Toronto Catholic trustees did not have conflict, lawyer argues

Posted May 12, 2010
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By Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter

Two Catholic trustees did not have a conflict of interest when they took part and voted on the board’s budget despite having children employed by the board, their lawyer argued Wednesday in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.

“It’s crazy to suggest that there’s some outrageous pecuniary conflict here,” said Colin Stevenson, who represents trustees Angela Kennedy and Barbara Poplawski.

The two are accused of taking part in discussions, introducing motions and voting on budgetary matters at a May 2008 meeting that could have affected staffing levels in the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Poplawski is further accused of having tried to influence trustees voting on a no-layoff motion after declaring a conflict, but then standing on the sidelines making hand gestures.

At the time of the meeting, Kennedy’s son, Kevin, worked as an unqualified supply education assistant a few days a week at high schools. Another son, Brian, had applied, interviewed and been notified he’d been accepted for the supply teacher pool, although he hadn’t registered to begin work.

As a student, Brian had worked for the board during the summers of 2005, 2006 and 2007, and later in 2008 was hired as a summer school teacher. By the end of 2008, he had registered and was working as a supply teacher, court heard.

Poplawski — a longtime trustee, first elected in 1978 — has a daughter, Terry O’Handley, who was hired full-time as an educational assistant in 2003 and was high on the union’s seniority list, court heard.

Former board chair and trustee Oliver Carroll was ousted last year after being found guilty of 10 contraventions of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, including his participation in budget discussions at that same May meeting. At the time, his daughter was a newly hired teacher and faced the likelihood of being laid off.

The two women have said their case is “significantly different” than Carroll’s.

However, lawyer Stephen D’Agostino, who represents applicant Arnaldo Amaral, said there are several similarities. He said past cases have shown that courts must interpret the act “harshly” and hold politicians to higher standards.

Amaral, a parent of children in Toronto Catholic schools, 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.

Stevenson told court Amaral is a “straw man” and that the real person behind the case is trustee Catherine LeBlanc-Miller, and that it is politically motivated.

Kennedy, first elected in 2000, represents a ward that includes the Beaches and East York, up to Highway 401. Poplawski represents an area including High Park/Bloor West Village.

The case is being heard before Madam Justice Lois Roberts.