Steve Hinder was due to start giving evidence today (Tuesday 27 November) but the Court rose early because of the weather and he was not called. Hinder takes the stand at 10am tomorrow in Courtroom 402 at the Courthouse in Eagle Street, Newmarket. 

Pullano: I thought I was going to die.

Today we hear from Fred Rankel who is a longstanding resident of Aurora with a background in construction and engineering. He says he is not political. He has known both Hinder and Pullano for about 15 years.  He gives evidence on oath.

WOP is a derogatory term for Italians and people of Italian heritage.

Punch or handshake?

It is 20 March 2014 and we are back at the Mansion Banqueting Hall in Aurora. Fred Rankel goes to Jane Twinney’s acclamation with a friend and when Pullano comes in they shake hands.

“I pretty much stayed at the back of the room close to the exit… Mr Hinder entered the hall and rapidly approached Anthony Pullano. There was a quick interaction. Mr Hinder’s right hand went up and Anthony took a step back (as if he) lost his balance… 

“Mr Hinder had his hand up (indicating to shoulder level).

Pullano’s lawyer, William Reid, asks if it looked like a handshake

“It could have been.”

After the interaction

“Anthony looked shaken and (was) sweating… He looked uncomfortable like he was going to have a heart attack.”

Fred Rankel tells the Court he signed his affidavit in 2015 in Pullano’s office.

Does Hinder refer to people of Italian Heritage as WOPs?

Now Pullano’s lawyer asks Rankel how Hinder described the former Mayor of Aurora Phyllis Morris.

“Syphilis Morris” he replies

Whoa! The Judge intervenes and asks Pullano’s lawyer, William Reid, how this is relevant. The jury (and Fred Rankel) are asked to leave the Courtroom while the Judge and Counsel lock horns on the admissibility of this evidence.

Reid reminds the Court that Hinder launched a counter-claim for defamation earlier this year, citing Pullano’s attacks on him in social media. Reid says Hinder has a disposition for repeated verbal bullying and the jury should be made aware of this fact.

Reid tells the Judge that on 10 June 2014 Hinder says in the presence of Mr Rankel:

“If these WOPs get elected we will have to roll up our tents and leave town.”

I learn that conversation was between Hinder and Tim Jones, the former Mayor of Aurora, who has been sitting in front of me in the public gallery throughout the trial.

Hinder’s Counter-claim for defamation

Reid tells the Judge these statements by Hinder are crucial to the defence and to (rebutting) the counter-claim on defamation. He says that Hinder attended a meeting for municipal election candidates organised by the Chamber of Commerce in 2014 and when Hinder saw Pullano he (Hinder) mouthed the word “WOP”. 

Reid, now sounding exasperated, tells the Judge that to exclude this evidence “doesn’t do justice”. He says Tim Jones could be called to the stand. But the Judge rules this out immediately on the grounds that Jones cannot give evidence as he has been sitting through the entire trial. Reid says that when Hinder comes to give evidence he may even admit what he said. Personally, I doubt it.

The Judge rules that Hinder’s alleged remarks about Syphilis Morris and WOPs cannot be put to the jury on the grounds that this would be highly prejudicial to the defence.

Seriously upset

By now the Judge is getting seriously upset. He says:

“The prejudicial effect would outweigh the probative value.”

I consult my on-line legal dictionary. The probative value of evidence refers to whether it is, or is not, sufficiently useful to prove something important in a trial. 

However, probative value of proposed evidence must be weighed by the trial judge against prejudicing in the minds of jurors towards the opposing party.

He orders Reid to steer clear of asking Fred Rankel about Phyllis Morris and how Hinder allegedly referred to her.

Now Hinder’s lawyer is on her feet asking a series of questions designed to demonstrate that Rankel didn’t really see or hear what happened in the interaction between Hinder and Pullano. I hear lots of questions about who is seated where and whether views are blocked by people wandering about. 

Rankel is asked about his recollection of Hinder’s arm being about shoulder height and why that wasn’t in his affidavit.

“The affidavit was a quick summary not the detail we are getting today.”

Rankel says he was about 20 – 25 feet away from the interaction between Hinder and Pullano. He says Pullano jumped backwards.

Hinder’s lawyer says the affidavit mentions a “sudden step backwards”.

“That was a jump.”

“I didn’t interpret that he got hit when he took a step backwards…  but I don’t see how he lost his footing.”

“I am not guessing at what I saw.”

Pullano, described by Rankel as flushed and sweating, said Hinder hit him and it hurt. 

Hinder is in the witness box tomorrow at 10am.

On oath.

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Tomorrow (27 November 2018) Steve Hinder will say under oath that he did not assault Anthony Pullano by punching him in the chest on 20 March 2014. 

Hinder and Pullano cannot both be telling the truth.

Instead he will say he shook Pullano’s hand.

Giving evidence earlier today, Wanda Cena said under oath that she was at the Jane Twinney acclamation on 20 March 2014 and that she saw Steve Hinder strike Anthony Pullano in the chest causing him to stumble backwards. She said she didn’t hear anything that might have been said between the two because she was about 30 feet away. She had a clear uninterrupted view. Mr Pullano was facing her. Mr Hinder had his back to her.

After the altercation she saw Hinder go towards the VIP section. She was concerned about Pullano as he was “twitching and grimacing” but at no stage during the evening did she talk to him. 

Cena was asked which hand Hinder used to punch Pullano, left or right, but she couldn’t recall. 

“I wondered why you would hit someone hard enough to make them stumble back… it was a really quick punch.” (she demonstrates)

Hinder’s lawyer, Deborah Berlach, asks how long the encounter was.

“Just a few seconds.”

Berlach’s line of questioning is designed to suggest to the jury that Cena was distracted during the evening and she may not have seen what she claims to have seen. 

She was privately tweeting to her friend Maddie Di Muccio (at one stage a candidate for the PC nomination) sometimes crouching down, sometimes standing up, while, at the same time, keeping an eye on the front door to see if she recognised people coming in. 

Berlach asks at length about Cena’s relationship with Maddie Di Muccio and Anthony Pullano, how they got to know each other and how the friendships matured and developed. Berlach asks about the 2014 campaign for Newmarket Council when Cena was a candidate in Ward 1. 

Twitter takes centre stage as tweets are analysed at great length for their true meaning. We hear about Twitter friends and Twitter feeds. And who was friends with whom.

Towards the end of the cross examination, Berlach goes to the affidavit sworn by Cena. In it Cena claims Hinder “without provocation” punched Pullano. 

Now Berlach asks:

“What do you mean by without provocation?”

“How did you see the punch if Mr Hinder had his back to you?”

Wanda Cena says without missing a beat:

“Mr Hinder was slightly at an angle. His right side was facing me at an angle.”

Like everyone else I was looking at Wanda Cena intently, reading the expression on her face. 

Did she look as if she was inventing this?

It seemed to me she was telling it as she saw it.

Tomorrow, Steve Hinder will no doubt be asked if his mighty handshake caused Pullano to stumble backwards two or three paces.

Or was there a punch?

Pullano and Hinder cannot both be telling the truth.

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We are in the middle of an epidemic of gun violence

91 Homicides in Toronto this year. Shootings and stabbings are becoming normalised as we get used to the carnage. Politicians mouth platitudes and do nothing.

I want to see a nationwide ban on assault rifles and handguns and I recently asked my MPP Christine Elliott if she still believes (as she did in 2008) that

“a simple handgun ban is not going to be the answer that we need, because criminals are not going to respect handgun bans.”

Given the roll call of massacres over the last decade – from Sandy Hook to the Danforth - I am left wondering if her views have evolved. For example, does she still believe:

“For all intents and purposes, there is a handgun ban in Canada right now.”

Does she believe that private citizens who are lawfully allowed to own handguns regularly and frequently use these handguns to kill people?

“there already is a handgun ban, except for people who are lawfully allowed to own handguns: members of our police services, our armed forces, and recreational shooters.”

If Elliott is still against a ban on handguns in private ownership what steps should be taken to prevent gun violence?

“We are all in favour of any reasonable proposal coming forward that's actually going to do something to prevent gun violence.”

When I blogged about handguns a month ago I promised to post Elliott’s response if she got back to me. I have now heard from her constituency office who refer me to the PC Party’s basic Talking Points. They say this is all they can do until they get a direct response from her. I am grateful to her office.

This is what the Talking Points say:

  • Gun violence has no place in Toronto and these brazen, indiscriminate attacks need to stop.
  • Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and ensuring the police have the tools they need to do their job is our priority. 
  • Illegal guns cross the border into our province every single day.  This needs to stop.
  • We will look to work with the federal government to ensure that sentencing is tougher for the criminals who have committed these violent acts, and ensure the bail system is doing its job to keep our communities safe.
  • We are also committed to making sure our police have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Ontarians deserve to feel safe and secure in their communities. 

Elliott’s Office tells me further announcements will be made in the new year when I can look forward to a better response to my questions.

I consider this progress.

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Background: Anthony Pullano, an Aurora businessman steeped in the Town’s Progressive Conservative politics, alleges that Magna’s community relations chief, ex-cop Steve Hinder, punched him in the chest. It happened on the evening of 20 March 2014 at a meeting called to acclaim Jane Twinney, the PC’s candidate for the upcoming Provincial election. Pullano, who suffered a heart attack on 13 June 2013, says the assault damaged his ICD (similar to a pacemaker) and directly led to a chest infection which nearly killed him. 

Steve Hinder and Anthony Pullano

The evening before, on 19 March 2014, Pullano went along to a Liberal Party meeting where Chris Ballard was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate. Pullano, who describes Ballard as a friend, says Hinder took exception to the fact that he (Pullano) was present at both.

Pullano is bringing a civil action against Hinder claiming damages. Hinder is counter-claiming for defamation saying Pullano unleashed a torrent of vitriolic attacks on Twitter which were intended to damage his reputation. The trial in front of a jury of four women and two men began on 19 November 2018 and is expected to run for two weeks. Pullano is represented by William Reid and Hinder, Magna International and the Stronach Group by Deborah Berlach. Her job is to demolish Pullano’s credibility in the eyes of the jury.

The story so far: I have been sitting in on the Pullano v Hinder trial for most of the past week – on the bench directly behind Steve Hinder, former Aurora Mayor Tim Jones and some Magna people. The trial is giving me some fascinating insights into the destructive and poisonous politics of the local Progressive Conservative party. And it allows me to learn more about Steve Hinder who, for years, has been an important and influential figure in the life of Aurora. The jury decides on the evidence if an assault actually took place. I believe it did.

As the trial opens Mr Justice McCarthy explains the procedures and the role of the jury. They alone are the judges of the facts. I learn that in law touching someone without consent is an assault.

Anthony Pullano: His own worst enemy

As the trial opens Pullano’s lawyer, William Reid, prepares us for what to expect. He tells the jury Pullano is from a modest background with a grade 10 education. He had to leave school to help the family’s finances. He is unsophisticated and rough round the edges. He has been involved in politics at the local level for a long time. 

Steve Hinder is a different kettle of fish. He retired in 2001 as a staff sergeant in the police and was a councillor for one term. He was the constituency manager for Belinda Stronach and head of campus security at Magna. He was subsequently hired by the Stronach Group as their community relations person. We are told he is a well-educated and sophisticated man.

Almost from the outset, it becomes clear that Anthony Pullano is his own worst enemy. He irritates the Judge with his circumlocutions and off-point answers to questions. He challenges Hinder’s Counsel, accusing her of trying to trick him. There are many occasions when I hold my head in my hands, willing him to stop digging deeper but he plows on. He gives long lists of people he actively dislikes. He tells it as he sees it, warts and all. The jury is getting pure unfiltered Pullano, straight from the horse’s mouth.

The alleged assault 

Pullano says he was brought back from the brink of death. 

Fast forward to the evening of 20 March 2014 and to the Mansion Banqueting Hall in Aurora. Pullano believes some people in the PCs take exception to the fact that he went along to Chris Ballard’s meeting. He has a brief conversation with Jane Twinney. Later Hinder approaches and with a closed fist he punches Pullano directly on the chest saying: 

“Who are you supporting tonight?”

The central question in this trial is very simple. Was there an assault?

Hinder’s lawyer tells us that Pullano was standing at the bar when Hinder walked in and shook his hand. She says Pullano’s subsequent tweets were untrue and they form the basis of the counter claim for defamation.

During the trial we learn about Pullano in excruciatingly microscopic detail. His background, personal life and messy divorce (he says he is now happily re-married). His businesses, friends and finances are all forensically picked over by Hinder’s lawyer. What did we learn?

Pullano believes God sent him angels. Friends helped him financially in business and in buying a home in Aurora. Meaning he got a really good deal.

Pullano sees himself as a loyal Conservative. Pullano was a member of the Newmarket Aurora Progressive Conservative Riding Association Board:

“I was never an extremist involved in politics. Always middle of the road. I never wanted to run Provincially or Federally.”

He talks about his relationships with Tim Jones, Frank Klees (“a good man and a good MPP”) and Belinda and Frank Stronach (described as acquaintances).

Belinda Stronach was elected as Progressive Conservative MP for Newmarket Aurora in 2004 and Hinder was her constituency manager. In May 2005 she crossed the floor to the Liberals.

“I started to get emails from PC guys who scare me. They want to hang her. When Belinda crossed to the Liberals Hinder and his circle crossed… I stayed with the PCs.”  

He says he quit the Newmarket Aurora PC Board in 2013 when it started to become “extreme”.

Pullano loathes Magna. When Belinda Stronach quit politics Hinder became the Community Relations Director for Magna – a company which Pullano describes as

“all pervasive in Aurora. They are in charge. They are the big boys. Hinder came back as an extreme right wing Conservative.”

Pullano goes on:

“Mr Hinder was known as the bagman for Magna. He would decide which councillors got donations from Magna. If Hinder didn’t like you then 90% of the people around him would dislike you.”

The night of the alleged assault. Pullano says he went to the Mansion Banqueting Hall around 6.30pm and met two friends. He has a brief conversation with the PC candidate Jane Twinney

“… I know Jane Twinney. An attractive girl. I’d never seen a frown on her face before. (She says) I hear you went to the Ballard event. I told her I can’t vote. I’m not a Liberal. But she was very upset… 80% of the people at the Mansion I didn’t recognise. They were extremist PCers.”

His friends went to get seats and Pullano asked them to save him one. He wanted to scan the room. He says the place was full of “Hinder’s cronies”.

“I saw Hinder come in. I thought he would go up to the front of the hall to the VIP section for the big boys. I thought he would go there. Things happened instantaneously.”

He says:

“And who are you supporting? And he punched me. Bang!” 

“It was unexpected. Hard. Straight. Bang right on my chest. His expression was anger on his face.”

“He punched me and walked away. Like I was a piece of dirt.”

“He then went into his VIP circle of friends. When he punched me I lost my balance. I didn’t fall down but stepped back two or three steps to get my equilibrium… It was like I’m in charge here. I can do whatever I want.”

Pullano goes on:

“I started feeling my heart racing. I can’t breathe.”

“I was afraid something would happen so I better not leave. I sat down quietly.” 

After half an hour the speeches were over and Pullano summons up the courage to confront Hinder. He thinks to himself: How can Hinder just punch me and walk away? I’m not afraid of him.

“I walked up to him. Listen you fuck I am calling Magna. Tomorrow I am calling. And Hinder says I was just kidding!”

“As I walk away Derek Murray (the President of the PC Riding Association) – an 80 year old extremist hothead – walks up to me. All of a sudden he starts yelling at me… yelling at me while holding in his dentures.”

Was there a pre-existing heart condition?  

Pullano says he would have been elected to Aurora Council had it not been for his heart infection. It is impossible to know. He came 13th out of 30 or so candidates with eight vacancies to be filled.

On Thursday (22 November) Pullano is on the stand being cross examined. There are questions about his personal finances. His sources of income before he set up Embassy Cards. Whether Embassy Cards operated at a loss. Whether he consulted medical professionals about his mental health in November 2013, before the alleged assault on 20 March 2014. (He asked for a check up on 13 February 2014 because he was concerned about tingling sensations that would come and go.) This line of questioning is designed to suggest there was a pre-existing condition. We are told Pullano was a smoker.

Pullano tells us Wanda Cena (a witness to be called on Monday) was standing next to him when he was allegedly punched by Hinder. Did he know Ms Cena at the time of the alleged assault?  

“I knew her by name only. (I did not meet her until) maybe a year after the 2014 election.”

Pullano is asked if Hinder was aware he had an implanted ICD. Pullano says he didn’t know. He doesn’t say perhaps or probably. I am thinking there is no side to Pullano. He tells it as he sees it – even when his answer manifestly undermines his credibility in the eyes of the jury.

Now she is going through Pullano’s acidic comments about Hinder on Facebook. 

I was scared

Now she wants to know why he didn’t go to the police about the alleged assault before September 2017. Hinder was, of course, a former police officer.

“I didn’t go before then because I was scared. I was afraid. Finally I got the nerve to approach them and they did a two month investigation…”

In the event, York Police did not press charges. Pullano brought a private criminal prosecution but it ended earlier this year when the Crown withdrew the charges.

He is asked about other comments he made on social media about Hinder’s friends allegedly deserting him. I made that up says Pullano with disarming candour.

Now Ms Berlach wants to know the basis for Pullano’s assertion that Magna and Hinder have the town of Aurora in their pocket, deciding which candidates for Council are going to get Magna/Stronach donations. She challenges him to give evidence for his claim that Hinder lobbies for Magna on the Town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee. Pullano wrote to the Town about his concerns but his representations were ignored. 

Pullano is painted as a loose cannon, firing shots wherever the fancy takes him. Making things up. Oblivious to the consequences.

Pullano doesn’t think twice about talking of people he doesn’t like in derogatory terms. He refers to Derek Murray, the 80 year old president of the PC Riding Association, as “the walking dead”. He says of the newly elected Mayor of Aurora:

“Mr Mrakas is known in Aurora as Hinder’s boy.”

By his standards, Pullano is neutral about former Mayoral candidate John Abel:

“He is a friend of Hinder’s. We don’t really like each other but we are civil. The relationship is not toxic but civil.”

The evidence of Dr Andrew Morris

Dr Andrew Morris is an expert on infectious diseases. He has an impressive professional CV and is accepted on both sides as the expert’s expert. He has been brought in by Pullano’s lawyer to give his opinion on causation – whether a blow to the chest is likely to have triggered the infection that had such serious consequences for Pullano.

Did the blow cause the infection? Dr Morris cannot say definitively but

“Clinicians have repeatedly said there was no evidence of infection and then after the blow (there was) clear evidence of infection… blunt trauma is the likely mechanism for the introduction of bacteria.”

He is asked if drugs prescribed to Pullano before the alleged assault would mask an underlying infection. No.

“It is impossible to say the blow was causative. Equally, but more likely, the blunt trauma was the inciting event.”

He sums up:

  1. There is minimal if any evidence of any infection prior to 21 March 2014.
  2. Even though Mr Pullano received antibiotics (prior to the blow) two of the three drugs wouldn’t treat an infection and the third was prescribed at a low, ineffective dose. (Therefore there is no masking of a pre-existing infection by drugs)
  3. It is entirely plausible that blunt trauma could introduce infection.

Hinder’s lawyer presses Dr Morris in cross examination. She wants to know if latent infection could arise from the ICD insertion surgery in 2013. Dr Morris says firmly, no.

Pullano has now finished giving his evidence.

The trial continues on Monday with Wanda Cena in the witness box.

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Update on 26 November 2018: Dr Andrew Morris is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto and the Medical Director of the Sinai Health System-University Health Network Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. He is not attached to Southlake as I incorrectly stated earlier.

The long running drama between Anthony Pullano and Magna’s community relations person, Steve Hinder, comes to Court tomorrow (20 November 2018) in front of a real live jury. 

What a jolly fellow!  Steve Hinder, Magna's man.

Four years ago Pullano claims he was assaulted by Hinder, a former police officer, who allegedly punched him in the chest, dislodging his pacemaker. Pullano was taken to hospital. The Auroran newspaper tells us his injuries led:

“to a “deterioration” in health including “loss of heart function, loss of sexual function, a loss of right hand function, and chronic pain and inflammation in his right hand and/or right arm.”

Doesn’t sound good.

Pullano pursued Hinder through the criminal courts for assault but the Crown concluded in May of this year there was no prospect of a conviction and the assault charges against Hinder were withdrawn.

Understandably, Pullano is unhappy. Undaunted, he decides to press ahead with his civil action against Hinder where he is, apparently, claiming $5m in damages, citing loss of enjoyment of life, loss of opportunity and mental distress.

I haven’t met the jolly Steve Hinder but he seems to be absolutely everywhere, smiling into the lens of every camera.

I suppose it shows what a sheltered life I lead never having run into the great man. 

Hinder is, of course, in favour of the destruction of heritage buildings in Newmarket’s old downtown so he is not my favourite person.

As for Pullano, he has demonstrated remarkable staying power. 

He is not going to forgive – or forget – that blow to the chest four years ago.

The trial starts at 1pm in Courtroom 402 at the Courthouse in Eagle Street and will continue at 9.30am on the days following.

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