London Free Press

Water Jug 'Spiked' At Labor Probe

By Gordon Sanderson

SARNIA- Did somebody poison the contents of a water jug at an Ontario labor relations board hearing at the Point Edward Holiday Inn or was it simply "salted" as a prank without evil intent?

That's the mystery which police were called to investigate Wednesday after a witness complained that a drink he poured from a pitcher had burned his mouth.

"It was salty and burned my tongue and lips," said Donato Marinaro, a friend and supporter of unionist Joe Portiss of Sarnia whose complaints about discriminatory hiring hall practices by Sarnia Local 1089 Laborers International Union are subject of the inquiry.

Marinaro attached significance to the fact the pitcher of bad tasting water was on a hearing table normally occupied by Portiss and Portiss's lawyer, Brian Iler, and appeared to be the only one in the room with contents that looked cloudy.

The incident happened during a mid-day recess when the labor board tribunal had not returned and only a handful of spectators were present.

A second man who started to take a drink from the same jug also said it tasted salty. Jack Restivo of Sarnia said he "spat it out" after being warned by Marinaro not to drink.

Point Edward police were notified by Iler and Const. Bill Baines took the pitcher and contents away for analysis. "I can't cross out the possibility it was tampered with during the lunch hour."

Later, Baines said a test on the water sample had showed it contain "a mild form of acid"

However, Joseph Blair, chief technologist at Sarnia General Hospital, denied telling police this. He said he simply performed a basic litmus test and advised police to send the water to the forensic sciences laboratory in Toronto for analysis.

The water jug episode provided a bizarre twist to the seventh day of the hearing into the laborers union activities and brought a warning from the board chairman Michel Picher that he will order the hearing room locked during adjournments when the inquiry resumes March 22.

"It has come to our attention that during the lunch break an incident occurred in which some substance was put into a water jug." He reminded the hearing he had already issued a warning he might close it to the public if such untoward incidents continued but added "such stupidity would not appear to warrant it at this point."

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