“A democracy can’t exist without freedom of expression.” – from the ruling of Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay
NPCA, says Judge in his ruling, looks like “a body that has had trouble finding its way.”
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted November 24th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
A pair of lawsuits filed against St. Catharines resident and community activist Ed Smith with heavy punitive costs attached to them – one filed by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and former NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo (now the CAO for Niagara’s regional government) and the other filed by Niagara, Ontario businessman William Montgomery – have h been dismissed by Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay.
Dismissal of the defamation suits, outlined in a written ruling signed by Judge Ramsay this November 23rd, follows arguments for and against the lawsuits, heard in a Welland court this past November 20th and 21st by lawyers for both parties.
They also follow a year-long odyssey that began a year ago this fall, after Smith, a 25-year, retired Canadian Armed Forces officer, shared a document he produced with St. Catharines regional councillor Brian Heit prior to a snap meeting called by Niagara Region chair, Al Caslin, for a council vote on hiring D’Angelo to the regional government’s top job as CAO – a position he was awarded by a majority of councillors following the vote.
The document listed numerous questions and concerns about the NPCA and the way it hires and fires staff, awards contracts to consultants and conducts other business with millions of tax dollars.does business. NPCA, D’Angelo and Montgomery filed the suits against Smith, charging that some references to them in the document were defamed and damaged them.
Montgomery also filed a lawsuit against Heit and a fellow St. Catharines regional councillor Kelly Edgar for allegedly playing a role in distributing Smith’s document to other members of the Region’s council prior to voting on the motion to award D’Angelo the CAO position.
Niagara At Large has learned that this lawsuit against Heit and Edgar was recently dismissed in an Ontario Court proceeding separate from the one this November 20th and 21st involving Smith.
In a joint statement to Niagara At Large this November 24th, Heit and Edgar would only say; “The claim against us was dismissed and Montgomery received nothing in return. It was always our opinion that this claim had no merit.”
The two St. Catharines regional councilor are refraining to say anything more about the case involving them at this time on the advice of a lawyer, but Niagara At Large will have more to say about this episode and what it means for the rights and freedoms of elected representatives to respond to concerns raised by their constituents in the days ahead. Stay Tuned!
Getting back to Judge Ramsay’s November 23rd ruling on the lawsuits filed against Ed Smith, who was the defendant in this case, one of the Judge’s most powerful statements in his ruling, in the view of this reporter, read as follows –
“I share the defendant’s disappointment at his treatment by the Authority. A private citizen,” continued the Judge, “he (Smith) raised questions about the governance of the authority. He was met with a public accusation of forgery and the threat of litigation from “his own government,” as he put it, together with a demand that he issue a written apology, undertake never again to publish “the document” which contained many things that are not said to be actionable, and reveal his sources. There are many places in the world where I might expect such a thing to happen, but not in our beloved Dominion.”
Now before I report further on what is contained in the Judge’s ruling, you should know that the NPCA issued a written response to the ruling which The St. Catharines Standard has already quoted from this November 24th.
I am choosing to share it here with you in its entirety, and I challenge you write back to Niagara At Large in the comment section below, if you can find one hint of remorse or apology in this NPCA statement for all of the crap they put Smith and his family through over the past with their demands to him for an apology and retraction and their lawsuit.
Here is the NPCA’s ‘Official Statement’ –
“The NPCA is currently reviewing the decision by His Honour Justice Ramsay regarding this matter.
Though the NPCA is understandably disappointed with certain aspects of the Court’s decision, we appreciate the Court’s finding that many of the statements within the offending report did in fact include inaccurate, and deliberately misleading information.
The NPCA initiated these proceedings to preserve its reputation, and the reputation of its staff and Board Members; as well as to correct the misinformation and misstatements that had been advanced. If these errors had been corrected as initially requested, it would not have been necessary for the NPCA to proceed with this matter before the Courts to get this very fact acknowledged and corrected in the public forum.
The NPCA will continue in its efforts to work with the larger community and all persons who wish to advance a positive direction for dealing with matters within the Niagara Peninsula watershed. NPCA believes that this decision by the Court advances that objective by correcting the air of misinformation that existed.
Everyone has the right to an opinion, but the NPCA similarly has an obligation and duty to protect its reputation, and that of its employees and Board members. The work that the NPCA undertakes on behalf of this community is important work. While we can be open to criticism and accept that not everyone will be happy with the decisions that we make, it is important from our perspective to ensure that what people are saying is always based on facts and supported by the truth.”
This comes from the same body that showed no shame when it came to demanding an apology from Lincoln regional councillor and now former NPCA board member Bill Hodgson earlier this year in the wake of his efforts to answer the call of countless thousands of citizens, area MPPs, and more than half the local municipalities across this Niagara region and Hamilton for a truly independent audit of the NPCA’s operations.
Is it any wonder so many people in the region have grown to have contempt for this body? When in hell is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her pathetic excuse for a Minister of Natural Resources Kathryn McGarry (the provincial minister with jurisdiction over an Ontario Conservation Act that is supposed to place some guard rails around this bunch) going to finally do something about it?
This post is getting kind of long so we’ll do more on this and related matters in the days ahead.
For now, I will leave with one more question before quoting a few more summary lines from Judge Ramsay’s ruling.
First the question?
Are we now expected for all of the time and money the NPCA has spent going after fellow citizen Ed Smith without tax dollars? Shouldn’t the costs come out of the personal pockets of the NPCA board members and administrators who supported this action against one of our citizens
What is ever going to stop this government body or another one from trying to sue a citizen again if we, the people, end up paying for it? What’s the penalty if the money doesn’t come out of their pockets?
Maybe that’s something a group of citizens in the region can look in to. Is there any way we can get our money back so maybe we can spend it on planting trees and milkweed plants in some of our conservation areas.
Now for a few summary lines from Judge Ramsay’s ruling that any and all of us who cherish the rights and freedoms so many of our fellow citizens in this country fought and died for should embrace over anything in that shameless NPCA response to the ruling –
“In a free and democratic system, every citizen must be guaranteed the right to freedom of expression about issues relating to government as an absolute privilege, without threat of a civil action for defamation being initiated against respond to criticisms. … It is the very essence of a democracy to engage many voices in the process, not just those who are positive and supportive … A democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression.”
Amen to that!
We have municipal elections in this Niagara region next year where it will be our town as citizens and voters to fire those in government who would act in ways that frustrate and block those rights and freedoms for others.
It’s our chance to shape the future of governance in this region for the next four years, people!
For our own sake, get engaged!
(A Quick After Note – the suits filed by NPCA and former NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo alone were after Ed Smith for a total of $200,000. Smith has counter sued the NPCA and its past chair Bruce Timms for $60,000 for allegedly defaming him in a statement the NPCA circulated last year.. That action is still outstanding.)
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