Niagara the Victim in Press Freedom fiasco, says Quirk

Our friend, and Grimsby representative at Niagara Region and Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Tony Quirk flat out denies the December #PressFreedom incident happened and states #Niagara is…. a victim.

That’s right folks, Tony Quirk believes it acceptable to use the terminology sexual assault survivors use to describe their experiences in relation to the Region confiscating a venerated member of the press’ notes and laptop before ejecting him from a public building.

If anyone has a right to feel victimized, it is St Catharines The Standard’s Bill Sawchuk and the shocked citizens who were helplessly watching.

No amount of spinning will doctor this record, Tony.

 

The latest from The Standard: https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/8312515-region-victim-in-press-incident-says-quirk/

Or catch up on previous FEWniagara coverage: Cap Caper (the #PressFreedom Fiasco)

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#Niagara Theatre of the Absurd: The Pelham Witchhunt

Tit for TatTonight, Niagara Regional Councillors Tony Quirk and David Barrick will continue their attack on the Town of Pelham and lower-tier autonomy. That’s right people, this is an attack on our local political structure and can not be allowed to pass.
While Councillors Quirk and Barrick try to distract council, and the public, with skullduggery, we have a Niagara Regional Police Service board, on which Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin, and Councillors Barrick and Bob Gale sit, is running $7.2 million dollar deficit and just paid nearly $1 million to well-respected former Police Chief McGuire to force him to retire.
The board of NRPS is asking the Niagara Region to cover at least $2 million of the police services boards deficit in addition to the previously approved 2018 budget.
 Councillor Quirk sits on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board, where Councillor Barrick is Director, and who spent over a quarter of a million to sue Ed Smith and untold millions on other legal fees and severance packages (claiming poverty as the need to let longterm employees go), has a newly created Board Lounge at HQ, where they never go. This new NPCA board *lounge* includes new leather furniture and decorations.
Niagara Region – leave #Pelham alone and clean up your own boards finances.
#Niagara

Politics and Zipper Demons: Why Women Are Reluctant to Speak Out

The #OntarioPCParty is currently grappling with the very real issue of sexual misconduct in the workplace, particularly in the public sector. As outsiders try to catch up, insiders are wondering why it’s taken so long for sexual misconduct allegations to catch up with both Patrick Brown and Rick Dykstra. Honestly, the first thought I had when Patrick Brown announced his resignation was how long will it take Dykstra to follow suit; the rumours around these two men were not whispers, their alleged behaviours were well known, and ignored.

Why did no one speak out sooner?

With the #MeToo and #WomensMarch movements, women’s empowerment is at a public level unseen since the bra burnings of the 1960’s. Women are speaking out about sexism, sexual harassment, and gender based violence, as institutionalized attitudes; we are taking our seat at the table and tackling the culture that continues to persevere around gender in politics and industry.

Social media has enabled women to see how truly ubiquitous unwanted sexual attention is, and how normalized the behaviour is, while at the same time gaining strength from the stories we share; we have found our voice and we are breaking our silence.

Finding your voice as part of a movement is very different from making the decision to come forward with your sexual assault. Calling it sexual misconduct if the offender is a public servant, elected official, or other such authority figure, is facetious at best.

Any time a person is subjected to a depravation of their life, liberty, or security of person, by an authority figure it is an abuse of power.

That’s correct:
unwanted sexual attention
is a form of assault,
when it involves
someone of influence,
it is an abuse of power.

Women, who have worked hard for equality, particularly in the workplace, are reluctant to be seen as weak, damaged, disadvantaged, because of their sex. Rape is about power, not sex; many women see public knowledge as a further theft of their dignity; many women find disclosure and the trial empowering.The usual narrative of entitlement and privilege goes beyond the abusers, it applies equally to those who model antiquated practices and enable the wanton disrespect. The sexualization of women continues to be commonplace in public service, which many forget is a workplace, and comes in many forms – verbal, emotional, and physical harassment. Women who speak out are at risk of being passed over for promotion, losing their job, and face being blacklisted in their industry – just for speaking up about harassment.

Knowing the potential harm, women are reluctant to come forward particularly when a public figure, or one of authority, faces allegations of abuse of power or misconduct. The story will become fodder for the media; it is in the public interest to know. Women are forced to deal with a trauma that is being played out in the press; life decisions like whether to file charges, and who you feel comfortable sharing your experience with, should always be a private and personal decision.

A woman’s name may not be published
but she will be dissected,
motives questioned,
while the accused is
innocent until proven guilty.

I can tell you from personal experience no woman goes public with her rape, sexual assault, or harassment, for attention. The police and medical investigations are extensive, invasive, and traumatic; it is akin to being re-assaulted. Anyone who has undergone this daunting process understands why some would choose to end the investigation, try to pick up the pieces, attempt to move on; not wanting to testify doesn’t negate anyone’s experience.

Even with shield laws, criminal proceedings are Kafkaesque. No matter what we say, as a society is acceptable, the victim is always the one on trial. We live in a society so cynical, the survivor is the one who must defend themselves. We must, at minimum, afford accusers the same rights as defendants and treat victims as truthful; we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

While the judiciary must always proceed independently, politics is, by definition, the court of public opinion. It is in the public interest to know about potential political misconduct, whether in a sexual nature or not.

There is an engrained fascination with the lives of those who we have trusted with our vote to be our voice, as it should; those who choose to put themselves forward for public service do so knowing there is an expectation that they be irreproachable. There is a belief that elected leaders should be role models; forgetting public servants are human and fallible, we are shocked when this illusion of perfection (folie-en-masse?) is shattered.

People can’t wrap their heads around it; the person who won our confidence has broken that trust. We desire all the salacious details in cases of misconduct by public officials, regardless of the cost to the victim, adding a further dimension of harassment, and in some cases assault, towards the victim. The confronter can be accused of hidden agenda’s and political motivations on top of the usual fallacies victims face, creating a climate wherein victims are forced to justify themselves to satisfy the public.

While there perseveres an idea
that boys will be boys
so too does the slut shaming
and victim blaming.

And as long as those in power model disrespect, and a laissez-faire attitude towards institutionalized inequalities, there will continue to exist a climate of discrimination.

Women, who have worked hard for equality, particularly in the workplace, are reluctant to be seen as weak, damaged, disadvantaged, because of their sex. Rape is about power, not sex; many women see public knowledge as a further theft of their dignity; many women find disclosure and the trial empowering.

The decision about how a woman survives sexual assault is her own and the first step to her recovery.

Why is the onus for change on victims
and not those who can’t wrestle their inner zipper demons?

The Regional Chair, The NPCA, and the Lobbyist

What was the deal with the Integrity Commissioner’s Report, at Thursday’s Niagara Region Council meeting, that had Chair Alan Caslin recuse himself?

Why did NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata and NPCA Director David Barrick also recuse themselves?

Why did the Niagara Regional Chair and the Director of the NPCA drive to Toronto to meet with a lobbyist?

Questions about the dismissal of the complaint by the Integrity Commissioner, and how quickly and quietly it was swept away, only add to the confusion of citizens.

When asked why he and NPCA Director David Barrick drove to Toronto a few months ago to meet with former NPCA lobbyist Mark Kealey, of Kealey & Associates, Chair Caslin stated he doesn’t remember the purpose of the meeting nor the conversation but believes it may have had something to do with Kealey seeking employment opportunities with the Region.

If I want work somewhere, the CAO of the Corporation does not drive an hour and a half, each way, to wine and dine me… at Corporate expense (ie taxpayers).

Three hours roundtrip, on a good day, plus the time to “lunch”? At minimum half your day, if not your whole day, shot. Then again, I would remember why I wasted an entire workday on the QEW to get to – wouldn’t you?

STAY TUNED – MORE AS THIS STORY CONTINUES TO DEVELOP… and ask yourself how much this mystery meeting cost taxpayers.

Carmen

#OnlyInNiagara #Niagara #ABetterNiagara #ONelection2018

 

Tit for Tat

Tomorrow night, Niagara Region will discuss a recommendation that the OMB look into Town of Pelham’s finances. This is despite all the reports, audits and facts that have shown there’s nothing wrong with Pelham’s finances. Mayor Sendzik from St. Catharines referred to this motion as the “theatre of the absurd”: Theatre of the absurd.

So why does it go on? Councillor/NPCA Board Member Tony Quirk admitted to the press almost a year ago that his and Councillor/NPCA Director Barrick’s absurd scrutiny of Town of Pelham is due to Pelham’s Mayor Dave Augustyn speaking out against the NPCA, an organization which was referred to in court as having “lost its way”.

What this ultimately boils down to is yet another petty bullying attempt from the conservative cabal on Niagara Region Council and the NPCA to SILENCE DISSENT.
We have seen it happen to every individual and organization who has raised fact-filled criticism of the practices and actions of the Region, its Councillors and the NPCA.

The NPCA: Misinformation or Manufactured Controversy? (complete)

The meeting begins at 6:30 at Niagara Region HQ across from Brock University.

The NPCA: A Retrospective

THE NIAGARA PENINSULA CONSERVATION AUTHORITY (NPCA):
MISINFORMATION OR MANUFACTURED CONTROVERSY?

In early 2016, people had some questions for the publicly-funded Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s (NPCA) board of directors; inside a year, the NPCA, and former CAO Carmen D’Angelo, had jointly filed a $100,000 defamation suit against St Catharines resident and retired Canadian Air Force Major Ed Smith.

How did we get to a place where a government agency felt entitled to sue a citizen instead of providing answers to the questions asked? The simple answer is the culture of impunity at the Niagara Region and the conservation authority (NPCA), whose 15 member board of directors features 11 duly elected Niagara regional councillors.

2015 to early 2016: the NPCA and the Lobbyist

The public became aware the conservation authority had hired lobbyists, with public funds, to advocate for the removal of provincial restrictions on the development of Thundering Waters Forest, a privately-owned and ecologically sensitive area, located in Niagara Falls, provided the existing Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs) are replaced through the creation of wetlands elsewhere in a concept known as biodiversity offsetting.

When the public began to question the board of the NPCA regarding Biodiversity Offsetting,  members denied having hired a lobbyist or having any specific sites in minds. As you can see by the below documents, we know that to be false.

Biodiversity TWF 001

 

 

 

To be clear: the board of directors of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), two thirds of whom are elected members of the Niagara Regional Council (or one third of council), used public funds to hire lobbyists to enable a private company to develop provincially protected, ecologically sensitive, lands (and lied about it).

Thus began our questions, their lies (or misinformation and manufactured controversy), the dubious spending of taxpayer dollars, and the Charter Rights violations which most recently resulted in the press freedom fiasco at Niagara regional council. That is not to say there were not issues predating biodiversity offsetting, rather, it was the catalyst for 0the events with which this summary is concerned.

Summer to end 2016 – the NPCA and the call for accountability

By June 2016, the questions were many and the peoples call for a forensic audit of the NPCA was gaining momentum despite a motion to the Region of Niagara for an audit of the NPCA being defeated. The public turned to the Freedom of Information Act for answers but none were forthcoming; requests for documents were denied and the public was left with more questions. In late October, public frustration and mistrust culminated in what documents were available, at the time, for consideration, and the questions they raised, being compiled into a report, A Call for Accountability at the NPCAFEWniagara/PDFs/A Call

This report quickly went public and, instead of simply answering the questions outlined in the report, the Board of the NPCA turned to attorneys and threats. Within 60 days of A Call for Accountability going public, the NPCA had a new Chairman of the Board of Directors (Councillor Annunziata replaced Councillor Timms) and the NPCA, and it’s CAO, had filed a defamation suit against Major Smith in civil court.

As Justice Ramsay wrote in his December 2017 decision of NPCA v. Smith:

Judge Ramsay 76 NPCA response

To be clear: the board of directors of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, two thirds of whom are elected members of the Niagara Regional Council (or one third of council), used public funds to sue a citizen, a veteran, for defamation of the Authority. 

With that blatant Charter of Rights violation, 2016 came to a roaring end; the call for an audit, still unheard by the Region, was making rumblings at the lower-tier municipalities; questions regarding biodiversity offsetting, the lobbyist, and A Call for Accountability, were unanswered; the NPCA was in active litigation with a citizen, a veteran who served our country proudly, in an attempt to intimidate us into silence.

We are able to see the culture of impunity truly begin to take form with Charter Rights violations, active deception of council(s) and the public, and the implementation of intimidation tactics.

January 2017 – the Ontario Auditor General

Further reading: Misinformation & Manufactured Controversy: the NPCA and the AG

2017 did not bring any new answers, rather, it brought more questions, and further controversy. With the June 2016 refusal of the Region to pass a motion for an audit of the NPCA, citizens took their concerns to the lower-tier municipalities and, by January 2017, most had passed a motion regarding an audit.

The 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the NPCA Board of Directors was held January 18th and the board discussed whether the Auditor General (AG) had the capacity to conduct an audit of a conservation authority (despite having correspondence, which was read into the record by Vice Chair James Kaspersetz, from Mayor Fred Eisenberger of Hamilton stating he had spoken with the AG Lysek and, not only did she have the authority, she had a team ready to go). The offer had a short life as the 2017 schedule was about to be set and if the NPCA board did not invite the AG to conduct an audit in January, it wouldn’t happen in 2017.

Newly minted Chairman Sandy Annunziata insisted any motion for an audit should go before the audit committee for a recommendation in advance of the February board meeting. A conference call between Chair Annunziata, member Quirk, and the AG on January 24th reaffirmed this offer. However, Chair Annunziata can be heard to repeatedly state he can not act unilaterally without board approval, in spite of the motion passed on the 18th which stated the option of the Auditor General would be explored. Arguably, this suggests board approval is already implicit; if Chair Annunziata was unsure of how to proceed due to his inexperience, he had only taken over the role of Chair a few weeks earlier, should he not have called an emergency board meeting to discuss this, as opposed to simply delaying (or potentially derailing) the audit, for 2017?

Untitled
The complete conversation transcript can be found:  Auditor General-NPCA transcript

And so it was, the established January deadline for Auditor General involvement passed and the new mantra of the NPCA, oft stated by new Chair Sandy Annunziata, became: the Auditor General does not have the purview to conduct an audit of the NPCA.

After months of public protest, political games and chicanery, the weather warmed as things got progressively frosty at the NPCA – for citizens, environmental advocates, and even dissenting board members. In April, the Board voted to repeal the January audit motion and replace it with one requesting the board and staff resume conversations with the Auditor General, citing interference in the process by Councillor Hodgson (who had put forth the original motion calling for an audit at the NPCA).

Spring and Summer 2017: Censure & Conflicts of Interest

In May 2017, board member, and regional councillor, Bill Hodgson is censured; why is still unclear. How did he interfere with the audit RFP process? We don’t know. Any documents relating to this alleged code of conduct violation are still not being released, despite repeated requests for what is essentially public information (even more disturbingly, Councillor Hodgson himself has ALSO been denied any documents / explanation from the Kafkaesque Authority).

As a result of this shady censure, member Hodgson chose to resign his seat from the NPCA board of directors, citing bullying and the resulting mental health drain. That’s right, not only was the NPCA maligning concerned and critical members of the public, but, by spring of 2017, they were harassing their own board members!

Following the new audit motion and Councillor Hodgson’s resignation from the NPCA, in spite of having passed a motion for conversations with the AG’s office, the NPCA continues to tell citizens and councils that it is not in the Auditors purview to conduct an audit of a conservation authority. The NPCA also continues to fail to mention the NPCA had turned down the January offer by the Auditor.

Let’s pause to fully appreciate the egregiousness of the situation, shall we?

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (the NPCA), a provincially legislated body, funded primarily through tax levies, and being responsible for the conservation and preservation of regional natural resources, has a board of directors made up of two thirds elected Niagara Regional Council members (one third of regional council), who have:

  • Spent taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist for biodiversity offsetting, lied about Thundering Waters Forest being put forth for this experiment;
  • Spent taxpayer dollars to file a lawsuit against a citizen, for asking questions, stating Retired RCAF Major Ed Smith was defaming the Authority; and
  • Lied to municipal councils about the Auditor General and her ability to conduct an audit.

It is important to note, in the larger context of the story, this line of thought, that the NPCA does not fall within existing accountability framework, is in direct contradiction with board members statements about the importance of elected officials on the board for accountability of public funds.

To have one third (1/3) of Niagara Regional Council, whose role it is to make development policies, make up two thirds (2/3) of the only board whose role it is to conserve our lands and be the stopgate for overdevelopment, is bad policy at best.

And so it was that the political skullduggery continued through the summer and into the fall of 2017:

  • Through a provincial motion, the NPCA and the Auditor General finally set a date for an audit;
  • In September, the 2018 NPCA Budget is passed by the board, promptly slashing the Restoration Department while simultaneously increasing the CAO’s budget.  The effect is the immediate loss of 8 long term workers while 2 new positions were created in the communications department.
    (this being despite having received funding for 2017 for those positions – why did the passing of the budget comencing in January 2018 result in September 2017 action? Perhaps the current AG audit will confirm the authors opinion: the NPCA had already spent their funding on the frivolous lawsuit against Ed Smith);
  • In September, the NPCA board is informed, through citizen emails, that the 10-years-old Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NPCA and the Region is being investigated by staff for renegotiation. Citizens and board members were informed these conversations were only in regards to pricing and were not focused on the services themselves. That turned out to be false:
    http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2018/01/10/npca-planning-policy-changes-approved

Finally, as the days again grew cold, we arrive at the defamation suit motions hearing, in front of Ontario Superior Court’s Justice Ramsay.

Fall 2017: NPCA vs Smith / Truth and Misinformation

Before the December 7th Press Freedom Fiasco at Niagara Region, there was the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) versus Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Major Ed Smith (retired).

73_74

On November 21, lawyers for the NPCA argued, in Ontario Superior Court, they are not a government entity, rather, they are a charity. That’s right, a legislated body with tax levying ability used said tax dollars to have attorneys assert in front of the judiciary it is not a government entity. Let that sink in for a moment… (and be grateful our parliamentary system is designed specifically to be a check and balance between legislation and the judiciary).

By day two, attorneys for the NPCA recognized the futility of their argument and changed pleas. Attorneys now suggested conservation authorities should be afforded the rights of a corporation as Canadian public interest is not served by allowing citizens to defame or question municipalities and/or government entities.

Arguing municipalities should be able to sue for defamation flies in the face of Canadian civil liberties and the democratic process; without a citizen’s rights to express their opinion and, by extension, the right to press freedom, we begin down a dark path whereby citizens are afraid to question the government, Charter Rights are meaningless, and we are left with a culture of impunity which leads to respected veteran reporters having their notes confiscated while being told to leave a public meeting under threat of police action.

SAWCHUK NR

The public interest can never be well served by putting the interests of the government ahead of the interests of its citizens – particularly the right to free press, expression, opinion, and religion. To say that the government’s right to a good reputation supersedes the rights of citizens to speak out against the government is archaic and completely contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is not only our right to question, it is our fiduciary duty and the very fabric of our democracy.

 Judge Ramsay agreed; section 52 of the written decision to dismiss NPCA vs Smith:

Judge Ramsay 52 NPCA responseNPCA vs Smith, Justice Ramsay’s Decision PDFs/NPCA v Smith
NPCA vs Smith, Court Costs Decision PDFs/Court Costs

A clear victory for the people, the jubilation didn’t last; in apparent contempt for the ruling, NPCA board member Tony Quirk took to social media.

Quirk Twitter 1

One would think the NPCA would have the grace to admit they were wrong, the public would have accepted gladly some clarity and honesty, but to continue to misrepresent the truth through the use of truncated quotes from Judge Ramsay’s decision is, in the authors opinion, shockingly arrogant.

Curtailing the judge’s words to suit your own purpose is the definition of tendentious (biased) speech, or misinformation, through obfuscation of the complete content and context. Just as the term “fake news” has become inculcated in the vocabulary of our neighbours to the south, the term “misinformation” has become part of the daily lexicon of Niagara residents; no clarification or correction is offered.

The NPCA v Port Colborne and St Catharines councils

St Catharines Council NPCA presentation   Port Colborne Council NPCA presentation

The very same evening as NPCA spokesman Michael Reles told the St Catharines Standard “Quirk does not speak for the authority and is free to voice his opinion on the ruling”, NPCA representatives Chair Annunziata and CAO Mark Brickell appeared before Port Colborne council. It should be noted NPCA Corporate Services Director, David Barrick, a Regional Councillor for Port Colborne, was present though he spent much of the meeting looking like this:

Barrick

Consider the hand-out NPCA representative gave Port Colborne council versus the complete text as evidence of the ongoing pattern of failed governance and deceitful statements, paying close attention to the last THREE (3) sentences of Judge Ramsay’s words in [64] as compared to the TWO (2) truncated quotes provided by the NPCA.NPCAhandout page 1 001

64

Following the attempt at trickery with abridged text from Judge Ramsay’s decision, Port Colborne council passed a motion for a provincial supervisor. With the release of transcripts from the January conversation between the Authority and the Auditor, St Catharines council chose to re-examine the evidence previously given them by the NPCA.

At an October presentation before St Catharines council, NPCA representatives made statements regarding the Auditor General and, in a move that would make Machiavelli proud, denied having turned down an offer from Ms Lysek’s (the AG) office. Following the victory in court, and at Port Colborne council, on December 19th, St Catharines reopened the issue and became the second municipality to pass a motion for a provincial supervisor at the NPCA.

How did we get to a place where respected St Catharines The Standard journalist Bill Sawchuk has his notes and laptop seized as he is removed from a public meeting?
We start with one third of council, as two thirds of the board of directors of the NPCA, who:

  • Spent taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist for biodiversity offsetting,
  • Lied about Thundering Waters Forest being put forth for this biodiversity offsetting experiment;
  • Spent taxpayer dollars to file a defamation lawsuit against Retired RCAF Major Ed Smith for defaming the Authority;
  • Lied to municipal councils about the Auditor General, her ability to conduct an audit, and turning down an offer in January 2017;
  • Lied to municipal councils about the courts findings in NPCA vs Smith by curtailing Judge Ramsays words to suit NPCA purposes.

This pattern of behaviour has not been corrected, if anything, it has become more stubbornly entrenched and has seemingly infected Niagara Regional Council; what began as questions about biodiversity offsetting at Thundering Waters Forest has insidiously become the culture we see now. There is a direct correlation between the NPCA suing a citizen for free speech and a member of the press being removed from Regional Council.

SAWCHUK NR

In December 2017, St Catharines council found NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata, Regional Councillor for Fort Erie, had “provided misleading information” to council and asked Niagara Regional council and the board of the NPCA to address this issue. 

 

 

Next Regional Council meeting is Thursday, January 18th.
Come out and let Regional Council, and Chair Alan Caslin, know what you think about the NPCA, Chair Annunziata’s “misleading information”, Councillor Petrowski’s 30 day pay fine for the porn email, and, of course, the Press Freedom Fiasco of 2017.

According to the Oxford Dictionary: 
Lie (n) – Used with reference to a situation involving deception or founded on a mistaken impression
Lied (v) – Present a false impression
Mislead (v) – Cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression
misleading (adv) – Giving the wrong idea or impression

Although a native English speaker, the Author is French educated and oft uses dictionaries to ensure accuracy. Any replacing of the term “provided misleading information to” with “lied to” is a result of the Authors opinion that they are synonymous, just as all views expressed are the opinions of the Author. Emily Spanton, January 16th, 2018, St Catharines Ontario.

Documents discussed can be found at:

A Call for Accountability at the NPCA Groups/FEW.Niagara/Files/PDFs/A Call
NPCA vs Smith, Justice Ramsay’s Decision Groups/FEW.Niagara/Files/PDFs/NPCA v Smith
NPCA vs Smith, Court Costs Decision Groups/FEW.Niagara/Files/PDFs/Court Costs
NPCA|Auditor Conversation Transcript Auditor General-NPCA transcript

Further reading:
When the Government Attacks (Canadian Democracy)
Misinformation & Manufactured Controversy
Misinformation & Manufactured Controversy: Isn’t It Ironic
or check out in-depth coverage at https://niagaraatlarge.com

 

NPCA: Misinformation or Manufactured Controversy? Part 2: 2017

Part 1 can be found here: https://emilyspanton.wordpress.com/Part 1
Further reading: Misinformation & Manufactured Controversy: the NPCA and the AG

January 2017 – the Ontario Auditor General

2017 did not bring any new answers, rather, it brought more questions, and further controversy. With the June 2016 refusal of the Region to pass a motion for an audit of the NPCA, citizens took their concerns to the lower-tier municipalities and, by January 2017, most had passed a motion regarding an audit.

The 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the NPCA Board of Directors was held January 18th and the board discussed whether the Auditor General (AG) had the capacity to conduct an audit of a conservation authority (despite having correspondence, which was read into the record by Vice Chair James Kaspersetz, from Mayor Fred Eisenberger of Hamilton stating he had spoken with the AG Lysek and, not only did she have the authority, she had a team ready to go). The offer had a short life as the 2017 schedule was about to be set and if the NPCA board did not invite the AG to conduct an audit in January, it wouldn’t happen in 2017.

Newly minted Chairman Sandy Annunziata insisted any motion for an audit should go before the audit committee for a recommendation in advance of the February board meeting. A conference call between Chair Annunziata, member Quirk, and the AG on January 24th reaffirmed this offer. However, Chair Annunziata can be heard to repeatedly state he can not act unilaterally without board approval, in spite of the motion passed on the 18th which stated the option of the Auditor General would be explored. Arguably, this suggests board approval is already implicit; if Chair Annunziata was unsure of how to proceed due to his inexperience, he had only taken over the role of Chair a few weeks earlier, should he not have called an emergency board meeting to discuss this, as opposed to simply delaying (or potentially derailing) the audit, for 2017?

Untitled
The complete conversation transcript can be found:  Auditor General-NPCA transcript

And so it was, the established January deadline for Auditor General involvement passed and the new mantra of the NPCA, oft stated by new Chair Sandy Annunziata, became: the Auditor General does not have the purview to conduct an audit of the NPCA.

After months of public protest, political games and chicanery, the weather warmed as things got progressively frosty at the NPCA – for citizens, environmental advocates, and even dissenting board members. In April, the Board voted to repeal the January audit motion and replace it with one requesting the board and staff resume conversations with the Auditor General, citing interference in the process by Councillor Hodgson (who had put forth the original motion calling for an audit at the NPCA).

Spring and Summer 2017: Censure & Conflicts of Interest

In May 2017, board member, and regional councillor, Bill Hodgson is censured; why is still unclear. How did he interfere with the audit RFP process? We don’t know. Any documents relating to this alleged code of conduct violation are still not being released, despite repeated requests for what is essentially public information (even more disturbingly, Councillor Hodgson himself has ALSO been denied any documents / explanation from the Kafkaesque Authority).

As a result of this shady censure, member Hodgson chose to resign his seat from the NPCA board of directors, citing bullying and the resulting mental health drain. That’s right, not only was the NPCA maligning concerned and critical members of the public, but, by spring of 2017, they were harassing their own board members!

Following the new audit motion and Councillor Hodgson’s resignation from the NPCA, in spite of having passed a motion for conversations with the AG’s office, the NPCA continues to tell citizens and councils that it is not in the Auditors purview to conduct an audit of a conservation authority. The NPCA also continues to fail to mention the NPCA had turned down the January offer by the Auditor.

Let’s pause to fully appreciate the egregiousness of the situation, shall we?

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (the NPCA), a provincially legislated body, funded primarily through tax levies, and being responsible for the conservation and preservation of regional natural resources, has a board of directors made up of two thirds elected Niagara Regional Council members (one third of regional council), who have:

  • Spent taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist for biodiversity offsetting, lied about Thundering Waters Forest being put forth for this experiment;
  • Spent taxpayer dollars to file a lawsuit against a citizen, for asking questions, stating Retired RCAF Major Ed Smith was defaming the Authority; and
  • Lied to municipal councils about the Auditor General and her ability to conduct an audit.

It is important to note, in the larger context of the story, this line of thought, that the NPCA does not fall within existing accountability framework, is in direct contradiction with board members statements about the importance of elected officials on the board for accountability of public funds.

To have one third (1/3) of Niagara Regional Council, whose role it is to make development policies, make up two thirds (2/3) of the only board whose role it is to conserve our lands and be the stopgate for overdevelopment, is bad policy at best.

And so it was that the political skullduggery continued through the summer and into the fall of 2017:

  • Through a provincial motion, the NPCA and the Auditor General finally set a date for an audit;
  • In September, the 2018 NPCA Budget is passed by the board, promptly slashing the Restoration Department while simultaneously increasing the CAO’s budget.  The effect is the immediate loss of 8 long term workers while 2 new positions were created in the communications department.
    (this being despite having received funding for 2017 for those positions – why did the passing of the budget comencing in January 2018 result in September 2017 action? Perhaps the current AG audit will confirm the authors opinion: the NPCA had already spent their funding on the frivolous lawsuit against Ed Smith);
  • In September, the NPCA board is informed, through citizen emails, that the 10-years-old Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NPCA and the Region is being investigated by staff for renegotiation. Citizens and board members were informed these conversations were only in regards to pricing and were not focused on the services themselves. That turned out to be false:
    http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2018/01/10/npca-planning-policy-changes-approved

Finally, as the days again grew cold, we arrive at the defamation suit motions hearing, in front of Ontario Superior Court’s Justice Ramsay.

Fall 2017: NPCA vs Smith / Truth and Misinformation

Before the December 7th Press Freedom Fiasco at Niagara Region, there was the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) versus Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Major Ed Smith (retired).

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On November 21, lawyers for the NPCA argued, in Ontario Superior Court, they are not a government entity, rather, they are a charity. That’s right, a legislated body with tax levying ability used said tax dollars to have attorneys assert in front of the judiciary it is not a government entity. Let that sink in for a moment… (and be grateful our parliamentary system is designed specifically to be a check and balance between legislation and the judiciary).

By day two, attorneys for the NPCA recognized the futility of their argument and changed pleas. Attorneys now suggested conservation authorities should be afforded the rights of a corporation as Canadian public interest is not served by allowing citizens to defame or question municipalities and/or government entities.

Arguing municipalities should be able to sue for defamation flies in the face of Canadian civil liberties and the democratic process; without a citizen’s rights to express their opinion and, by extension, the right to press freedom, we begin down a dark path whereby citizens are afraid to question the government, Charter Rights are meaningless, and we are left with a culture of impunity which leads to respected veteran reporters having their notes confiscated while being told to leave a public meeting under threat of police action.

SAWCHUK NR

The public interest can never be well served by putting the interests of the government ahead of the interests of its citizens – particularly the right to free press, expression, opinion, and religion. To say that the government’s right to a good reputation supersedes the rights of citizens to speak out against the government is archaic and completely contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is not only our right to question, it is our fiduciary duty and the very fabric of our democracy.

 Judge Ramsay agreed; section 52 of the written decision to dismiss NPCA vs Smith:

Judge Ramsay 52 NPCA responseNPCA vs Smith, Justice Ramsay’s Decision PDFs/NPCA v Smith
NPCA vs Smith, Court Costs Decision PDFs/Court Costs

A clear victory for the people, the jubilation didn’t last; in apparent contempt for the ruling, NPCA board member Tony Quirk took to social media.

Quirk Twitter 1

One would think the NPCA would have the grace to admit they were wrong, the public would have accepted gladly some clarity and honesty, but to continue to misrepresent the truth through the use of truncated quotes from Judge Ramsay’s decision is, in the authors opinion, shockingly arrogant.

Curtailing the judge’s words to suit your own purpose is the definition of tendentious (biased) speech, or misinformation, through obfuscation of the complete content and context. Just as the term “fake news” has become inculcated in the vocabulary of our neighbours to the south, the term “misinformation” has become part of the daily lexicon of Niagara residents; no clarification or correction is offered.

The NPCA v Port Colborne and St Catharines councils

St Catharines Council NPCA presentation   Port Colborne Council NPCA presentation

The very same evening as NPCA spokesman Michael Reles told the St Catharines Standard “Quirk does not speak for the authority and is free to voice his opinion on the ruling”, NPCA representatives Chair Annunziata and CAO Mark Brickell appeared before Port Colborne council. It should be noted NPCA Corporate Services Director, David Barrick, a Regional Councillor for Port Colborne, was present though he spent much of the meeting looking like this:

Barrick

Consider the hand-out NPCA representative gave Port Colborne council versus the complete text as evidence of the ongoing pattern of failed governance and deceitful statements, paying close attention to the last THREE (3) sentences of Judge Ramsay’s words in [64] as compared to the TWO (2) truncated quotes provided by the NPCA.NPCAhandout page 1 001

64

Following the attempt at trickery with abridged text from Judge Ramsay’s decision, Port Colborne council passed a motion for a provincial supervisor. With the release of transcripts from the January conversation between the Authority and the Auditor, St Catharines council chose to re-examine the evidence previously given them by the NPCA.

At an October presentation before St Catharines council, NPCA representatives made statements regarding the Auditor General and, in a move that would make Machiavelli proud, denied having turned down an offer from Ms Lysek’s (the AG) office. Following the victory in court, and at Port Colborne council, on December 19th, St Catharines reopened the issue and became the second municipality to pass a motion for a provincial supervisor at the NPCA.

How did we get to a place where respected St Catharines The Standard journalist Bill Sawchuk has his notes and laptop seized as he is removed from a public meeting?
We start with one third of council, as two thirds of the board of directors of the NPCA, who:

  • Spent taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist for biodiversity offsetting,
  • Lied about Thundering Waters Forest being put forth for this biodiversity offsetting experiment;
  • Spent taxpayer dollars to file a defamation lawsuit against Retired RCAF Major Ed Smith for defaming the Authority;
  • Lied to municipal councils about the Auditor General, her ability to conduct an audit, and turning down an offer in January 2017;
  • Lied to municipal councils about the courts findings in NPCA vs Smith by curtailing Judge Ramsays words to suit NPCA purposes.

This pattern of behaviour has not been corrected, if anything, it has become more stubbornly entrenched and has seemingly infected Niagara Regional Council; what began as questions about biodiversity offsetting at Thundering Waters Forest has insidiously become the culture we see now. There is a direct correlation between the NPCA suing a citizen for free speech and a member of the press being removed from Regional Council.

SAWCHUK NR

In December 2017, St Catharines council found NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata, Regional Councillor for Fort Erie, had “provided misleading information” to council and asked Niagara Regional council and the board of the NPCA to address this issue. 

Next Regional Council meeting is Thursday, January 18th.
Come out and let Regional Council, and Chair Alan Caslin, know what you think about the NPCA, Chair Annunziata’s “misleading information”, Councillor Petrowski’s 30 day pay fine for the porn email, and, of course, the Press Freedom Fiasco of 2017.

According to the Oxford Dictionary: 
Lie (n) – Used with reference to a situation involving deception or founded on a mistaken impression
Lied (v) – Present a false impression
Mislead (v) – Cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression
misleading (adv) – Giving the wrong idea or impression

Although a native English speaker, the Author is French educated and oft uses dictionaries to ensure accuracy. Any replacing of the term “provided misleading information to” with “lied to” is a result of the Authors opinion that they are synonymous, just as all views expressed are the opinions of the Author. Emily Spanton, January 16th, 2018, St Catharines Ontario.

Documents discussed can be found at:

A Call for Accountability at the NPCA Groups/FEW.Niagara/Files/PDFs/A Call
NPCA vs Smith, Justice Ramsay’s Decision Groups/FEW.Niagara/Files/PDFs/NPCA v Smith
NPCA vs Smith, Court Costs Decision Groups/FEW.Niagara/Files/PDFs/Court Costs
NPCA|Auditor Conversation Transcript Auditor General-NPCA transcript

Further reading:
When the Government Attacks (Canadian Democracy)
Misinformation & Manufactured Controversy
Misinformation & Manufactured Controversy: Isn’t It Ironic
or check out in-depth coverage at https://niagaraatlarge.com