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Ottawa mayor loses bid to halt trial

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien leaves the courthouse Friday with his wife Colleen McBride.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A judge rejected Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien's bid to have influence-peddling charges against him thrown out, releasing a strongly worded decision challenging the view that patronage is an accepted part of Canadian politics.

After three weeks of evidence from the Crown, the mayor's legal team requested a directed verdict - essentially saying there is no need for the defence to present evidence because the charges should be thrown out.

In his decision, Mr. Justice Douglas Cunningham said he can only do that if he is of the view that no jury would find the defendant guilty. He ruled that that test has not been met. Further, he rejected Mr. O'Brien's argument that patronage is simply part of politics, writing that it depends on the circumstances.

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"The Crown submits that just because this activity is one of politics' dirty realities does not make it any less odious, indeed criminal. I agree with this submission," wrote Justice Cunningham in a 26-page ruling. "In short, just because it happens, doesn't necessarily make it acceptable ..."

Mr. O'Brien is facing charges under two sections of the Criminal Code relating to having or pretending to have influence over the Government of Canada in order to gain a benefit and soliciting, recommending or negotiating an appointment for personal gain.

Terry Kilrea alleges that Mr. O'Brien offered him money and a federal appointment in exchange for dropping out of the 2006 Ottawa mayoralty race.

Mr. Kilrea said Mr. O'Brien, a wealthy entrepreneur who made his name in the capital's high-tech sector, offered him between $25,000 and $30,000 to cover campaign expenses.

Ottawa criminal lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said governments will likely have to seek legal advice before making appointments or deals that could run afoul of this decision.

"People are going to think twice and look at this decision and the specifics of it before they proceed with politics as usual," he said.

The hearings are scheduled to resume July 6 at which point the defence will indicate whether it will be calling Mr. O'Brien or anyone else as a witness.

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Mr. O'Brien has confirmed meeting with Mr. Kilrea during the campaign - including once in a parking lot behind a Tim Hortons - but consistently denied Mr. Kilrea's allegations of criminality. The mayor outlined his version of events to police.

In those records, Mr. O'Brien tells police he did have an initial meeting with Mr. Kilrea over coffee where he described their one hour discussion as a "big swinging dick contest." Both men were campaigning from the political right and risked splitting that support had both of them remained on the ballot.

Mr. O'Brien also told police that it was Mr. Kilrea who raised the issue of a federal appointment. He said he told Mr. Kilrea to call Conservative cabinet minister John Baird, the political minister for the Ottawa area, to inquire about an appointment.

The mayor told police the conversation was a "rookie mistake" that should not have happened, yet there was no criminal intent.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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