RM of Sherwood Reeve faces cross-examination in Probe corruption trial
Day two of Rural Municipality (RM) of Sherwood councillor Tim Probe’s breach of trust and municipal corruption trial began with Reeve Jeff Poissant returning to the stand in order to face cross-examination by defence attorney Aaron Fox.
Fox kept his focus on a proposed truck stop proposed by Suncor at the northeast corner of Highway 1 and Flemming Road. The proposal was ultimately voted down by RM council, but it was located on land owned by Poissant’s parents.
It is alleged that Probe offered to trade votes with Poissant on this development, during a recorded conversation on February 1, 2016. Probe would change his vote to be in favour of the development if Poissant would vote against the RM seeking the repayment of previously reimbursed legal fees.
During the investigation into former Reeve Kevin Eberle and conflict of interest surrounding the Wascana View development, Probe racked up $49,999 in legal fees. In October 2014, council created a bylaw that saw Probe, Eberle and other councillors be reimbursed for their legal fees. The amount paid was approximately $250,000.
The Court of Queen’s Bench quashed the bylaw in September 2015, but did not include any action that the legal fees be paid back to the RM.
The repayment of these legal fees was brought forward at a January 13, 2016 council meeting. Probe made a motion to seek a legal opinion before making a decision.
Probe did not recuse himself during this meeting, and was found to be in conflict of interest by the provincial ombudsman last year. She said he should have left the room while discussion of the legal fees took place.
In Fox’s cross-examination, he asked if Poissant stood to benefit from the Suncor service station being approved. Poissant said he would not directly benefit, but his parents would. This is why he recused himself from these discussions once elected.
Prior to his October 28, 2015 election, Poissant said he did talk with councillors about the proposed development.
At one point in the Feb. 1 conversation Poissant recorded, Probe can be heard saying what appears to indicate he won’t change his vote on Suncor unless Poissant votes against collecting legal fees.
However, Fox points out that later in the recording Probe seems to indicate he would vote in favour of the Suncor development if there was a better examination of how to make the intersection safer.
Fox said Probe’s concern stemmed from his then 16-year-old son driving near what would have become a much busier intersection.
Fox added that Poissant said “I believe so” during the preliminary hearing when asked if he thought Probe would support Suncor if the intersection was examined.
Once cross-examination was complete, Crown prosecutor David Belanger called former RM chief administrative officer Ron McCullough to the stand.
McCullough testified that prior to the January 13, 2016 council meeting Probe asked McCullough if he would be in conflict of interest if he took part in discussion on the repayment of legal fees. McCullough told Probe he believed that would be the case.
Probe did not recuse himself.
Interim Reeve Neil Robertson told the court that there was a great deal of divisiveness amongst councillors when he took the job.
Robertson was appointed after Eberle was removed from the position following his conflict of interest investigation. Robertson served as Reeve until Poissant was sworn in on November 4, 2015.
Throughout McCullough and Robertson’s testimony Fox questioned the relevancy of Belanger’s questions. Fox said much of what Belanger is asking is a matter of public record and is not being disputed. Belanger responded that he is getting witnesses to corroborate events in an attempt to establish a motive for Probe.
The trial is currently scheduled to conclude Wednesday, but another day may need to be added depending on what evidence is brought forward by the defence.
Probe remains in the RM council, but is on a leave of absence while the legal process unfolds.