissed last month.
Dykstra said steps were taken by the Tories in response to the fallout from contested nominations. “Following our nomination in Hamilton, concerns were raised about the nomination contest. The leader brought in PriceWaterhouseCoopers and a new process for nominations," he said.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
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