Catholic parent not a 'straw man' in conflict case, court hears

By Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter
Published by ParentCentral.ca on May 14, 2010

There is no evidence that a conflict-of-interest case against two Catholic trustees is a political vendetta or that the parent who launched it is a "straw man," Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice heard Friday.

"The applicant (Arnaldo Amaral) has a history of being an activist in the education community," and is involved at his children’s school as well as in the Portuguese community, his lawyer, Stephen D’Agostino, told court.

However, the lawyer representing trustees Angela Kennedy and Barbara Poplawski said Amaral is simply a pawn for Catherine LeBlanc-Miller, a fellow trustee who lost in a race against Kennedy to be chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Colin Stevenson told court LeBlanc-Miller recruited Amaral, a parent for whom she’d done political favours in the past, and that she promised to help cover court costs.

There’s no evidence Amaral could afford it on his own, he added.

D’Agostino said LeBlanc-Miller offered help, but that it was a more general "expression of support."

He also said the "political favours" consist of two things over the past six years; one was a $42 dinner and, assuming both ate, "it’s incredulous to me that counsel can suggest Mr. Amaral is a willing pawn based on a $20 dinner," D’Agostino told court.

At issue is whether the participation of Kennedy and Poplawski in budget discussions and votes at a May 2008 meeting violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act because they had children employed by the board.

Stevenson has said there was no conflict, and if there was any possible financial interest it was "too remote, or insignificant."

At the time of the meeting, Kennedy’s son, Kevin, worked as an unqualified supply education assistant a few days a week. Another son, Brian, had been accepted to the supply teacher pool, although had not registered to begin work.

Poplawski’s daughter, Terry, was a full-time education assistant and near the top of the union’s seniority list.

Amaral is asking the court to remove Kennedy and Poplawski from their trustee positions as well as disqualify them from running for up to seven years.

The case, heard before Justice Lois Roberts, wrapped up Friday. She reserved judgment but noted "this is a time-sensitive matter" given the upcoming municipal elections.

Last year, former board chair and trustee Oliver Carroll was ousted from the board after being found guilty of 10 contraventions of the act, including his participation in the budget at that same May meeting when his daughter was a newly hired teacher and his son in the supply teacher pool. He was ordered to pay almost $50,000 in costs.