If you live in Southern Ontario, you’ve probably seen thousands of buildings like 2670 Plymouth Drive in Oakville. It’s an ugly, low-slung poured-concrete warehouse trying its best to be beige, just like so many others in a region — I can’t really call it a neighborhood — defined by the confluence of the QEW and 403 freeways. But it’s special because it’s recently been outed as Ontario’s secret cannabis stash.
Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president Warren “Smokey” Thomas revealed the whereabouts of the previously secret location where the province warehouses its cannabis earlier this week. The move came after Thomas alleged that management at the facility called police to remove OPSEU representatives who were talking to employees about forming a union. “Calling in officers from Halton Regional Police to stop OPSEU from talking to these workers is not only a complete waste of police resources,” Thomas said, “it also violates their right to join a union.” The right to form and join unions is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Ontario government denies that the police were called on the OPSEU recruiters. Simon Jefferies, Ontario premier Doug Ford’s spokesperson, told the media that Thomas’ allegation is “a complete lie.”
However, Halton Regional Police say that they did respond to a call at the address on the date in question, December 12. The caller, who they can’t identify, complained of an “anomalous package” and a “suspicious vehicle.”
“The Premier has threatened Charter rights in the past with rhetoric and threats, now he is throwing his weight around in the form of a police interrogation,” Thomas said. “Organizing isn’t a suspicious activity, it is a constitutional right fully given to workers. I demand the premier and his government back off.” Ford has frequently demonstrated opposition to unions, many of which actively campaigned against him in the last provincial election.
The Ontario government has defended its secrecy surrounding the Oakville operation by saying it was afraid of what might happen if details were made public. “Details of the OCS distribution centre are undisclosed for security reasons and will not be publicly announced or confirmed,” said Ontario Cannabis Store director of communications Daffyd Roderick.
If sites that hold valuable items need to be hidden, why aren’t banks?
Thomas has said that he was told that the secrecy was necessary because the cannabis inside the warehouse was very valuable. He scoffed at that idea, pointing out that British Columbia had a public tape-cutting grand-opening ceremony for their cannabis repository and if sites that hold valuable items need to be hidden, why aren’t banks?
He went on to say that the original plan under the Liberal government was to have cannabis workers organized under the same union as LCBO employees, but that plan was scrapped when Ford’s Progressive Conservatives took power. Thomas has said that Ford has not met with him since he was elected premier and the LCBO, which operates the Ontario Cannabis Store, no longer returns his phone calls. “Our position, still, is that we represent workers at this warehouse, but the LCBO would never tell us where the warehouse was,” Thomas said.
Operations Still Shrouded in Secrecy
The identity of the company that is contracted to run the facility, Toronto-based Domain Logistics, was also kept secret—despite protests from opposition legislators—until it was revealed by Thomas. The government has released no information about how many people are working at the facility (or in the cannabis retailing industry), what they paid Domain Logistics, or any other details of the operation. There is little information available about Domain Logistics, which did not answer a request for an interview, other than the fact that it was formed in 2016. A Domain Logistics LLP, registered in Mumbai, India, appears to be an unrelated company.
It’s also unknown how Domain Logistics won the contract. “This warehouse and distribution system went out to a secret tender, a secret contract,” said Thomas. The Ontario government has said that the decision to hire Domain Logistics was determined “through a competitive process,” but there is no record of a public tender being made.
British Columbia, in stark contrast, has had no problem operating a much more transparent system and has experienced no security breaches. It should be noted, that British Columbia has also not experienced anything like the shortages and lost or incorrect orders that Ontario has. Thomas blames the inefficiency of the Ontario Cannabis Store squarely on Ford’s administration. “Doug Ford privatized it, so it’s actually a privatized institution that’s made a colossal mess of cannabis distribution,” he said. “We are vehemently opposed to privatization because every scandal in Ontario with taxpayer dollars has involved the private sector, everyone without fail.”
Interestingly, the secrecy surrounding the operation was so tight that even the mayor of Oakville, Rob Burton, didn’t know it was in his town until December after it had been in operation for months. And it wasn’t the province that informed him; but concerned residents. He said he kept the secret to respect the province’s wishes.