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Bonwick's lawyer says funding rejection 'totally unfair' in judicial inquiry hearing

Paul Bonwick's lawyer suggests he can't participate in the judicial inquiry without funding for legal costs.
There was a status hearing for the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry today at town hall. CollingwoodToday/Erika Engel

The counsel team for the Judicial Inquiry into the sale of Collus had interviewed 60 witnesses and received 11,000 documents, with about the same amount still to come.

That’s the report from Kirsten Thoreson, a member of the inquiry counsel, at the status hearing today at town hall.

Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, judge for the inquiry, oversaw the hearing, which lasted from 1 p.m. to shortly after 2 p.m. He said he held the public hearing to give the community a “sense of the status” of the inquiry.

“While I knew all of you [parties with standing] were communicating with counsel, it seemed it wasn’t clear, publicly, the efforts everybody was making,” said Marrocco.

Part of the reason for the public hearing was to take stock of the documents submitted so far and have each of the parties with standing commit to a timeline for submitting the outstanding documents. In short, parties who have not finished submitting documents have promised to do so by the end of November.

The other reason for the hearing was for Justice Marrocco to hear David O’Connor, who represents Paul Bonwick, as he argued a decision by the town not to give Bonwick funding to cover his legal costs.

Bonwick has been given standing in the inquiry by Marrocco. Bonwick was the owner of a company called Green Leaf Distribution Inc. Green Leaf provided consulting services to what Marrocco has identified as “corporate entities” involved in the town purchase of the two fabric membrane structures that now serve as Central Park arena and Centennial Aquatic Centre. According to a report by Marrocco, Bonwick said he also has unique involvement and detailed knowledge relating to the sale of 50 per cent of Collus shares to PowerStream in 2012.

Marrocco has allowed Bonwick a seat at the counsel table, the opportunity to suggest and cross-examine witnesses, and a chance to make closing submission.

Bonwick did apply for funding from the town to cover the legal costs of participating in the inquiry. Marrocco states in his report Bonwick’s personal financial information supports a recommendation for funding, but Marrocco suggested the town obtain information about assets and liabilities of Bonwick’s companies before deciding on funding for Bonwick.

While the judge can make recommendations on who should receive funding, ultimately it’s a cost to the town and, therefore, the town’s decision.

While funding information is confidential, O’Connor confirmed during the hearing today that Bonwick’s was denied by Collingwood CAO Fareed Amin.

“I think that’s totally unfair,” said O’Connor at the hearing. “I’m here pro bono, my client’s got no money.”   

O’Connor said he and Bonwick provided the town with two years of personal income tax returns and tax return information from Compenso and Green Leaf Distribution.

“To say all the information is not available is an insult to my client,” said O’Connor, as he raised his voice.

O’Connor said Bonwick would not be able to participate without funding.

“I have a big problem with this inquiry,” said O’Connor. “I’m beginning to wonder who’s running it. You [Marrocco] or [William] McDowell.”

William McDowell is the lawyer representing the Town of Collingwood. He was hired as a consultant for the town to look into the Collus sale and produced a report last year suggesting a judicial inquiry be called to study the matter. He was later hired as the town’s representation in the inquiry process.

“The [funding] decision that was made was a decision of [Fareed] Amin (Collingwood CAO). It’s not my decision,” said McDowell.

McDowell referenced a past funding dispute in a Mississauga judicial inquiry, and suggested they follow the solution used there. He suggested to Marrocco that Bonwick swear an affidavit under oath detailing his financial assets and submit to cross-examination by Janet Leiper, commision counsel for the inquiry.

Before the judge could complete his question to O’Connor on whether or not that was an acceptable compromise, O’Connor jumped in.

“Not at all, it’s an insult to my client,” said O’Connor. “Nobody else had to swear an affidavit … at the outset it’s suggesting my client is a liar.”

O’Connor said he reached out to Amin this week to ask for a meeting with the CAO, himself and his client. Amin declined.

While Fareed Amin was not at the status hearing, he spoke with CollingwoodToday following the hearing.

“He made a motion to appear before the judge,” said Amin. “What can I say? If he made a motion it’s out of my hands, it’s before the judge. I didn’t feel that [a meeting] would have been productive.”

Amin said he had met with O’Connor on more than one occasion, but did not want to discuss a matter that was already before a judge.

Neither McDowell nor Amin would talk about funding decisions in detail as they are intended to remain confidential.

When asked whether O’Connor and Bonwick provided the documents the town felt were necessary to make a decision on the funding request, McDowell said, “I think you can draw inference about that.”

Justice Marrocco said he would reflect on what O’Connor and McDowell said and “deal with it in short order.”

“In the end, I can’t compel funding,” said Marrocco during the hearing. “I can only express a recommendation.”

Before adjourning the hearing, Marrocco said if all parties stick to the document deadline, there would be no more hearings for a while. If not, there would be a hearing at the end of November to discuss why documents had not been turned in.

“We do have some obligation to proceed with dispatch,” said Marrocco. “I recognize the magnitude of [the inquiry] more now than a month or a month and a half ago because we’re into it now.”

For a transcript of today’s hearing, which will be posted tomorrow, go to the inquiry website here.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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