Ontario’s Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister says civil lawsuits he is facing are to be expected after decades of practicing law, as the Opposition called for him to provide further public disclosure about his legal battles.
The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that Michael Tibollo, or the law firm he heads, faces five ongoing lawsuits. The allegations include professional misconduct by his firm and a failure to pay debts. Mr. Tibollo disputed the number of suits, which The Globe outlined based on legal documents, saying only two are against him directly. He later acknowledged a third.
“I can’t comment on them because they are in the courts at the present time,” said Mr. Tibollo, who founded Tibollo & Associates Professional Corp. law firm in Woodbridge, Ont., just outside Toronto.
“When you think about it, I have been practicing law for 31 years," Mr. Tibollo said to reporters at the Ontario legislature on Wednesday. "And in 31 years time, to have a couple of lawsuits come up, they come up, they are dealt with. We move on, but they are civil matters.” He added that he expects a third legal matter, a defamation lawsuit filed earlier this year, to be resolved soon.
The Opposition attempted to ask about the allegations during Question Period, but Speaker Ted Arnott ruled NDP member Kevin Yarde’s question was out of order because it was not about government policy.
Mr. Yarde, the Opposition critic for community safety, says the NDP will make further inquiries about the Speaker’s action. As well, he said Mr. Tibollo should provide more details to the public. “This is the minister responsible for the Ontario Provincial Police. There is more that Ontarians deserve to know,” Mr. Yarde said.
Premier Doug Ford defended Mr. Tibollo in question period on Thursday, calling an NDP MPP’s questions about the matter a “smear campaign.”
“The Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services is the most credible minister down here. He has integrity, he has transparency and he’s an absolute champion. I’ll stand beside him any day, 365 days a year,” Mr. Ford said, adding he has “1000 per cent confidence” in Mr. Tibollo.
Tibollo & Associates Professional Corp. is a four-lawyer firm. Mr. Tibollo is not practising law while he is serving in the provincial government, but owns and controls Tibollo & Associates.
Two of the lawsuits name the firm and not Mr. Tibollo personally as a defendant. Another legal action filed in 2015, and not previously reported, was brought against him, his firm, his wife, Silvana, and a holding company, 37 George St. N. Ltd.
In the statement of claim, the law firm Piccin Bottos, Formel Properties and Rino and Rosa Bagnoral, who were shareholders in 37 George St. N., alleged that Mr. Tibollo violated “undertakings” to them to inform them about any changes to the value of property the company owned. “In fact, part of the property was sold under power of sale and Michael Tibollo personally, encumbered the said property with unregistered mortgages,” the statement of claim alleged. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2016 and the terms are confidential. The lawyer acting for the plaintiffs declined to comment.
In a case before the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), a panel concluded in January, 2006, that Mr. Tibollo did not breach the Securities Act in a stock fraud case in the mid-1990s related to the Sussex Group, a company in Cuba that he headed. A related firm, Saxton Investments Ltd., was raising funds through a stock offering based on its association with the Sussex Group.
However, the panel criticized Mr. Tibollo’s actions in his capacity as a lawyer. He stressed on Wednesday that he did nothing wrong. “I had no role other than to run operations in Cuba. I was not involved in anything up here in Canada with that,” Mr. Tibollo said. “You are talking about 22 years ago. I can’t give you specifics at this point. The bottom line is the matter was heard by the securities commission and I was cleared of it.”
The OSC panel’s ruling stated that Mr. Tibollo and four others received a legal opinion in August, 1997, about whether there were any securities law issues over more than $30-million the Saxton Group raised. The OSC noted in its ruling that the lawyer said “they had substantial problems and the offerings were illegal public offerings.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
With a report from Laura Stone