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Brampton’s City Hall corruption investigation extended for the second time in less than two months


August 13, 2021
By Canadian Press

Aug. 13, 2021 – Senior City of Brampton staffers and Mayor Patrick Brown have claimed a third-party investigation into allegations of widespread fraud and corruption would be handled transparently.

That has not been the case.

With City Hall’s highest ranking employee, CAO David Barrick, and Brown at the centre of disturbing accusations now being investigated by Deloitte, it’s no surprise to many that the probe has been shrouded in secrecy since the bombshell allegations were levelled publicly by a senior staffer.

Gurdeep (Nikki) Kaur emailed her blistering accusations to hundreds of City staff, members of council, and media outlets during the early hours of April 22, resulting in a Council decision to hire Deloitte for the ongoing investigation.

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“I think it’s important that we have the highest level of transparency on how we respond to complaints and have them investigated for their veracity,” Brown claimed at the June 2 City Council meeting.

However, Brown and his supporters, Councillors Rowena Santos, Paul Vicente, Michael Palleschi, Harkirat Singh and Pat Fortini, have consistently tried to shut Brampton taxpayers out of the process.

The other members of council have made clear through public comments that because those six Council members have the majority of the votes on an eleven-member legislative body, they have created a cloud of secrecy to control the investigation and lock the public out.

Before Councillors Martin Medeiros, Jeff Bowman and Gurpreet Dhillon, with the support of colleagues Charmaine Williams and Doug Whillans, were finally able to force some transparency, almost all debate and decision making around the corruption investigation were handled behind closed doors during in camera meetings where the public is prevented from getting any information.

The investigation lacked transparency since the very beginning, when Brown claimed it would be handled openly. Basic information, including the decision led by him and his five supporters to handicap the probe by setting an unreasonable investigation deadline of 30 days, was kept from the public.

Dhillon, Bowman and Medeiros led an effort to pull the investigation out into the open, calling out their colleagues in public session and demanding matters related to the timing, scope and outcome of the probe be handled in front of Brampton taxpayers.

A successful motion now ensures this. But it remains unclear if Brown and the others, aided by senior staff under the authority of Barrick, are still forcing much of the discussion around the investigation behind closed doors, away from the public.

Some opponents on council publicly stated the others had forced the 30-day limit and Dhillon said he wanted previous in-camera minutes and votes to be brought out into the open so Brampton residents can see which council members have been fighting for the truth and who has been trying to protect those singled out in the damning allegations.

Yesterday, at the August 11 Council meeting, members were asked by Deloitte for a second extension to properly carry out a fulsome investigation.

After the investigators made clear the original 30-day limit forced by certain council members would not be nearly enough time, they were ignored, but other council members pushed the issue and got an initial extension of almost eight weeks. August 18 would have been the last day of the investigation, but it’s clear, given the seriousness and scope of the allegations, more time was needed. The second extension now makes the final day September 15. The probe into Kaur’s accusations and her evidence began June 2.

All current and former City staff are allowed to bring forward their own evidence of fraud and any other possible corruption, with Deloitte obligated to gather all evidence, and conduct all the required interviews to get to the bottom of the allegations.

The Pointer has been told by numerous sources that a large number of current and former staff have come forward since Kaur revealed her allegations publicly, but no confirmation of an exact number has been provided.

Council members were shocked in the spring when it was revealed Barrick had closed off 28 internal fraud complaints filed by staff, without ever informing Council. More than 50 fraud complaints into the internal hotline were filed from around the time when Barrick was hired late in 2019. About 70 percent of all fraud complaints by Brampton City Hall staff filed since the hotline was established in 2016 were in a roughly one-year-period after Barrick was hired.

During the same period, the disgraced former Niagara politician with zero experience running a City department, tried to secretly take over control of the internal audit department, which oversees the internal fraud hotline. The oversight department is required to report directly to Council and after Barrick tried to quietly subvert its independence, elected officials had to step in and return the reporting structure to Council, as it was prior to Barrick’s secretive effort to subvert the independent role.

The current investigation is allowed to probe a wide range of conduct since Barrick was recruited by Brown in 2019. The mayor orchestrated an unusual hiring process that led to the controversial former Niagara councillor arriving in Brampton to fill the City’s top bureaucratic role.

It remains unclear how exactly Deloitte was hired, a process that should have involved open debate, but was instead done in secret. It was stated that City Clerk Peter Fay was given the authority, but with Barrick in charge of all employees this raised concern about why Council members did not control the process.

When Council voted to launch an investigation in a special meeting after Kaur made her allegations, the motion suggested the complaint would be investigated in its entirety.

With about a dozen separate complaints, each with its own complex set of intertwined dynamics, it was always unlikely a proper investigation could be completed within a 30-day period, a complaint some councillors, and the investigator, were vocal about.

“Deloitte has stated since 1/8the 3/8 start that 30 days is not enough time for investigation based on 1/8the 3/8 number and variety of allegations,” minutes from the closed session, in camera portion of the June 2 Council meeting, state. They were only brought out in public after the group of councillors pushing for transparency forced their successful motion.

Many of Kaur’s allegations are tied to other complaints staff members have shared over the past year. One wide-ranging set of complaints made to the Ontario Ombudsman in December and shared with media outlets, including The Pointer, highlighted some of Kaur’s allegations months before she made them.

That email from former senior staff members states Barrick and his subordinates violated contract rules and signed a sole-source agreement when hiring a consultant to create a business plan for a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) that would manage the City’s real estate assets, worth tens of millions of dollars.

The project was originally handled by the former commissioner of community services, Al Meneses, before Barrick took it over and handed the file to Kaur, according to the email. Meneses was later fired.

Kaur alleged Barrick instructed her to only email one consultant, Menes Company (MenesCo), run by Brett Bell, a long-time Progressive Conservative Party associate of Brown, who has a two-decade relationship with the former leader of the Ontario PC party, who now sits in the mayor’s chair.

Kaur told The Pointer in April MenesCo was the only firm she was told to reach out to.

A set of text messages Barrick sent Kaur on January 7 was shared with The Pointer. They show Barrick sent the name, email address, and contact instructions to Kaur. “Contact: Brett Bell,” one of the texts read. Bell was approached by the City on January 9, but did not even have a registered company at the time. MenesCo was incorporated January 11, 2020, two days after he was tapped for a contract worth around $300,000.

In an effort to increase transparency after the investigation was launched, Dhillon put forward a motion to have any discussions pertaining to timeline, scope, and final findings be made publicly. This received pushback from some councillors and Brown. “It boggles my mind we’re trying to keep this in closed session,” Dhillon said at the June 2 meeting.

The motion allowed the public to witness two votes in less than two months on extending the investigation timeline, which may have not been successful if the votes were taken behind closed doors, where councillors close to Brown would not have to worry about the public seeing what they do. Regional councillor Martin Medeiros has suggested some members use closed sessions as a way to hide their vote.

“I always support openness and transparency and I always want my votes to be public as I am consistent on the way I vote publicly or in camera. I do not hide behind closed doors and am accountable to my residents of wards 3&4,” he told The Pointer.

Dhillon has pushed for the original vote on the 30-day limitation to be made public. “I have spent a number of days going over the recordings from closed-session meetings and will be looking to make a request, using the proper protocols, to disclose any information the public should have access to,” he told The Pointer.

Kaur was the director of corporate projects and liaison at the time she sent the allegations of corruption, delinquent hiring practices, and fraudulent procurement practices. It plunged the City and its most senior official, Barrick, who was fired from his previous job in Niagara after numerous controversies, including a hiring scandal there, under a storm largely created by Brown, who has tried to secretly control hiring under his leadership.

Hours after sharing the allegations, Kaur was fired by Barrick. A copy of the letter, signed by the CAO, was obtained by The Pointer. It states Kaur’s decision to run for federal nomination in Brampton for the next election was a violation of the City’s Employee Code of Conduct, Conflict of Interest Policy and “created a significant perceived and real conflict of interest given your role as Director of Corporate Projects, Policy and Liaison,” Barrick wrote.

Kaur was offered a position in the planning, building, and economic development department that would supposedly avoid her perceived conflict of interest. The letter does not explain how Kaur violated the two City codes.

It is against the law to fire someone for running for public office. The action is protected under Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees a citizen’s ability to seek elected office.

She was rehired after a Council decision in May, following Barrick’s knee-jerk move to fire the woman who had just made allegations against him, and now works as director of strategic projects in the planning, building, and economic development department.

Kaur questioned Barrick’s claim of a conflict of interest, detailing Mayor Brown’s own conflict of interest when he directed her and other senior staff to work on Peter MacKay’s bid to lead the Conservative Party of Canada last year.

Brown’s actions, using City resources to advance his own political ambitions, are part of Kaur’s allegations and she shared texts with The Pointer showing the mayor directed her and other staff members to help with MacKay’s campaign.

“Please sign up membership before May 15 to support Peter McKay (sic),” Brown texted Kaur on May 11, 2020 (a Monday) at 10:26 a.m. A second message came the next day: “Meet membership sellers and then do meet and greets with members after the membership deadline is over.”

Then: “Let’s aim for 10′ to 20 membership sellers. People who can do a minimum of 100 each”. Brown directed Kaur to be at a commercial unit at 3:30 p.m. that day, then changed the time to 4:00 p.m., attempting to sell Conservative Party memberships through local riding associations.

The next text from Brown stated “Very low turnout.” Followed by “can you go there with Rob (D’Amboise) tomorrow night and Tuesday night to collect ballots. Knock on their doors.”

Neither Kaur nor D’Amboise, hired by Barrick from Niagara to advise in his CAO’s office, work for Brown in the mayor’s office. Later, Brown texted “We need Stoney creek for peter,” followed by, “We have found people give ballots when we door knock them.”

It’s unclear how Brown is still allowed to partake in votes around the investigation when he seems to be in a clear conflict of interest, in violation of the principles of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

It’s also unclear why Barrick wasn’t put on leave, given the corruption investigation focuses on many complaints about his conduct since he was hired by a committee led by Brown in October 2019.

This includes handing out $218,000 worth of contracts to a former political ally in Niagara, Tony Quirk, under his consulting company Q Project Management. Barrick was a councillor for Port Colborne and Quirk for Grimsby and both sat on Niagara Region Council together, operating hand-in-hand for years.

They both served together on Niagara’s Conservation Authority board before it handed a leadership position to Barrick within the public agency, which Ontario’s auditor general later determined was an apparent abuse of process.

Kaur also alleged Barrick pressured her into hiring D’Amboise as an administrative assistant in the CAO’s office after having the job description changed to match his skill set. D’Amboise was implicated alongside Barrick, and Brampton’s current head of communications, Jason Tamming, in the Niagara hiring scandal in 2019. The investigation report by the Ontario Ombudsman, titled “Inside Job,” exposed the fraudulent hiring of former Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo, Barrick’s former boss at the conservation authority. Barrick attempted to pressure senior staff to hire D’Angelo. D’Amboise and Tamming, who was fired, secretly provided D’Angelo with questions and answers for the CAO interview process. Barrick was eventually fired by the conservation authority after a string of controversies including widespread misconduct at the conservation authority under his brief leadership.

After The Pointer published an article on the MDC contract, according to Kaur, D’Amboise tried to convince her to protect Barrick. A digital copy of that conversation was provided to The Pointer.

“My understanding is most procurement bylaws allow for single-sourcing in the instances of, you know, in the areas that”—he says before Kaur interjects. “I think we need to speak to David to clarify every single concern,” she replies.

“I think it’s one of those instances where as much as we can do to protect David,” D’Amboise replies. He continues: “I’ve seen this type of stuff before in Niagara. It doesn’t matter if this stuff was followed appropriately, what we need to do is create questions.”

Kaur later confronted Barrick about the call, and D’Amboise denied ever having the discussion with her, she alleges.

Sources inside City Hall have told The Pointer D’Amboise is currently on leave, raising concern this will prevent Deloitte from questioning him for the ongoing investigation. The Pointer asked the City to confirm D’Amboise’s absence.

“The City does not comment on individual personnel matters,” Natalie Stogdill, a spokesperson for the City told The Pointer.

The same response was provided regarding the possible absence of HR director Sandeep Aujla, who was notably missing from council meetings last month. Allegations by Kaur and former staff include alleged conduct by Aujla regarding improper hiring practices and her alleged involvement in political interference. The complaint sent to the Ombudsman alleges she is a friend of Councillor Harkirat Singh and that Brown was also connected to her.

They have remained silent on the allegations.

Aujla is currently suing Kaur for defamation after she levelled allegations that Aujla is a “racist”. In the email Kaur sent out publicly in April, she claims Aujla said, “Black people are dumb” while being interviewed for her current job. In a statement of claim, Aujla denies making such comments and her lawyer has told The Pointer his client will vigorously defend herself against the allegations, which he said are completely false.

Another issue that has been reported on by The Pointer, is how Barrick pulled control of the freedom of information process under his office, in an apparent violation of provincial legislation. City Clerk Peter Fay was designated by council in 2017 to oversee the accountability process, to ensure a direct reporting line to Council for all freedom of information matters, and under the law, any changes to this reporting structure would require council approval.

Barrick repeatedly misled Council, claiming the privacy office, responsible for overseeing freedom of information requests, was under legislative services and he had not pulled it under his office.

The December 2020 internal organizational chart shows the privacy office was moved and was reporting under the CAO’s office to a department under Barrick’s direct authority led by Kaur at the time. A copy of the chart was reviewed by The Pointer.

The January chart, after concerns were raised, shows the privacy function was put back under legislative services but was operating under newly hired privacy head Uzma Ashraf and not the City Clerk. At the time Barrick said Ashraf was working with the clerk’s office on FOI requests.

After frustrated councillors confronted Barrick about his secretive move, he suggested Ashraf be made the head of the FOI process, under his control. They ignored him, pointing out the obvious conflict of interest that would be created if the CAO was allowed to oversee a mechanism meant to hold him and his staff accountable. He had tried to do the same with the internal audit function. Council has restored the reporting lines of these crucial oversight mechanisms under its authority.

But while the February organizational chart shows the FOI coordinators shifting back directly under Fay, Ashraf, who was supposed to work under Fay, didn’t move to the department until July. From February to the end of June, the head privacy officer was working under City Solicitor Sameer Akhtar in the legal department. It’s unclear why Ashraf wasn’t working under Fay until recently, even though her role is not allowed to report to anyone other than the City Clerk, who under provincial legislation has to act as the head of the FOI process reporting directly to Council, unless elected officials designate another head or themselves act as the FOI authority.

A copy of Brown’s 2018 mayoral campaign contributions shows someone with the same name and spelling as Uzma Ashraf donated to his election campaign. The Pointer asked the City on numerous occasions if Ashraf was a campaign donor to Brown but no response has been provided.

A copy of Brown’s 2015 PC leadership campaign contributions shows someone with the same name and spelling as Michael Davidson, who now serves as Brampton’s commissioner of corporate support services, made two donations.