OTTAWA - Manitoba judge and former Conservative cabinet minister Vic Toews was to have his wages garnisheed earlier this year in order to settle a dispute with an Ottawa-area landlord.
Toews unsuccessfully tried to block the repayment, arguing that he didn't realize what was going on because he couldn't read the official French-only documents from Quebec's rental tribunal.
The administrative judge from the Regie du Logement said in a ruling last week that Toews should have known better, given his current and previous positions.
"More than anyone, he should be in a position to understand the respect and attention that should be paid to a document titled "DECISION," wrote Pierre Gagnon.
The matter dates back to the summer of 2013, when Toews announced he was leaving federal politics. He was renting from the Gatineau, Que., firm Immeubles Desmarais, and according to tribunal documents did not pay rent for the final three months of his lease — an outstanding total of $3,900.
Landlord Raymond Desmarais went to the tribunal that November, but Toews did not show up to defend himself. The judge ruled that Toews repay the rent, plus interest and $78 in court costs.
But Toews did not repay Desmarais. In December 2014, he received a collection agency letter saying he owed $17,490, with the 2013 tribunal decision attached.
Toews's lawyer, Alexander Bayus, said it wasn't until January that he learned what had happened at the tribunal, as he discovered his wages were about to be garnisheed.
He filed a motion in February to reverse the judge's decision, and said that the landlord's initial request for payment was sent to the wrong address back in 2013.
Bayus also said that the collection agency's December letter didn't refer to the rental agency firm "Immeubles Desmarais" but rather to owner "Raymond Desmarais," a name the judge didn't recognize.
"Certain documents were attached to the letter but, because they were in French, the tenant could not read them," Bayus said at the tribunal.
"Based on the content of the letter, which referred to some sort of related claim, he assumed that these were the draft documents relating to the claim."
Quebec law says that parties have ten days to file a motion for a reversal of a rental tribunal decision if there was some reason they were unable to defend themselves previously.
Gagnon said despite the address mistake back in 2013, Toews would have had time to file the motion within the statutory window after receiving the documents in December. He rejected the reversal motion as too late.
It is unclear what the final rental bill was for Toews, and whether it has now been paid.
Neither Toews nor Bayus responded to a request for comment and for additional information. Desmarais also did not respond.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported Thursday that the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner is investigating whether Toews broke conflict-of-interest rules.
The commissioner's office says there is enough information to examine Toews' reported lobbying efforts for the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. Public office holders are not permitted to do work with or for groups they dealt with while they were in government.
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