Senior Brampton staffer drops bombshell allegations against CAO and is fired hours later – Council orders investigation

·16 min read

A senior director in Brampton’s CAO office levelled jarring allegations of corruption Thursday, plunging City Hall into a state of panic. Brampton’s Chief Administrative Officer, David Barrick, who was fired from his previous job in Niagara after numerous controversies and his implication in a hiring scandal there, is once again at the centre of another dark political cloud.

The former Port Colborne councillor was hired under the direction of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who shares a number of close Conservative political ties with him and chaired the committee that made Barrick the City’s top bureaucrat despite his conduct in Niagara and the absence of any City Hall experience outside his role as a small-town councillor.

Now, after less than a year-and-a-half on the job, one of the senior staffers hired under Barrick’s watch, has brought forward deeply disturbing allegations of corruption, delinquent hiring practices and fraudulent procurement practices, under the CAO’s direction.

Other senior staffers are accused of nepotism, bullying and misuse of public funds, according to the allegations by former director of corporate projects and liaison, Gurdeep (Nikki) Kaur.

Kaur informed The Pointer that hours after she sent the allegations via email early Thursday morning to a long list of City Hall employees, council members and some media outlets, she was fired by Barrick.

Council held a special meeting Friday morning, and voted for an independent third-party investigation into the allegations lodged by Kaur.

The Pointer spoke with her and was provided with evidence to back up many of her scathing allegations.

One revolves around the hiring of Brett Bell, a longtime Progressive Conservative Party associate of Brown, the former Ontario PC Party leader, who has a two-decade relationship with the Mayor.

Kaur alleges Barrick instructed her to email one consultant, Menes Company (MenesCo), to develop plans for a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC), a project that would oversee the City’s large real estate portfolio.

She provided text messages from Barrick sent by him on January 7, 2020. The texts show the CAO sent Kaur the name of the company and its email address. “Contact: Brett Bell” Barrick writes in the next text, and then “Thank You!”

Barrick had taken over the project from another City department, community services, that had handled it prior to his hiring.

Bell was given the contract, worth about $300,000, and council was never informed it had been handed to a man with close political ties to the Mayor.

The Pointer reported on the questionable procurement earlier this year, and Bell stated he was contacted by City Hall on January 9, 2020, two days after Barrick sent his text messages to Kaur.

Bell did not have an official company at the time and confirmed he only incorporated his consulting firm on January 11, 2020, two days after City Hall tapped him for the lucrative consulting job. Such procurements often require at least five years in business to qualify for work.

The Pointer asked City staff in January how Bell was solicited to do the work, but the question was not answered. Staff were also asked how many other companies were invited to bid for the contract. They did not provide an answer.

Kaur confirmed MenesCo was the only firm she was told to reach out to and is unaware how the final contract ended up with the firm.

She provided texts that show immediately after The Pointer sent questions to City staff in January about Bell’s hiring, Barrick sent the following message to Kaur on January 18, 2021, the day before The Pointer’s article was published: “Mayor had nothing to do with it”.

Bell, who said he has experience in “municipal and engagement practices” and has worked with a public relations firm that has deep ties to Canadian Conservative political parties, does not appear to have any experience in real estate management or the operation of complex municipal development corporations.

Kaur said she “was informed verbally by the CAO to move forward with the work with the Menes Company” shortly after he told her to engage Bell for the work.

After The Pointer’s article came out, Kaur received a call from Robert D’Amboise.

Barrick and D’Amboise were both implicated in the damning 2019 “Inside Job” investigation report by the Ontario Ombudsman, who probed the hiring of former Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo. Barrick had attempted to pressure senior staff there to hire his boss, who at the time was running the local conservation authority where Barrick worked. D’Amboise, who worked for the Region, provided D’Angelo with the questions and answers for the CAO interview process.

Barrick was eventually fired and D’Amboise left. After Patrick Brown oversaw the hiring of Barrick in Brampton shortly after, the new CAO then hired D’Amboise to work for him.

On Thursday, Kaur played a recording of the call she received from D’Amboise shortly after The Pointer's article on the MDC consulting contract was published and shared a digital copy with The Pointer.

"My understanding is most procurement bylaws allow for single-sourcing in the instances of, you know, in the areas that" – he says before being cut off by Kaur, who interjects. "I think we need to speak to David to clarify every single concern," she says.

“I think it’s one of those instances where as much as we can do to protect David,” D’Amboise replies. He continues: “I’ve seen this type of stuff before in Niagara. It doesn’t matter if this stuff was followed appropriately, what we need to do is create questions."

When Kaur confronted Barrick about the call, D’Amboise denied speaking to her about the issue.

The Pointer asked Barrick why text messages and conversations were commonly used to address crucial and potentially controversial City business, instead of using required, documented communication through official City of Brampton platforms.

He did not reply.

The Pointer sent the City and staff members named in Kaur’s lengthy email allegations, including Barrick, a number of additional questions. Spokesperson Natalie Stogdill provided a general response.

“We are aware of reported claims related to City personnel matters, procedures and policies.

“The City takes all matters related to the workplace seriously and is committed to maintaining a positive, healthy and safe environment in which every person is treated with respect and dignity, is able to contribute fully, and has equal opportunities as outlined in the City’s Respectful Workplace Policy.

“In regards to the matters referenced, we can confirm that all Human Resources and Procurement policies were followed. The City does not cite specific details about individuals or the status of their employment.”

In January, members of Council were surprised when they learned who Brett Bell was, how he was hired, and how much the consulting work cost. After The Pointer’s reporting, a workshop detailing the project and its procurement process was planned for the last week of April, at the request of council members concerned about the deal, but there is no sign this has been scheduled.

Before finding out she was fired Thursday, Kaur told The Pointer she was prepared to tell council members about her concerns.

“The reality [is] I was hoping to clarify in the workshop, but it's now been postponed and now I have to say that David Barrick hired a consultant without the procurement process… and without seeking other companies,”

Postponing the workshop is the latest example of Barrick’s efforts to cover up his actions, Kaur said.

Some of the most disturbing allegations by Kaur involve the conduct of Patrick Brown.

She questioned in her email why the mayor had used City resources in his bid to help Peter MacKay win the federal Conservative Party leadership last year.

Brown provided a response explaining MacKay’s visit last year to City Hall when a boardroom space was used so the leadership candidate could meet with about two-dozen businesspeople from the South Asian community.

“As for Peter Mackay, he visited me at City Hall. We welcome all parties at City Hall who want to learn about our policy perspectives. Liberal Steven Del Duca visited my team at City Hall when he was running for leader and wanted feedback on his healthcare plan. The NDP federal candidates also visited me at City Hall to learn about our Brampton agenda. The Green Party leader Mike Schreiner also visited me at City Hall to learn about our climate agenda. No taxpayer funds were used for any of these visits,” Brown told The Pointer.

He did not explain why he directed staff who don’t even work in the mayor’s office to do direct campaign work for MacKay.

Kaur provided The Pointer with texts Brown sent her, instructing her and other City of Brampton staff to help MacKay’s leadership bid.

In a series of texts on and immediately around May 11, 2020, Brown gives Kaur directions.

“Please sign up membership before May 15 to support to Peter McKay (sic)”, Brown instructed her on May 11.

Another one gives her specific orders: “Meet membership sellers and then do meet and greets with members after the membership deadline is over.”

Then: “Let’s aim for 10’to 20 membership sellers. People who can do a minimum of 100 each.” Brown was attempting to sell as many Conservative Party memberships through the local riding association in Hamilton-Stoney Creek.

The next text to Kaur followed soon after: “Very low turnout”.

Then, “Can you go there with Rob tomorrow night and Tuesday night and collect ballots. Knock on their doors.”

Kaur replied, asking, “Which Rob?”

“Rob Dambosie (sic)”, Brown immediately texts back.

“We need Stoney creek for peter.”

Then: “We have found people give ballots when we door knock them”

The texts reveal that in the middle of Brampton’s crippling pandemic emergency last spring, the city’s mayor was preoccupied with securing a victory for a Conservative Party leadership candidate, diverting City staff to do so.

Kaur told The Pointer that Barrick would often cover for Brown, and the mayor did the same whenever council members asked questions about the CAO.

In an attempt to get answers, Council voted Friday to hire a third-party investigator after nearly five hours of deliberation in camera, behind closed doors, to probe Kaur’s allegations. A copy of her complaint will also be sent to “the appropriate police agency” and the Ontario Ombudsman for “consideration”.

Councillor Martin Medeiros said he’s going to do his own research to guarantee the third-party investigator is completely independent, with no ties to Barrick, Brown or any other senior staffer or member of council. “I’m not going to take, respectfully, staff’s word on anything… I want to ensure it’s an independent investigation,” he told The Pointer after Friday’s vote.

Councillor Charmaine Williams echoed the need for an independent investigation, thanking Kaur for having the courage to come forward with her allegations. “Residents have the right to open and transparent government and Council as a whole has a duty to live up to those expectations,” she told The Pointer in an email.

“This is alarming for the taxpayers and residents of Brampton,” Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon said, after the closed session. “I am concerned that the CAO is currently in charge of the entire corporation. With all of the allegations in the last few months, during a pandemic that is crippling our city, our staff are now paralyzed as the person at the centre of the allegations is formally under investigation while he is supposed to run the corporation. Brampton is full of hard working people, who just want City Hall to work for them. That's all that some of the council members want."

Barrick has been at the centre of controversy over the last few months. He quietly moved the internal audit function under his authority, ignoring the independent reporting line of the crucial accountability function directly to council.

His key political ally from Niagara, a man named Tony Quirk, was quietly hired to complete seemingly routine tasks at a cost of $218,000 to taxpayers, without council’s knowledge. Barrick oversaw $110,000 of consulting payments to Quirk within four months of his hiring as the Brampton CAO. His former Conservative Niagara council colleague didn’t even register his consulting company until after the $110,000 was paid to him.

Barrick illegally moved the City’s freedom of information function out from the clerk’s office, where it reported directly to council, and put it in his office, reporting to him, violating provincial legislation that says only council can determine who oversees the function. Councillors expressed their anger with Barrick before passing a motion returning the FOI role back to the clerk’s office reporting to council.

In other municipalities, the CAO would have been fired after committing such actions, Medeiros said. Barrick continuing his role, and facing no repercussions, shows him there are members of Council who are not holding Barrick accountable. “That tells me there are councillors who are hiding behind in-camera (where meetings are not open to the public) and hiding behind the process, because they can’t be named.” Medeiros says there are other councillors who are passionate about bringing “significant changes to the City of Brampton,” but he hopes residents can see who is standing up for them.

Councillor Jeff Bowman shared Medeiros’s frustration. “There are a few Council members that have tried to ensure that anytime claims are made, or questions of conduct arise, that we bring them out into the open and give the residents of Brampton some transparency. In saying that, any motions put forward need the support of the majority of council, and if we don’t get that support, motions fail. In the end, Council has a duty to the public, and are accountable for all decisions,” he told The Pointer.

Kaur says Barrick hired a pack of allies, most of them from Niagara, to help him take control of Brampton City Hall.

Blaine Lucas, who Kaur names in her publicly posted allegations and says was known to Barrick, was hired as the senior manager of public affairs. The Pointer was unable to confirm a connection but text messages Kaur provided suggest Barrick was familiar with the man.

She alleges Lucas was hired to intimidate employees into leaving the organization so “David Barrick can do whatever he pleases without having any interference from anyone.”

In a series of text messages Barrick sent to Kaur, he says Lucas is “smarter and more ambitious than [former employee], [former employee] seems lazy and misdirected as well.” In an earlier text Barrick says, “Blaine will grind [former employee] out,” and “[former employee] may leave on his own, which would be ideal.”

The Pointer sent Barrick and Lucas a list of questions

Though Kaur was Lucas’s boss, her direction was ignored, she said, as Barrick dealt with the man directly. “He will go to David for everything. That clearly establishes a modus operandi.” Kaur said emails were sent to Barrick and Lucas to discuss problems that quickly began to arise among staff but no action was taken.

Backlash against Kaur mounted when she didn’t support a candidate for a low-level management position favoured by Barrick. Kaur said Barrick favoured one specific candidate who is directly tied to a Niagara associate of Barrick and Mayor Brown. Kaur says she didn’t believe the woman was fit for the role. “This was one of the worst interviews I have ever sat on.”

In a phone call, which she recorded (The Pointer was given a digital copy) she tells Barrick about her concerns with the candidate, saying she was not qualified for the position and shouldn’t receive a second interview. Barrick pushes back, saying he needed to judge the candidate himself, but he makes it clear that he does not want to be part of the interview panel, which would have been documented. “It’s my office Gurdeep, it's the CAO’s office and the CAO has 100-percent say in the CAO’s office.”

Earlier this year, Kaur decided to seek a nomination for the next federal election, losing her bid the night before she sent out her bombshell allegations.

Barrick called Kaur on April 14 to inform her the decision created “a conflict of interest for government relations,” providing no further explanation. Kaur was sick at the time and off from work. She says he offered her a job in the planning department that would resolve the conflict. Confused and feeling under the weather, Kaur asked to discuss the matter at a later date. Days later, and still on sick leave, she was emailed an “immediate transfer to a lower role” that she never agreed to.

“This move was done to cover up so I would not speak and this would go away but this [is] abuse of authority and misuse of public funds. This is a clear breach of my rights and abuse of the process.”

Kaur received an emailed termination letter from Barrick Thursday in the early afternoon, hours after she levelled her allegations through her widely circulated email.

Kaur, a lawyer with a background in family and real estate law who has also worked in finance, told The Pointer Barrick’s reasoning for firing her will easily be challenged through legal action. She is planning her next steps and intends to now use the courts to expose what has been going on inside City Hall.

She said Brampton taxpayers are the real losers. “The amount of taxpayer money being wasted by all the severences and legal costs being incurred due to the misconduct is really sad,” she said. “I did this to help other staff, and the city. Someone needs to stand up to what is happening. Most of these people don’t even have any connection with Brampton.”

Anonymous whistleblowers The Pointer has spoken to say they are afraid of repercussions by the senior staff who now control City Hall.

Kaur says she has no regrets. She said the public deserves to know the truth. “The sad part is, we're supposed to live in a democracy where [leaders] are supposed to be honest.”

Email: nida.zafar@thepointer.com

Twitter: @nida_zafar

Tel: 416 890-7643

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Nida Zafar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer