Toronto police are investigating former Unifor president Jerry Dias after the union turned in half the money he allegedly accepted from a supplier of COVID-19 rapid test kits in exchange for promoting them to union employers.
Police spokesperson Caroline de Kloet confirmed Tuesday that the financial crimes unit has begun an investigation, which is in its preliminary stages.
On Monday, Unifor announced it had turned in to police the $25,000 it received from Chris MacDonald, the whistleblower who was allegedly given the funds by Dias after he passed MacDonald over for an endorsement as his successor to the Unifor presidency.
The whereabouts of the other $25,000 are not known, and Unifor has said it never received the funds. Dias allegedly accepted the sum from an unnamed COVID-19 rapid test kit supplier in exchange for promoting the kits to employers, some of whom bought the kits — a breach of Unifor’s constitution.
After MacDonald reported the breach to Unifor, the union commenced an investigation into the recently retired national president, who has been the union’s leader since it was formed in 2013.
Dias is apparently in a rehabilitation facility dealing with substance abuse problems, which a psychiatrist’s report commissioned by his lawyer found may have contributed to the alleged ethics breach.
A copy of the psychiatric assessment obtained by the Star said Dias was self-medicating with drugs due to a sciatic nerve issue, had been drinking a significant amount, and was also under stress at having to choose between two “close friends” for endorsement in the upcoming Unifor presidential election.
“Mr. Dias’s wrongful conduct may have arisen at least in part due to his feelings of loyalty to the individual who was not chosen to succeed him,” the report said.
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“The events reported by Mr. Dias surrounding the issue in the workplace featured the consumption of significant amounts of alcohol.”
On Tuesday, a Unifor spokesperson said the union will not comment further.
Allegations of misconduct first surfaced March 14, after Dias had announced his early retirement due to medical issues. He had gone on medical leave just days after being informed of the investigation into him, which began at the end of January 2022.
A hearing stemming from the investigation will be held soon, where Dias will be given the opportunity to explain his actions.
In the meantime, election campaigning has been paused, though Dias’s early retirement triggered the need for an election earlier than the one planned for August. The two people vying to replace him are Union Local 444 leader Dave Cassidy and Scott Doherty.
Dias and Unifor have been synonymous since the union was created. Known for being gregarious and politically savvy, he left a complicated and colourful legacy. He was a key participant in negotiation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and was largely credited with saving the General Motors plant in Oshawa.
Dias did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment via his lawyer.
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