Ruling Represents Another Victory for Cozens’ Democratic Right to Speak Out!
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted January 6th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – The same Ontario Court Judge who recently dismissed the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s defamation suit against Niagara citizen Ed Smith has followed up with an order to pay Smith $131,000 in legal costs.
The way the NPCA responded in the face of document Smith circulated more than a year ago, raising concerns about the way the Conservation Authority spends millions of mostly municipal tax dollars, and even in the face of Smith’s willingness to retract anything in the document that might be incorrect, was “over the top” and “got in the way of an early resolution of the controversy,” said Judge James Ramsay in a ruling he released late this January 5th, while ordering the NPCA to pay Smith’s legal costs.
The NPCA sued Ed Smith, a resident and community activist from St. Catharines and a retired Canadian Armed Forces officer, more than a year ago, claiming that a document he circulated, raising questions and concerns about the NPCA’s hiring and firing practices, its awarding of contracts to private consultants and other matters, contained erroneous and defamatory information.
That lawsuit was dismissed last November following a two day court case in a ruling that included some of the following words from the Judge –
“I share the defendant’s (Ed Smith’s) disappointment at his treatment by the Authority (NPCA). A private citizen,” said 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,” concluded Judge Ramsay, “but not in our beloved Dominion.”
The NPCA and its former CAO Carmen D’Angelo – now CAO for Niagara’s regional government thanks to Niagara Regional Chair Al Caslin and a majority of regional councillors and Niagara area mayors who supported hiring him in October of 2016, following what they claimed was a “countrywide search” for the right candidate to fill the position – had until late this past December to appeal Ramsay’s ruling to dismiss the lawsuit, but no appeal was filed.
That paved the way for the Judge to issue a second ruling this January 5th, ordering the NPCA to pay Smith’s legal costs.
As a journalist who covered this case closely, along with other matters in recent years, including the firing by the current bunch running the NPCA of some good environmental experts on the staff and the pillaring of Lincoln regional councillor and former NPCA board member Bill Hodgson with a censure motion, I applaud both of Judge Ramsay’s rulings.
Hopefully it sends out a message to this and other government bodies that in this Canadian democracy, citizens should have a right to hold them accountable for how they spend our tax money without fear of being slapped with a lawsuit.
I only wish that there is some way the courts can make the individuals in management and sitting on a board for a body like the NPCA pay the costs out of their own pockets.
It should be outrageous to all of us as citizens and taxpayers that a group of people in administration or sitting on a board of directors for a government body like this can use our tax money to hire lawyers and go after citizens they have an issue with, and even if they lose the case and have to play the citizens’ costs, they can waste our money for that too!
And keep this in mind here. The $131,000 of our money – money that could otherwise be used for planting trees, restoring waterways or looking after conservation areas – the NPCA has been ordered to pay out, is only an amount that cover’s Ed Smith’s legal costs.
It does not include however many hundreds of thousands of dollars of our money – and it probably does add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars – that this current NPCA board, 10 members of which were handpicked by a majority on Caslin’s regional council, gave the green light to spend on what Judge Ramsay rightfully called its “over the top” costs for lawyers to go after Ed Smith in this matter. Nor does it include however tens of thousands of dollars of our tax dollars were spent on court time, including the salaries for the Judge, clerks and others involved in this case.
And this is not the end of it!
The same bunch has another lawsuit that is still outstanding against former NPCA employee Jocelyn Baker who they claim broke a non-disclosure agreement she signed when she left her job by emailing Cindy Forster, a Niagara area MPP, about concerns she has over the way staff at the Conservation Authority are treated.
Late last year, Baker’s lawyer filed on her behalf a countersuit totaling more than $400,000.
Earlier last year, in another action that has raised the ire of many citizens across the region, the same NPCA board paid an unknown amount of our tax money for a legal report they used to go behind closed doors for a vote to censure Hodgson after the Lincoln regional councillor made efforts to answer the calls of local municipal councils and growing numbers of citizens across the region for an independent audit of the NPCA’s operations.
Despite repeated requests, the NPCA has still not made a copy of the report they used to censure Hodgson available to the public.
All of this and more was cited by two Niagara area councils for the cities of Port Colborne and St. Catharines when they recently passed motions calling on the Ontario government to appoint a special supervisor to clear out the current board and senior management of the NPCA and hopefully get the Conservation Authority back to a place where the public can once against respect it as the voice for conserving out watersheds and green spaces that it should be.
It is expected that more local councils across Niagara will follow St. Catharines and Port Colborne in calling for strong action from the province to clean house here.
And where is the province?
What in hell is Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources Kathryn McGarry, who is supposed to have some jurisdiction over Conservation Authorities across the province, doing?
She and the province’s Premier, Kathleen Wynne, might consider that people across Niagara are watching and if their Liberal government continues to place the interests of those managing and sitting on the board of the NPCA above the interests of the taxpaying citizens of this region, it won’t be forgotten when Niagara residents go to the polls in this coming spring’s provincial election.
More on the NPCA on Niagara At Large later.
In the meantime, here again are the elected people in Niagara currently sitting on the Conservation Authority board that we also should not forget when it time to go to the polls this coming October to vote in the municipal elections.
You would think that our regional government in Niagara would take some action now to replace members of this NPCA board, and save voters the trouble nine months from now.In related news, Judge Ramsay, in his latest January 5th, 2018 ruling, ordered Bill Montgormery, a private marketing consultant from Niagara-on-the-Lake and two of his corporations, Value Media Corp and Stream Three Inc., to pay $48,000 of Ed Smith’s legal costs over a dismissed lawsuit he filed over the same document Smith circulated about the NPCA.
The $131.000 that the NPCA has been ordered to pay, along with the $48,000 Montgomery has been ordered to pay, covers 100 per cent of Smith’s legal costs and, said Smith in a brief statement, the Judge has “sent a very loud and clear message with that ruling” for anyone considering suing a citizen for raising concerns about the way our tax dollars are being spent.
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