The lawyers are two of five people charged last week as part of an alleged scheme involving top leaders at the Ontario Provincial Police union.
Blair, who was chief of the Toronto Police Service from 2005 to 2015, was elected last October as a Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest.
Questions to Blair’s office were referred to David Paradis, the Liberal riding association president for Scarborough Southwest. Paradis declined a phone interview but confirmed in an email that there was a fundraiser for Blair’s campaign in June 2015 in a private box at the Rogers Centre.
Blair had accepted an offer from lawyer Francis Chantiam to host the event. Andrew McKay, a cop-turned-lawyer who used to work for the Toronto police, purchased a ticket to attend.
“Mr. Blair was unaware at the time of the fundraiser that there was an investigation into Mr. Chantiam or Mr. McKay. Upon learning of the news, Mr. Blair asked the riding association to return the donations,” Paradis said in an emailed statement.
None of the allegations against any of the men has been tested in court.
Paradis said Chantiam and his wife hosted the fundraiser, which served as a $2,411.16 in-kind donation; Chantiam also donated $1,000 to the campaign. McKay, meanwhile, chipped in $500.
Both men had been named three months earlier in a front-page Star story detailing an RCMP investigation into allegations of fraud at the OPP union. The story, in which police described Chantiam and McKay as accomplices in the alleged scheme, was also featured in several other media outlets.
Blair directed the riding association to refund the donations on Friday — the day after charges were announced, Paradis said.
He explained that Blair, who currently serves as parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, asked the association to give $1,500 to the Receiver General, the government agent that handles ineligible donations that can’t be returned. Blair has also directed the association to donate $2,411.16 to Variety Village, a fitness charity in Scarborough, to cover the in-kind donation, Paradis said.
After a 19-month investigation, the Mounties charged Chantiam, McKay and three long-time OPP union executives: Karl Walsh, 52, James Christie, 48, and Martin Bain, 50. The five men are accused of fraud over $5,000 and laundering the proceeds of crime through a complex system of secret companies and offshore investments designed to steal money from union members.
As detailed in an affidavit last year, the alleged investments included two beachside condos in the Bahamas — one valued at $1.5 million — and $100,000 in union money wired to an income fund in the Cayman Islands. The affidavit, from RCMP Sgt. Gordon Aristotle, was used to justify Mountie raids on the Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) office, union vehicles and the residences of Christie, Bain and Walsh in March 2015.
“I believe they have financially benefited from their actions, breached the trust of the OPPA membership and placed the OPPA and its membership at a significant financial risk,” Aristotle wrote at the time.
Speaking on behalf of McKay, lawyer David Humphrey told the Star that his client will vigorously combat the charges against him. “He is surprised and extremely disappointed by the charges and as the matter is before the court it’s not appropriate for him to commenting further,” Humphrey said.
Peter Brauti, the lawyer representing Chantiam, the New Jersey lawyer who organized the Blair fundraiser, said his client is “disappointed” by the charges and denies all wrongdoing. He added that the Blair fundraiser was “very routine,” given that Chantiam — who runs packaging businesses in Canada and the U.S. — has thrown “dozens and dozens” of fundraisers for a variety of causes.
The Star was unable to reach Walsh, Bain and Christie on Monday. None of their lawyers responded to requests for comment as of press time.
The union, meanwhile, declined to comment on behalf of the former executives as they no longer work for the association, said spokesperson Josh Jutras.
The RCMP’s OPPA investigation focused on a company called PIN Consulting Group, which the affidavit said was incorporated in 2014 and named McKay as its sole director. Walsh and Christie, as top union officials, allegedly signed a three-year contract with PIN on behalf of the union that was worth $180,000 and designed for their own benefit. The services to be provided by PIN, run out of the same Bloor St. address as McKay’s law office, included real estate and commercial investments, vacation property opportunities and travel benefits, according to the document.
The Mounties also looked at a travel company called First Response, where Chantiam worked as a partner. The New Jersey lawyer was described at the time as McKay’s “rich friend” who hosted union members in a Rogers Centre box. The document states that the union “abruptly” directed its members to stop travelling through Flight Centre and direct their needs exclusively through First Response.
“The totality of the alleged behaviour demonstrates an ongoing breach of trust . . . by Walsh, Bain and Christie that has escalated in sophistication and significance,” Aristotle wrote in the affidavit.
RCMP Sgt. Penny Hermann said Monday that the investigation remains open “as new information comes in.”
Rob Jamieson, who took over as OPPA president last December, said on Monday that the union is working to increase transparency and accountability to ensure confidence in its financial affairs. He declined to comment further, as the matter is before the courts, and was not speaking on behalf of the accused former executives.
“We’ve turned the page in a dark chapter in our history,” Jamieson said. “We’re focused on the day-to-day needs of our membership, and that’s what’s important.”
The five men are scheduled to appear in court July 18.
Author: Alex Ballingall