Political discrimination case fails again for Liberal VLT owners

Published on July 11, 2014

Video lottery terminal

A group of Liberal business owners once involved with video lottery terminals on P.E.I. has again failed to advance their allegation that partisan politics kicked them out of business.

The matter has been through the courts for years, the most recent decision coming from Justice Benjamin Taylor of the P.E.I. Supreme Court on June 27 this year.

The case goes back to a 2002 decision by the province to cancel VLT licences issued to five private companies on P.E.I. that owned, installed, maintained and managed all the VLTs that were placed in retail businesses across P.E.I.

The VLT businesses joined together to form PEI Music and Amusement Operators Association Inc.

Atlantic Lottery Corporation took over management and ownership of all VLTs on behalf of the P.E.I. government on Jan. 1, 2003.

In 2002, Provincial Treasurer at the time, Pat Mella offered the five VLT busineses $175 for each of their more than 600 machines. At that time the owners between them had 438 machines installed at 97 sites across P.E.I.

The operators rejected that offer, saying it was far below fair market value for the machines.

The 1991 provincial government which legalized VLTs, licensed the P.E.I. operators and licensed bars and stores to have VLTs installed was the late Joe Ghiz's Liberal government, writes Taylor.

The 2002 provincial government which cancelled the license of the P.E.I. operators and took the VLTs out of corner stores was Pat Binns' Conservative government, he said.

Five years later, in 2007, the operators' association  together with Michael McCarville, Michael Gaudet, David Kennedy and Larry Peters went to the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission claiming political discrimination.

"The Applicants say they were discriminated against on the basis of political belief because most of the individuals, but not all of them, were Liberal," wrote Taylor in an earlier decision on this issue.

That complaint was too late, ruled the commission. Legislation demands that a complaint be made within a year of the alleged human rights violation.

The VLT owners then went to the Supreme Court saying that while they lost licenses in 2002, the facts of alleged compensation paid to corner stores regarding the VLT issue was not known until 2006, within the one-year limit.

In 2010 the Supreme Court sent the matter back to the commission to investigate when the one year limitation period began in this case.

The province appealed that ruling, wanting the whole thing thrown out.

They lost at the Supreme Court Appeals level so the commission was indeed asked again to reassess the viability of the VLC owners' complaint. The commission arrived at the exact same conclusion this second time, that the operators made their allegation too late.

That sent the operators back to court once again, but in the June decision this year, Taylor ruled against the operators this time around.

"Certainly there was a good deal of evidence the Conservative party intended to take the VLT franchise away from the Applicants and take the VLTs out of the corner stores, including statements on the record in the PEI Legislature," writes Taylor. "It is not realistic to say that when the Conservatives were elected, and cancelled the franchise, as they said they would do, the Applicants did not get what was happening.

"I conclude the Director reached a common sense conclusion about when the Applicants became aware of the material facts on which their claim of discrimination was based, at which point the one year limitation period began to run," writes Taylor.

That would have been in 2002, so when they finally filled their human rights complaint in 2007, it was outside the limitation period so the commission was not able to hear the allegation.