Cowan gets probation, community service hours

Former Woolwich mayor Todd Cowan

Former Woolwich mayor Todd Cowan won’t see jail time for his breach of trust conviction, instead facing one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.

The sentence handed down Monday in a Kitchener courtroom by Justice Michael Epstein includes a conditional discharge, meaning Cowan won’t have a criminal record. The judge determined he had already “suffered significant embarrassment” in his “fall from grace.”

“There is no question that he has been disgraced in the community.”

The community service hours must be completed within 11 months. Cowan also has to pay a victim surcharge fee of $200 to Woolwich Township, and repay by Oct. 18 the $140.09 that he expensed to the municipality in meals for his girlfriend during his time as mayor.

Cowan was convicted of the breach of trust charge on June 15, but found not guilty on the charge of the fraud under $5,000.

He was charged with fraud and breach of trust on Feb. 6, 2015 after an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Branch found that Cowan had submitted the same expenses to both the township and the Region of Waterloo. He served as Woolwich’s representative on regional council at the time. Once confronted with the more than $2,700 in double reimbursement, he repaid it the next day.

Defense lawyer Thomas Brock noted Cowan finished last when he sought re-elect as mayor, noting people in the community will always remember that “when engaged with their trust he breached their trust and violated principles of honesty and integrity.”

Epstein said the public is most interested in seeing Cowan give back something to the community, that he be held accountable for what he did, and that it be recognized by the court that what he did was wrong.

“General deterrence and denunciation are clearly the most important factor,” said the judge.

Cowan must report to his probation officer within two days and whenever asked to over the course of his probation. He also must live in a location approved by his probation officer and notify the officer if he moves. He cannot leave the province without written consent of his probation officer.

If found in violation of any of these conditions he could be subjected to up to a $5,000 fine or 18 months in prison.

Crown prosecutor Jennifer Caskie didn’t ask for a period of custody for Cowan, but said a discharge would be inappropriate.

“These were deliberate lies by a public official,” Caskie said.

Both Caskie and Brock noted this was a difficult case to decide the best punishment for the crime.

Throughout the trial, Cowan was painted by Brock as a man with poor organization, but without criminal intent.

What was apparent to the Crown was his intent to expense meals he had with his girlfriend, by putting names of people who hadn’t been there on the receipt, such as MPP Michael Harris and Brant County mayor Ronald Eddy.

On Monday, his failure-to-appear charges were also dropped. Cowan did not show up for two scheduled court dates on July 24 and October 26 of last year.

As Monday’s hearing wound down,  Epstein asked Cowan if he wanted to say anything.

“Not at this time, sir,” Cowan said.

The justice reminded him this would be his last chance to speak before the court.

“I suppose as a past politician it’s hard for them not to say something,” Cowan said.

He went on to say that he’s hoping his predecessors and people thinking of running for office know that measures and checks and balances have now been put in place so something like this won’t happen again.

“My life has changed considerably since being in office, some for the better, some for the worse,” Cowan said.

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