RCMP investigates Vaughan Working Families for ads attacking Ontario teachers' unions

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police says it’s investigating a group called the Vaughan Working Families after it published full-page advertisements in Toronto newspapers last year attacking striking teachers.

The advertisements were published in February 2020 when all four major teachers’ unions in the province were engaged in escalating job action. The advertisements all opposed the strikes and appeared to support the provincial government.

Elections Ontario eventually confirmed that the ads, which were published on the pages of the Toronto Star, the National Post and The Globe and Mail, violated the province’s Elections Finances Act.

Election Ontario stated that there had been “an apparent contravention of section 37.5 and section 48 of the Elections Finances Act” and that Vaughan Working Families failed to register with Elections Ontario as a third party.

The Ontario NDP are calling on Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce to assist with the investigation.

“Teachers were under attack from the Ford government, and they got some help in that attack from Vaughan Working Families in the form of an advertising blitz,” NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Now the RCMP is investigating the shadowy group called Vaughan Working Families for their part in attacking teachers.”

A spokesperson for the RCMP told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday that they cannot release any further information on the matter as the investigation is ongoing.

Elections Ontario said if someone is convicted for violating section 37.5 and section 48 of the Elections Finances Act, they could face fines of no more than $5,000.

Who is Vaughan Working Families?

According to a report from the Toronto Star, one of the newspapers that carried the advertisements, invoices for the full-page ad were sent to a law firm by the name of Loopstra Nixon LLP.

Quinto Annibale, who has donated more than $31,000 to the Progressive Conservative party over the last six years and was appointed by the Doug Ford government as Vice-Chair of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) in 2019, is a partner at that firm.

In April 2018, Annibale incorporated a business called Vaughan Working Families and billed it as a “health care advocacy and public relations” firm on behalf of the Vaughan Health Campus of Care.

The official address for Vaughan Working Families traces back to Loopstra Nixon LLP.

At the time, the law firm confirmed that Annibale serves on the board of directors of Vaughan Working Families “in his personal capacity.”

“No other partner, lawyer or employee of Loopstra Nixon LLP had any knowledge of these advertisements prior to their publication, or made any contribution to the cost of these publications,” they said.

“We regularly act as the legal registered office of organizations who do not have a physical place of business.”

When previously asked about the elections violation, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that his government “had nothing to do with” the advertisements. He has also said that he doesn’t know Annibale or remember appointing him as Vice-Chair of the LCBO.

“Honestly, if someone gave me a million dollars right now, I don’t even know that person’s name,” he said in Jun 2020. “They send me these pieces of paper, make sure they do their due diligence, I sign it and away it goes.”

The premier's office told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday that they could not comment on the matter as it involves an ongoing investigation. 

- With files from Katherine DeClerq and Colin D’Mello