Witnesses take stand in McAdam trial
The first witness in Elections Quebec’s case against Chelsea real estate developer Sean McAdam took the stand on May 16 — four years since the advertisement ran in the Low Down.
McAdam is accused of violating the Quebec Election Act when he paid for a 2017 Chelsea municipal election-related ad on page 6 of the Oct. 18, 2017 edition of this newspaper.
First up was the Low Down’s very own publisher and owner, Nikki Mantell, who said it all started with a phone call.
“I received a phone call from Mr. McAdam … inquiring about the possibility of putting in a full page ad that would be an open letter,” she said in court.
She said that McAdam paid $626.46 to run the open letter across a full page.
“I knew that it would be controversial,” Mantell said during cross-examination by McAdam’s attorney.
Elections Quebec lawyers argue that the letter was an undeclared election expense by a third party – only official agents can pay for publicity that supports or opposes candidates or political parties – but McAdam’s lawyers contend that the open letter doesn’t violate the Quebec election laws because it doesn’t identify any candidate or party by name.
The paid ad, titled “An open letter to all municipal candidates” stated that “at least one candidate running in almost every ward, as well as the mayoral race,” had “undeclared property-related interest in municipal land-use policy.” The letter gave examples of four unnamed candidates, asking them to declare any property-related conflicts of interest.
The ad stirred intense controversy throughout Chelsea during a tough and hard-fought election campaign that centred around the community trail project. Although names weren’t used in the advertisement – Chelsea, being the small town it is – some residents said they figured they knew who the open letter referred to.
“Although Mr. McAdam did not identify people by name, he provided enough information for voters to clearly understand that he was referring to me when he was referring to the second candidate,” wrote then-candidate and Chelsea resident Andrea Lockwood in a follow-up letter to the editor in the Oct. 25, 2017 edition of the Low Down. Hers ran alongside numerous other letters responding to McAdam’s ad.
“We had three pages of letters [in the next edition. McAdam’s letter] provoked discussion for sure,” Mantell said in court.
During cross examination, McAdam’s lawyer Michael Rankin asked Mantell if a central point of his client’s ad was to call for transparency in the election.
“That would be fair to say,” she responded.
Chelsea Ward 2 Coun. Dominic Labrie and 2017 mayoral candidate Tim Kehoe also took the stand on May 16.
“This ad jumped out to me,” Labrie said on the stand.
Rankin objected as Elections Quebec lawyer Amélie Gélinas asked Labrie about who he recognized in McAdam’s letter.
“This is an opinion Mr. Labrie is offering,” Rankin said to the judge.
He argued that without names printed in the letter, the prosecutors’ witnesses would be expressing their opinion when stating who they believe McAdam referred to.
“That is not admissible evidence,” Rankin said, adding that he would object each time a witness was asked a similar question.
He told the judge that the judgement must come from only what’s printed within the open letter itself.
‘What’s stopping the defence from calling 50 witnesses who say, ‘I don’t know who [McAdam]’s talking about [in the ad],’” Rankin asked.
“The law doesn’t say there needs to be names,” Gélinas said, adding that the ad was targeted toward a small community.
McAdam, sitting in the Gatineau courtroom wearing a suit in front of Judge Christine Lafrance, was represented by Ottawa lawyers Rankin and Guy Pinsonnault. McAdam and his lawyers sat across from Elections Quebec lawyers Gélinas and Corinne Fournier. A group of four Chelsea residents sat in the courtroom to watch the proceedings.
News broke about Elections Quebec’s investigation into McAdam in April 2018.
The case is expected to last until May 20.