Politics

Seven months after a police officer leaked internal documents used in political smear, ex-candidate is still awaiting justice

Nick Gahunia was riding a political high.

The young Progressive Conservative seemed on track to win the
party’s nomination in his Brampton Centre riding for the
Ontario election held earlier this year. Then in mid-April, the
packages started arriving.

Sent to local Tories, journalists and others, the letters
contained confidential police documents on investigations
involving Gahunia, 28, and urged Conservatives to “clean the
rot.”

The law-school graduate has no police record but within days,
as his reputation in Brampton’s close-knit Indo-Canadian
community plummeted, the party barred him from the nomination
race.

Peel Regional Police
later revealed

the documents, produced by its investigators, were accessed by
a Toronto police officer from an RCMP-run computer system, then
released without authorization. Raising the spectre of
law-enforcement personnel aiding a political smear campaign,
the incident stood out among a string of PC nomination
controversies.

But nearly seven months and at least three closed-door
investigations later, no one has been held to account for an
incident that Gahunia says left him depressed and ostracized.

“To me it seems like there’s a cover-up,” he says. “I
can’t even walk in the community like I used to any more. It’s
damaged my name, it’s damaged my father’s name. People think
I’m a criminal and they don’t want anything to do with me.”

Former Brampton MP Kyle Seeback, who helped Gahunia with his
campaign, said he considers the events an assault on the
democratic system.

People think I’m a criminal and they don’t want anything to
do with me

“If a police officer can access someone’s confidential police
file for political purposes and there’s no consequence, what
message does that send?” he asked. “This is extraordinarily
serious.”

Answers to exactly who was behind the episode, though, may not
be emerging any time soon.

In an email to Gahunia last month, an investigator with the
Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) —
which received his complaint in April — said she was still
“scheduling and conducting interviews, as well as obtaining and
reviewing materials.”

Ruby Chauhan, a spokeswoman for the oversight agency, said she
can’t comment on specific cases, but said “OIPRD thoroughly
investigates all retained complaints and endeavours to do this
as expediently as possible.”

And yet the case may not be much of a mystery. Gahunia says a
detective with Peel Regional Police, which finished its own
investigation in May, told him he already knew which officer
obtained the documents — leaving behind a digital fingerprint
as he did so — and who mailed them out, but was not allowed to
divulge the information.

Meanwhile, the office of Ontario’s Information and Privacy
Commissioner is pursuing another investigation of the incident,
calling it “complex,” and saying it cannot comment until the
probe is over.

Gahunia was already the PCs’ Brampton Centre riding association
president when he entered the race to be the Tory candidate for
an election that polls indicated was the Conservatives’ to
lose.

Winning nominations often hinges on recruiting more new members
than anyone else, and he says he had signed up 3,000 of the
riding’s 5,000 Tories by this spring.

“I had everybody with me,” Gahunia says, notwithstanding a
short-lived foray into the Brampton Centre race by then-Toronto
city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti.

I don’t know why they’re prolonging it. This isn’t rocket
science

He first got word of the mailed-out packages on April 9; he
says he knows of at least 50 people who received them, while
more were distributed electronically. One contained a police
report indicating he had been arrested for suspected use of a
stolen credit card 10 years ago, when he was 18.

Another contained a similar report on the brief 2016 arrest by
Peel police of him and others in a Hummer SUV that officers
said contained traces of a white powder they suspected was
cocaine. Half an hour later, the men were let go, police
determining there was too little of the powder to even test.

Gahunia says both instances were misunderstandings; regardless,
Peel police issued him a letter in April saying he had no
record on the Canadian Police Information Centre database,
which documents criminal charges and convictions. He promptly
complained about the leaked reports to Peel police and the
OIPRD.

Even so, he says party president Jag Badwal informed him late
on April 20, barely a day before the nomination vote, that he
was disqualified as a potential candidate, though could
continue as riding president.

Harjit Jaswal, the eventual PC candidate who narrowly lost to
NDPer Sara Singh in the June 7 election, told the National Post
in May he had nothing to do with the bid to discredit Gahunia.
Badwal could not be reached for comment.

On May 17, Peel police
issued a statement saying internal reports “not authorized
for release to the public” had been obtained by a member of the
Toronto Police Service through the Police Information Portal, a
system that lets law-enforcement agencies share confidential
information.

Peel said the Toronto force’s professional standards bureau had
taken over the investigation. Toronto police spokesman Mark
Pugash later told the Post the case had been passed on to the
OIPRD, already seized with the matter since April.

Gahunia, who is studying to take the bar-admission exam next
year, says he just wants his name cleared. And for him, that
means publicly exposing how the leak happened.

“I don’t know why they’re prolonging it,” he said of the
various investigations. “This isn’t rocket science.”

• Email: tblackwell@nationalpost.com
| Twitter: TomblackwellNP

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close