thumb-2021-03-023 This article is more than 2 years old

Doug Ford’s Office Wanted Names From Surveillance Allegedly Targeting Ontario PC Minister’s Family Home

Operative with ties to a trusted Doug Ford adviser told the Premier’s Office that an Ontario PC minister’s home was under surveillance

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PressProgress is an award-winning non-profit news organization that uncovers and unpacks the news through original investigative and explanatory journalism.
Learn more about our journalistic standards

Doug Ford’s office sought compromising information about one of its own ministers after receiving allegations that an Ontario PC minister’s family home was under surveillance and had been identified as a source of leaks to the media.

Bizarre details of a behind-the-scenes internecine political drama are revealed in leaked direct messages from a senior staffer in the Premier’s Office newly obtained and independently verified by PressProgress.

One person involved in the March 2019 exchange was Cody Welton, the head of issues management in the Office of the Premier of Ontario.

The other participant is a self-described political fixer named David Wallace, who was connected to the Premier’s Office by a top adviser to Doug Ford.

Cody Welton’s Direct Messages

While some of the bizarre details surrounding the DMs are difficult to verify and even strongly disputed by some of the main players, there is no question about two key facts: Doug Ford’s campaign admits Welton’s DMs are authentic and Wallace does indeed have connections to powerful insiders in conservative politics.

But the messages are unusual in their own right for a number of reasons, not the least being Welton’s reaction to being told one of his own ministers was under surveillance – rather than express concern, Welton wanted to know who the leaker was.

According to the messages, Welton was approached by Wallace who informed him he identified a “leaky minister” who was “too cozy” with Travis Dhanraj, a reporter then with Global News who now works for CBC News.

Wallace told Ford’s senior staffer that the minister who had been leaking to the media had been identified using a digital surveillance technology.

“You guys have a leaky minister who is entirely too cozy with Travis,” Wallace wrote to Welton in a DM over Twitter in March 2019. “Just a friendly head’s up.”

“Do you know who?” Welton replied.

“Of course,” Wallace said. “I’m geo-fencing their home.”

Welton then requested the location of the minister: “Can you give me a region?”

DM exchange between Cody Welton and David Wallace

Geofencing refers to a technology that tracks digital devices in the physical world. While the technology is typically used for marketing and home security, police have also increasingly used it as a surveillance tool to track the mobile devices of suspects in investigations or even identify bystanders in the proximity of crime scenes.

“Cell towers, phone signals, laptops,” Wallace told PressProgress. “Standard, simple, quick.”

Adam Molnar, a professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in surveillance and mobile applications, said the technology described by Wallace sounds consistent with an IMSI catcher, a device that essentially acts as a fake cellphone tower to access incoming and outgoing data, including phone logs.

“This is a technology that spun out of a military operation to track combatants in Afghanistan,” Molnar told PressProgress. “These are usually only sold to law enforcement but it’s possible to get them illicitly.”

“They can be used for intelligence, they often are tied onto embassies and what not,” Molnar said. “They’ve been used in Canada.”

According to Wallace, the surveillance began shortly after Patrick Brown resigned as leader in January 2018 – the operative alleges that the target of the surveillance operation was the Ottawa-area home of cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod.

Wallace, who claims he’s “burnt out” and “done” with being a political mercenary, explained that he’d been trying to dig up “kompromat” on MacLeod at the time. He said the digital dragnet was set-up by a private investigator who was “originally hired” by allies of a prominent conservative politician but the information was later handed off to other Ontario PC insiders.

Although the DMs do not explicitly identify MacLeod as the minister in question, they do show Cody Welton requested an in-person meeting with Wallace.

DM exchange between Cody Welton and David Wallace

Ontario PC spokesperson Ivana Yelich confirmed the authenticity of Welton’s DMs in a statement to PressProgress, but said the senior Premier’s Office staffer did not understand the meaning of what he was being told.

“Mr. Welton was unaware what ‘geo-fencing’ was and after the exchange believed Mr. Wallace was not credible and simply an unreliable individual making false allegations,” Yelich told PressProgress.

Yelich denies allegations Welton met Wallace at the Four Seasons in Toronto a week or two after the exchange. Wallace alleges he presented Welton with a report containing information about MacLeod at this meeting.

“No meeting every took place between Mr. Welton and Mr. Wallace. It would be false and libellous to report any such meeting took place, or any report was delivered to the Premier’s Office,” Yelich said.

The Ontario PC spokesperson pointed to a GoFundMe launched by Wallace and tweets showing Wallace in official photos posted by the Russian Embassy and Russian Consul General, suggesting “ties to Russian government officials and businessmen.”

Yelich did not clarify if the Premier’s Office took any steps to alert ministers, including MacLeod, that it received allegations relating to surveillance threats.

At the time, MacLeod was facing intense criticism and calls for her resignation from parents over her handling of the province’s autism program. That same week, MacLeod had issued a public statement about “credible threats” against her “personal security.” Only one day before the exchange between Welton and Wallace, MacLeod was rushed out of an event by her security detail.

Husam Khalo, a spokesperson for Lisa MacLeod, said no one, including the Premier’s Office or the Ontario Provincial Police, ever notified them of any allegations that a private investigator was at any point watching her family home.

“I’ve been with Lisa for the last number of years and we’ve never had any issues with geofencing,” Khalo told PressProgress. “Or it was never raised from the OPP when she was under police protection, so that is interesting.”

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The rest of the bizarre story gets even murkier.

Wallace told PressProgress he was first prompted to contact Welton by Frank Klees.

Klees is a former Ontario PC cabinet minister under Mike Harris and an old friend of Doug Ford’s father who served as a trusted adviser and surrogate for Ford’s 2018 leadership campaign. Klees is now set-up to lobby Ford on behalf of private sector clients.

Klees said he had “no idea” MacLeod was under surveillance, had no “recollection” of Wallace mentioning MacLeod’s name and doesn’t know who Cody Welton is — but he says he did receive information from Wallace on a “couple of occasions” and confirmed forwarding this information directly to the Premier’s Office.

“I forwarded the emails to Mr. French,” Klees told PressProgress. “I referred him to Dean French.”

Klees said Wallace would contact him with “information that related to party matters,” but did not elaborate on specifics. PressProgress obtained copies of email exchanges allegedly between Klees and Wallace that partially corroborate Klees’ account.

Email from Frank Klees to David Wallace

“He just represented that he wanted to be helpful to Doug Ford and he wanted to be helpful to the party,” Klees said. “I never could figure out what the intention was.”

William Moore, a consultant with ties to Klees who specializes in “tactical communications,” is another figure whom Wallace said was aware of the surveillance operation.

Moore describes Wallace as a “pathological liar with delusions of grandeur” and says he lives in a “fantasy world.” Moore insists Wallace “never worked for me, ever.”

Moore nevertheless admits signing a letter of reference for an apartment under his company letterhead in 2018 which states that “we have worked with David Wallace on several occasions” and added that having Wallace in Barrie, Ontario “would facilitate easier access to his services.”

William Moore’s Letter of reference for David Wallace

Presented with a copy of his letter of reference, Moore explained the statement he wrote in his signed letter claiming Wallace “worked” for him was false.

Shortly after he was contacted by PressProgress, Moore sent a text message to Wallace warning him that “some journalist is snooping around about you.”

Despite this, Moore did corroborate two important details of Wallace’s story: Moore confirmed he was aware of a “geofencing” operation at the time. Unprompted, he also identified Lisa MacLeod as its alleged target.

One thing Moore and Wallace disagree on is the source of the information: Moore alleged he had been told the surveillance was undertaken by someone connected to “Russian intelligence,” noting he believed that explanation sounded “plausible” at the time.

Last month, the Canadian Press reported allegations Wallace was hired to obtain phone logs belonging to a Calgary Herald reporter in an alleged effort to identify the name of a source who had leaked embarrassing details about former Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis’ wedding.


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Stephen Magusiak and Luke LeBrun

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