Police Called In As Newspaper Report Has His Notes And Computer Seized, And Is Ordered To Leave Niagara’s Regional Headquarters

Lest There Be Any Further Doubt, Fascism Is In Full Force At Niagara Region

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted December 8th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

It was bizarre and disturbing. And that is the least one can say about what unfolded at Niagara’s regional headquarters during a closed session of Al Caslin’s council this December 7th.

I can and will go further and call it a brazen, reprehensible assault on the democratic values this Canada of ours likes to celebrate and cherish, and on rights and freedoms of news reporters to perform their responsibility as watchdogs for the public.

Veteran St. Catharines Standard reporter Bill Suachuk, at right, being ordered out of Niagara’s regional government headquarters after his notes and computer were seized.

This December 7th, while members of the public and media were asked to leave the regional council chambers so the council could go in to closed session to discuss what to do in the face of code of conduct complaints involving St. Catharines regional councillor Andy Petrowski, Bill Sawchuk, a reporter for The St. Catharines Standard, had his computer and notes seized, while uniformed Niagara Regional Police arrived to see that he complied with an order to leave the regional government headquarters.

That’s right! A reporter for the mainstream media – and a highly professional and well-mannered reporter, had his computer and notes seized and was ordered to leave a regional government headquarters that is paid for and should be an open, welcoming place, not only for that reporter, but for all of us.

I am writing and posting this news commentary the morning after witnessing this disturbing spectacle, and I am still feeling shaken by it and saying “wow”! Then again, nothing should be a surprise or shock any more in this term of regional council, where the regional chair – one St. Catharines regional councillor named Al Caslin – and a majority on that council who routinely side with him, run this upper tier of municipal government in Niagara like a banana republic dictatorship.

Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin. When is the bullying going to stop!

This latest ugly episode of Caslin’s ongoing regional shit show began unfolding after the council had heard a passionate plea by St. Catharines citizen Haley Bateman to have Petrowski expelled from his seat on regional committees and the council following a number of high-profile complaints about his conduct, and voted to have us (meaning members of the public and media) removed from the council chambers while it discussed what to do about the Petrowski matter in closed session.

!While we were in the lobby waiting for the closed session to end, Bill Sawchuk mentioned that he had left his notes and computer inside the council chambers at the media table where reporters sit to cover meetings, and was told the computer and had been taken by regional staff and was being checked because of some suspicion that he might be using it to surreptitiously record what was being discussed by councillors in the closed session.

Bill mentioned that his computer was old and was not equipped to do that kind of recording and as time kept ticking on and he still wasn’t getting his computer back, some of us began wondering if someone wasn’t possibly looking over what was on his computer or downloading files that may include sensitive information he had received from his sources.

Then, in walked two uniformed police officers who hooked up with a bald headed guy in a suit who looked like a bouncer (who we later found out was a member of regional staff) and before we knew it, Bill was telling us he was being removed, altogether, from the regional headquarters without his computer or his notes.

In a story about this incident, posted overnight by The St. Catharines Standard, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Angus Scott, rightfully issued the following statement – “Niagara Region’s actions Thursday night are an infringement of the rights of the media, a contemptible display of arrogance and bullying and, more importantly, an attack on the character and professionalism of a very good journalist who has fearlessly served readers of The Standard for many years. … The Standard stands by its reporting of regional issues and by its reporter.”

As it should!

I hope that The Standard and its new owner, Torstar, also takes every step it can through lawyers, through national news media and civil liberty advocacy organizations to hit back at this Caslin cabal for an act that not only smacks of arrogance, but of the kind of fascism you would expect to see played out in the press room of the Trump White House or in a Putin-like autocratic state.

Enough is enough!

A reporter leaving his or her lap-top computer in the council chambers during a closed session is not that unusual. I remember leaving my computer and camera bag in the chambers about four or five years ago, and ended up regretting that I did because it was after 10 p.n. and the closed session continued on for well over an hour. Finally one of the councillors left the chambers for a moment and I asked him if he would be kind enough to go in and retrieve my computer and camera bag because I was tired and wanted to go home.

You know what happened next? The councillor said, “no problem” and came back out with my things so I could leave. But that was back in the days when Gary Burroughs was the regional chair and we didn’t have all of the bullying and legal threats and other ugliness that has become standard fair with the jackboots running the place now.

As a veteran journalist who has covered municipal affairs in Niagara for close to 40 years now, I have never seen anything as depressing and disturbing as what I have witnessed at the regional level of government under what passed for the leadership of Caslin and a select bunch of bullies around him.

This past November in the week leading up to Remembrance Day, the Caslin cabal which, by the way, is what quite a few observers across the region have taken to calling it, had the nerve to spend some of our tax money on a self-serving, wrap-around, propaganda ad in Niagara This Week that featured a photo of a field of poppies on the front and the following statement –  ‘Regional Chair Alan Caslin and Niagara Regional Council Thank Veterans & Commemorate  The Lives Lost For Our Freedoms.”

When I saw that ad it made me sick after the kind of behaviour that I and so many others have witnessed by a majority (not all, because there are some good ones) on this council over the past three years. I know veterans who served our country going back to the Second World War who can’t stand this and what about Ed Smith, the St. Catharines resident and a veteran officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, who was sued by a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority with 10 elected members of this regional council sitting on the NPCA’s board?

Fortunately, the lawsuit filed against Smith (whose crime was trying to get some accountability out of the NPCA around the spending of millions of our tax dollars) was recently dismissed by Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay who said the following in his ruling –

“I share the defendant’s (Ed Smith’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.”

The same could be said about the whole Caslin cabal at Niagara’s regional government level.

These are dark days for governance and democracy in our Niagara region, folks, and we better wake up, get engaged and work to vote the bad actors off of this regional council in next year’s municipal elections, or it is only going to get nightmarishly worse.

Niagara At Large will continue to follow this disgusting affair as it unfolds. Stay Tune and feel free to share your thoughts in the space below.

To read the story on this episode that was posted by The St. Catharines Standard, click on -  http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/12/08/region-seizes-reporters-notes-compute

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders


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