NPCA’s Legal Threat Is “Nothing Less Than A Full Frontal Assault On Our Democracy, And On Our Rights As Canadians” – Niagara citizen and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer Ed Smith
By Doug Draper
Posted November 30th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
The answer is ‘NO’!
With a December 1st deadline in a lawyer’s letter aimed squarely and menacingly at him, Ed Smith – a retired, 25-year member of the Canadian Armed Forces and a Niagara, Ontario citizens who has spent the better part of the last year seeking information on how the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is spending public money – said at a press conference this November 30th that he would rather fight any litigation that may be brought against him in court than comply with demands being made to him in a recent letter from an NPCA-hired lawyer.
The November 14th letter, signed by lawyer Robert B. Burns of the Niagara Falls-based law firm of Broderick & Partners and mailed to Smith’s St. Catharines home, is a response to a detailed report Smith distributed to Niagara reginal councillors and others earlier this November.
Burns’ letter charges that the report, titled ‘A call for Accountability at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’, contains information that is “false and defamatory,” and the letter goes on to order Smith to “deliver a full and unqualified written apology for distributing the report,” “deliver a written undertaking confirming that you will not distribute the document to any other persons and that you will not say anything bad about the NPCA in the future,” and to “provide the identity of the author(s) of the document.”
“I wish to respond to this list of demands from the NPCA in the strongest of ways,” said Smith during the press conference he held in downtown St. Catharines this November 30th. “My response is ‘NO’.”
“In fact, I wish to assert loudly the right that any Canadian citizen should expect – the right to challenge my ‘elected taxpayers’ (a term Smith said he was quoting from St. Catharines regional councillor and NPCA board chair Bruce Timms) and to hold any elected or appointed officials accountable.”
“A robust democracy,” added Smith, “demands this level of guarantees for all of is citizens (and) I view this letter from the NPCA as a blatant attempt to intimidate and threaten me in order to silence a voice of dissension.”
Smith finished his statement before answering reporters’ questions with this – “I willfully dedicated 25 years of my professional life fighting for the “ideal” of Canada,” he said of his years serving in the nation’s military forces. “Countless others have sacrificed much more than that, and there is nothing that will divert me from doing right by them.”
“Those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing,” he concluded. “I call on the NPCA to answer the questions raised in the report. Bruce Timms claims the NPCA is a model of transparency and accountability. I challenge them to prove it.”
At this November 30th press conference were a number of supporters of Smith’s call on the NPCA for a full disclosure of how the millions of tax dollars they receive from residents across the Niagara region and parts of the Hamilton and Haldimand regions that fall inside the watershed the NPCA has jurisdiction over are spent.
One of those supporters present was Ken MacKenzie, a 92-year-old St. Catharines resident and Second World War veteran who, along with 95-year-old Brian Leyden, another area resident and WWII veteran who could not attend due to illness, recently sent Smith a letter of their own, offering him their support.
“We applaud your sense of purpose,” said MacKenzie and Leyden in their letter. “You will be encouraged to hear that SLAPPs (short for what are called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” usually filed against citizens engaged in a David vs Goliath battle against government or corporate entities) were only briefly popular throughout North America and appeared to have rightly fallen into disuse. They have been outlawed in most jurisdictions, but not yet in Ontario.”
“We are veterans of World War Two,” the letter from MacKenzie and Leyden concludes, and “we assure you that we, and many others will help you in this absurd affair.”
It already appears that some help in answering questions about the NPCA’s operations is gaining traction from other directions.
Earlier this November, Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster called on the Ontario government to commence a full forensic audit of the NPCA – something Smith and numerous other residents went to Niagara regional council to ask for this past spring, only to see the request voted down by a majority of regional councillors, including several the regional government appointed to sit on the NPCA’s board.
Smith said the Ontario Provincial Police has also recently contacted him about the contents of the report (the same one the NPCA is now threatening litigation against him over) and informed him they are beginning an active investigation of their own.
At the press conference, Smith shared court documents showing that a Niagara-based company named Cornerstone Sponsorship Management Inc. received a settlement earlier this 2016 from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and from the NPCA’s Foundation (both named in the court action as “defendants”) for an undisclosed sum of money – this after the company sued the defendants for a total of $4,230,000 for alleged “breach of contract” and other alleged “damages,” including “defamation and intentional interference with business relations” around some work it was contracted to do for the NPCA and/or its foundation.
Smith said one of the reasons he and others want a forensic audit of the NPCA is to find out how much public money many have been awarded to Cornerstone in the settlement.
Niagara At Large sent an email to the NPCA this November 30th, asking it to disclose the amount of the court settlement and to make public the nature of the work Cornerstone was contracted to do, but received no reply by the time of this posting.
Niagara At Large will be posting more this December 1st and in the days ahead on the NPCA controversy, including our view that it is time – for the sake of ensuring good stewardship of Niagara’s natural heritage – for the provincial government to finally exercise the powers it has to assign a special supervisor to step in and dismiss the current members of the NPCA’s board and administration.
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