CP24 - Toronto News | Breaking News Headlines | Weather, Traffic, Sports
Allegations against Dhalla organized attack to destroy her career: lawyer
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 8, 2009 6:27PM EDT
BRAMPTON, Ont. - Allegations that Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla and her family mistreated three former caregivers are an organized attack to destroy the politician's career, her lawyer said Friday as he produced a series of documents he said prove Dhalla's innocence.
While Dhalla spoke out for the first time since the controversy erupted, she limited her words to a prepared statement and brief closing words that said little more than what was contained in written statements previously released.
Labour lawyer Howard Levitt fielded all questions directed at the Brampton-Springdale MP, though she tried to speak several times. Dhalla mostly sat through the news conference with a hint of a smile on her face as Levitt railed at those behind the allegations and the media.
Dhalla called the allegations a "big shock" that have devastated her family, but Levitt floated the contention that Dhalla was the victim of a politically motivated smear campaign.
"It's a travesty that these false allegations have been deliberately made in a purposeful attempt to destroy Dr. Dhalla's career and credibility. There's no truth to them," Levitt said.
"The only question is, who's really behind them and who orchestrated or assisted or enabled these former employees of her brother to suddenly come forward one year after the last of them worked providing care for her mother?"
Levitt added "whoever has decided to target her has made a grievous error."
Three caregivers who worked in the Dhalla home in Mississauga, Ont., last year say they were asked to do extra chores, from cleaning the family's chiropractic clinics to washing cars and shovelling the driveway.
Magdalene Gordo, 31, and Richelyn Tongson, 37, claim they earned $250 a week working 12- to 16-hour days and that Dhalla seized their passports.
The women also claim they were illegally hired without the necessary approval under the federal Live-In Caregiver Program.
A third caregiver, Lyle Alvarez, says she was severely overworked and underpaid as well.
"Anyone that has ever entered our home has always been treated with love, with care, with compassion and respect," Dhalla said.
"As such, the allegations that have been brought forward against myself have come as a big shock and have been devastating to both myself and my family, friends and supporters."
Levitt produced documents that he contended disprove the allegations, including a receipt he said was signed by Gordo that reads "they don't owe me anything."
The lawyer also produced airline boarding passes that he said show Dhalla was in the Toronto area for no more than three days during the time Gordo worked for the family, and even then was virtually never at her mother's home.
Levitt then produced a witness statement from a person said to have shovelled the snow at the Dhalla home for the past five years. Witness statements were also produced, signed by contract cleaners who Levitt said cleaned the family's chiropractic clinics daily.
The passport allegation, Levitt said, is negated by a receipt signed by Tongson that said the passport was given to Dhalla's brother to apply for sponsorship, not to Dhalla herself.
"The same Ms. Tongson impersonated Ms. Dhalla to contact (Human Resources Development Canada) to ascertain the status of her application," Levitt said. "HRDC confirmed this."
Tongson was confronted with that information and did not return to work, he added.
"I look forward to have an opportunity to have these individuals testify under oath so that everyone is subject to the laws of perjury."
The caregivers could not be immediately reached for comment on Dhalla's response to their allegations.
Gordo and Tongson told their stories to Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne during a roundtable discussion last month, and were advised to call a toll-free hotline that wasn't even operational until the next week.
That has led to calls for Fonseca's resignation from Ontario opposition parties.
Earlier Friday, the executive director of a Toronto agency who intervened on Tongson's behalf said she believes the woman and the two others who levelled the accusations are telling the truth.
"I believed their story from the beginning and I hope other people can believe their story too," Agatha Mason, who heads Intercede, told a news conference.
She doesn't believe the women have "a motive to tarnish someone," she added.
Mason said she hopes the focus can shift to the larger issue -- first and foremost being problems with the Live-In Caregiver Program.
The affair coincidentally erupted just as a parliamentary committee released a study Wednesday that chronicles the ill treatment frequently afforded temporary foreign workers, including those in the federal program.
The report found the program "places the live-in caregiver in a disadvantaged position, dependent on her employment for more than her livelihood."
Such "vulnerable" foreign workers applying for permanent residency in Canada must work 24 months in the program during a three-year period. But due to the system's slow processing times, caregivers who switch employers -- for any reason -- are hard-pressed to legally meet the 24-month quota.
The report recommends allowing caregivers to apply for an extension of up to a year to complete their 24-month employment period.
Canada had more than 200,000 temporary foreign workers in 2007.
In Ottawa, Bloc Quebecois MP Pierre Paquette said if the allegations are proven, then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff should demand Dhalla's resignation from caucus.
"I don't want to judge her before all the facts are known, but that being said, if this is true I think the only solution, for her and for Mr. Ignatieff, would be to demand her departure," he said.
In Toronto, Ignatieff offered support for Dhalla but did not take questions from reporters.
"She's offered ... for the ethics commissioner to establish the facts in the matter, and we have given her support as she defends herself," he said.
"We need to get to the bottom of these allegations quickly and get closure, both for Ms. Dhalla and for the young women in question."
As of Friday, neither Wynne nor Fonseca had been asked to appear before the parliamentary committee, according to their spokespeople.