A Brief News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted December 11th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – Veteran St. Catharines city councilor Joe Kushner is tabling a motion for his council’s consideration that demands to know what the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and its band of administrators and regionally appointed board members are so far refusing to tell us – How much of our tax money was spent on its failed defamation suits against St. Catharines community activist and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer Ed Smith?
Kushner’s motion, to be tabled at St. Catharines’ meeting of city council this Monday, December 11th (available to watch on Cogeco Cable 10 or online beginning at 6p.m., calls for nothing less than disclosure of “the total amounts spent on the lawsuits,” on the grounds that municipal tax dollars are used to fund the annual multi-million-dollar budget of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
The year-old lawsuits, filed against Smith – a vocal critic of NPCA’s operations, including its spending practices -by the NPCA itself and by its former CAO and current CAO for Niagara’s regional government Carmen D’Angelo, was dismissed this past month by Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay who, among other things, described the Conservation Authority as a public body that ‘seems to have lost its way.’
Since the judge’s dismissal of the suits, NPCA representatives have been asked by reporters, area politicians and others how much public money was spent pursuing them against citizen Smith, but no dollar amount has been shared. In one statement to a daily newspaper in the region, Krystle Caputo, one of the P.R. flaks the NPCA hired after dumping some environmental field workers from its staff, claimed that “court costs are protected by attorney-client privilege and Freedom of Information Safeguards. I cannot be more specific than that as this is the framework of our Justice system.
Suffice to say, many citizens and political representatives across Niagara, don’t buy that answer, especially coming, as it does, from a body that is funded with public money for the expressed purpose of serving the public.
Thus, we now have St. Catharines city councillor Joe Kushner’s motion, which reads, in full, as follows –
WHEREAS on November 23, 2017, Judge James Ramsay dismissed the NPCA’s $100,000 lawsuits against retired Air Force major Ed Smith and, in his ruling, Judge Ramsay stated the NPCA, as a government agency, had no right to sue a citizen for criticizing it; and
WHEREAS the NPCA, citing attorney-client privilege, has refused to disclose the amount incurred in legal costs for suing Ed Smith and for other related costs; and WHEREAS although the details of legal invoices, accounts, dates and specific work performed is subject to solicitor-client privilege, the total amount is not privileged; and
WHEREAS with an annual contribution of approximately $1.7 million, the residents of the City of St. Catharines are the largest Niagara Region contributors of public funds to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s funding;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Council request that the NPCA Board disclose the total amounts spent on the lawsuits.
There you have it. That is St. Catharines councilor Joe Kushner’s motion following a court action against citizen Ed Smith, the defendant in the case, where Judge James Ramsay also had this to say in his ruling –
“I share the defendant’s disappointment at his treatment by the Authority. A private citizen,” wrote 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.”
Those moving words from a long-serving, respected Ontario judge and so far, not one public word of apology from anyone on the NPCA board for the legal nightmare they put Ed Smith and his family through!
Niagara At Large will be tuning into St. Catharines’ council meeting this December 11th, and will be reporting on the discussion and vote on Councillor Kushner’s motion.
So STAY TUNED to Niagara At Large for that.
In the meantime, we will continue running the poster produced by the recently organized Niagara citizens group, A Better Niagara, as a reminder of elected politicians in our region now serving on the NPCA board of directors and its administration, who deserved to be voted out of office in next year’s municipal elections. Here they are –
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