Clarence-Rockland politicians caught up in OPP probe

Rating: 
3

Force's anti-rackets squad investigating emails about ousting of a town manager

Gary Dimmock And Chloé Fedio – March 20, 2012

The mayor of Clarence-Rockland and three town councillors are caught up in an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad into emails about ousting a town manager from office, the Citizen has learned.

The emails between Rockland Mayor Marcel Guibord and his former business partner, Rockland lawyer Stéphane Lalonde, and three current town councillors date back to November 2010 - weeks before the politicians were sworn into office following municipal elections held that fall.

The emails are the subject of another OPP investigation launched when Guibord made a complaint that the emails had been taken from his laptop computer.

In the emails, which are in French, Lalonde encouraged councillors Diane Choinière, Guy Félio and René Campeau to oust town manager Daniel Gatien from office.

Lalonde suggested in a Dec. 6, 2010, email that elected officials file formal complaints against Gatien to enumerate "all his failures," and concluded: "After he's received five or six comprehensive notices, the door won't be far!"

In a Nov. 12, 2010, email, Lalonde sent the incoming mayor and three incoming councillors two suggestions "for the December city council meeting" that dealt with changes to a deal reached between Gatien and the previous council.

One suggestion in the Nov. 12 email proposed "revoking" the agreement which said that the town would pay Gatien's legal fees in a defamation suit filed by Gatien against Lalonde.

The email also stated that the lawsuit "would cost a fortune and won't bring anything to taxpayers."

The email also pointed out that Gatien began billing for legal fees on April 13, 2010 - one day before council signed the agreement to cover the costs. The email proposed that council ask that "Gatien reimburse all the legal costs that the municipality covered before the agreement for an allowance was signed."

In a Nov. 15, 2010, email, Lalonde noted that two other councillors would likely oppose his proposals and said: "You can confront them in a number of ways."

The email suggested they ask the following questions:

"Did you consult the other side before accepting as truth the grievances made by Daniel Gatien? And what if they were false? Don't you think that we shouldn't condemn someone before asking their version? Isn't it true that giving someone a blank cheque to cover their legal fees before hearing from the opposing party is an abuse of power ... Isn't it true that taxpayer dollars should be used in a more parsimonious manner, since there are so many important services to fund in our municipality? What services are you willing to sacrifice in order to fund this personal vendetta?"

Gatien has since been hired as an economic director for another municipality.

"And I'm happy where I am today," he says.

The city of Clarence-Rockland has posted details of a negotiated settlement with its former chief public servant. The statement says Gatien received $238,224 in salary and benefits. The municipality also paid $35,000 to cover his legal fees. As well, legal and mediation fees for the settlement of the severance agreement cost more than $99,600, bringing the total to $372.834.40.

In an email dated Nov. 17, 2010, Lalonde offered the new council members a coaching session for their first council meeting, scheduled for Dec. 3, 2010.

"Unlike the other members of council, this will be your FIRST meeting, and it would be my pleasure to help you so that you can meet the expectations of your constituents. All eyes (and the cameras) will be on the new members of council (YOU IN THIS CASE) to see if you're capable of 'delivering the goods.' " He then suggested a time and place for such a meeting.

In a Dec. 6, 2010 email to Guibord, Choinière and Félio, Lalonde advised the group on how to file written complaints against Gatien.

"With regards to your grievances regarding Daniel Gatien: Marcel (Guibord) and Guy (Félio), can you send your own complaints - prepare and hand over to Daniel Gatien a first notice regarding all his failures during your first week as councillors. If you want to send him out the door, you have to start 'compiling' your own file. You can prepare a notice each week with a list of your complaints regarding his attitude, his lack of respect, his refusal to comply with instructions from members of council (for example, photos, website, et cetera). After he's received five or six comprehensive notices, the door won't be far!"

On Dec. 9, 2010, Lalonde emailed Diane Choinière about filing her own grievances against Gatien.

"I've already had a few conversations with your husband, and he's told me that you are interested in compiling a list of Daniel Gatien's performance faux pas and to submit to him your first official notice. - It would be my pleasure to help you in the preparation and/or editing of this letter. - If I were writing the letter, I would end it by saying that Gatien should exclude himself from regular council meetings and all other municipal functions -"

In a Nov. 30, 2010 email to Guibord, Lalonde writes:

"I've reviewed the necessary conditions in order to get rid of Daniel Gatien. You will have to give him up to two months salary for each year of service. Once you receive the list of non-unionized workers, their salaries, their qualifications and their years of service, it will be possible to determine exactly what is required for Daniel Gatien. If you don't give him an envelope full of cash as an incentive to leave, you can give him an equivalent period of notice. For example, if it takes two years of salary to make him leave, you can opt to give him two years notice, or you can give him one year's notice and one year's salary."

Rockland Mayor Marcel Guibord told the Citizen in an interview that he hopes the OPP "do the right thing" and declined to talk about the contents of the emails. Guibord did acknowledge that he filed a complaint to the OPP about the alleged theft of his emails.

Guibord also told the Citizen that there's a "possibility" that the emails are not authentic, but when asked why he would report emails from his home computer as stolen if he thought they might not be authentic, the mayor declined to answer.

His former business partner and lawyer, Stephane Lalonde, told the Citizen he is "absolutely not worried" about the OPP investigation.

For starters, Lalonde says his emails to the incoming councillors are legally confidential under solicitor-client privilege.

Lalonde said police are "totally wasting" taxpayers' money to even try to use the contents of the emails as evidence.

"So forget it, it ain't going to happen. In your dreams," he said.

Lalonde also reported the alleged theft of the emails to police. He also said he couldn't say if the emails were authentic. Asked why he'd report any theft if the emails were fake, he said he was bound by solicitor-client privilege and could not, by law, answer.

Lalonde, a former councillor himself, said he believed the contents of the emails don't matter because police will not be legally allowed to use them in a court case because they are privileged, in his opinion.

"None of this could ever be used in a courtroom in any sort of evidence," Lalonde claimed.

Lalonde said his emails were advice to incoming councillors, and nothing more.

"What did I do? A lawyer provides advice and it's supposed to be privileged," Lalonde said.

"I know a lot about municipal affairs in this town like no one else. If anything happens, I hear about it quickly. I'm connected with many businesses, the big players, the small players and the medium players," Lalonde said.

In an email dated Dec. 15, 2010, Lalonde advised the mayor and three councillors on how to select municipal legal counsel.

"I would like to point out some nuances with respect to the words used to select the new lawyers for the City of Clarence-Rockland."

He identifies three local lawyers, himself included. "Marc Y. Simard can deal with all the real estate transactions, Michael J. Houle can deal with all the litigation, and I can be your legal counsel, if it so pleases you."

Choinière later submits to Gatien, who is then still town manager, a recommendation to hire Houle, Simard and Lalonde as municipal counsel, their tasks divided in the manner previously suggested by Lalonde.

Lalonde said he could not talk about the contents of the emails because of solicitor-client privilege.

However, Lalonde did say the emails, generally, amounted to his advice about a human resources issue, namely a "problem with a particular employee."

"They sought legal advice. It's just standard," Lalonde said.

René Campeau, a councillor, told the Citizen he was merely copied on the emails and never replied.

"I don't see it as a conspiracy. It's more like us getting information to get some (human resources) stuff straightened out under client privilege. (Lalonde) did it to help us out," Campeau said.

Campeau added that the councillors were not billed for the lawyer's advice.

Campeau said: "He did it to help us out, completely for nothing."

Councillor Diane Choinière said the emails contained confidential legal advice about a human resources problem. "It was extremely important for us as a new council, we were under scrutiny, so it was important for us to go about our business the right way," she said.

The councillor also said she's not "concerned at all" about the OPP investigation.

Councillor Guy Félio declined to comment about the emails and the investigation.

The investigation is ongoing, according to OPP Inspector Dave Ross.

Original article on Ottawa Citizen website

Comments

In my view, a major limitation in this Ottawa Citizen article is that it provides little exposure and critical analysis of what, I believe, are lawyer Stéphane J. Lalonde possible motives for offering his advice in the manner described in this newspaper.

Anyone who buys into the notion that Lalonde did it only to "help us out" as the Clarence-Rockland municipal councilor Campeau is quoted as saying in that article, strikes me as been rather either naïve and gullible, or significantly misinformed in my view.

In my carefully considered view, factors motivating Lalonde to provide advice to a selected number of councilors, as described in the emails addressed by the Ottawa Citizen article, appear to my eyes heavily tainted by his significant self-serving personal and professional interests in having the municipal council execute his advice. Here are some facts underlying some of those possible motives:

  1. The Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gatien had launched a legal proceeding against lawyer Lalonde. The City was contractually committed to reimburse Gatien's legal expenses associated with that proceeding, win or lose.
  2. The City of Clarence-Rockland has on ongoing legal proceeding against a company called Chamberland Crossing, owned by lawyer Lalonde.
  3. Lawyer Lalonde had launched a legal proceeding against the former mayor, Richard Lalonde. All former mayor Lalonde's legal expenses for that proceeding are reimbursed by the City of Clarence-Rockland or its insurance if necessary, win or lose.
  4. Lawyer Lalonde resigned as a Clarence-Rockland municipal councillor, in 2005 I believe. Publicly it was stated that this was due to "personal reasons". However I reckon a closer look would show that then mayor Richard Lalonde and Clarence-Rockland's Chief administrative officer, Daniel Gatien, were made aware of a situation which demanded Lalonde’s resignation. 

These three legal proceedings confronting the personal and professional interests of lawyer Lalonde against the interests of the city of Clarence-Rockland were ongoing during the period he was providing his advice to selected members of city council in those emails described in the Ottawa Citizen article, and currently under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad. 

I believe that these three legal proceedings added to the cloud under which lawyer Lalonde resigned as a municipal councilor of Clarence-Rockland, go straight to the heart of the core factors which really motivated lawyer Lalonde to provide the advice described in the Ottawa Citizen article to selected municipal councilors, such as how to go about getting rid of the city's Chief administrative officer, Daniel Gatien. The word vengeance, pure and simple, comes immediately to my mind to describe what this was all about.

No, I just don't buy that lawyer Lalonde did it out of the goodness of his heart, freely, just to help some new members of the municipal council. In my view, he simply and adroitly used some of them (some quite willingly I reckon) to prosecute his ethically reprehensible agenda. And by gosh, did he ever achieve results, the most spectacular one being Gatien's departure last August.