In Official Statement, Conservation Authority “Stands By” Its Defeated Case Against St. Catharines/Niagara Citizen Ed Smith
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted January 9th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – In an official statement the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) posted late this past Monday, January 8th on its website, it pushed backed against rulings by an Ontario Court Judge to dismiss its defamation case against Niagara area citizen Ed Smith and ordering it to pay Smith’s court costs – saying that it “stands by” the decision it made more than a year ago to sue the St. Catarines resident and retired Canadian Armed Forces officer.
The NPCA’s January 8th statement – coming three days after Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay ordered it to pay Smith $131,000 to cover his costs of defending the lawsuit it slapped against him and more than a month after the same judge dismissed the suit itself – states that Conservation Authority “stands by its decision to defend its employees and the organization itself.”
“Prior to taking this matter to Court,” the statement continues, “the NPCA, through its counsel, asked Mr. Smith to retract and correct the most offensive statements in his document on 3 separate occasions. Mr. Smith refused to do so. This was never about silencing an individual asking questions; it was about correcting defamatory statements made against an NPCA employee, and the organization as a whole.”
The “NPCA employee” the statement refers to is the Conservation Authority’s former CAO Carmen D’Angelo, who last year received the support of the Niagara regional council’s chair Al Caslin and a majority of directly regional councillors and Niagara area mayors to serve (as he now does) as the regional government’s CAO – an executive position that commands a six-figure salary and generous benefits.
Judge Ramsay’s latest ruling orders to the NPCA, which is funded mostly with municipal tax dollars, to pay out the entire $131,000 to Smith and does not order D’Angelo, who was named as a party to the lawsuit against Smith to pay any portion of that amount.
In its January 8th response to the judge’s ruling, the NPCA goes on state that the Conservation Authority and its board of directors (made up mostly of Niagara area mayors and regional councillors appointed by a regional council chaired by Al Caslin) “are grateful to the Court for finally correcting the record by confirming that Mr. Smith’s claims were false” in a document he produced and circulated more than a year ago.
The document, which triggered the defamation suit the NPCA and D’Angelo filed against Smith in the first place, listed a long list of concerns and questions Smith and others were raising about decisions the Conservation Authority was making around hiring and firing staff, awarding contracts to private consultants and other matters involving the spending of large sums of mostly municipal tax dollars.
It is important to stress here that in Judge Ramsay’s November ruling and during the two-day court hearing that proceeded that first ruling, it was noted by the judge and by Smith’s lawyers that there were a few things in the document that, upon the gathering of further information, turned out to be incorrect, but it was ultimately ruled by the Court that there was no malicious or willful intent on Smith’s part to circulate incorrect information.
It is also important to stress that in his second and latest January 5th ruling, Judge Ramsay said he was satisfied that there was evidence that Smith was prepared to retract any incorrect information in the document had he been approached in an appropriate way to do so.
So where does the NPCA get off coming out with a statement that there would have been no court case or costs to the taxpayer if Smith had issued a retraction?
In his January 5th ruling, Judge Ramsay, offered the following in describing the NPCA’s reaction to its concern or controversy over misinformation in Smith’s document – “The Authority’s over-the-top reaction,” wrote the Judge in his ruling, “got in the way of an early resolution of the controversy. In correspondence from counsel for the defendant (Smith), it appears that he was willing to retract part of his report.”
“In different circumstances,” concluded the Judge, “the negotiations might have gone farther. The defendant (Smith) cannot be blamed for their (the NPCA’s) failure.”
Let me repeat that line from Judge Ramsay’s January 5th, 2018 ruling which ended with the Judge ordering the NPCA to pay Ed Smith $131,000 in legal costs – “The defendant cannot be blamed for their failure.”
In a response Ed Smith shared with Niagara At Large this January 9th to the NPCA’s statement, he said the following – “Regrettably the NPCA continues to struggle to fully understand the court decision of Justice Ramsay and they appear unwilling or unable to accept any responsibility for their actions,” said Smith. “The NPCA is a government agency and it chose to spend what must amount to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in a failed attempt to remove a citizen’s right to free speech. Justice Ramsay states quite plainly that the action was designed to silence me.”
Indeed, in his January 5th ruling (and just so we don’t have any of the clowns on the NPCA board or regional council accusing us of posting “fake news” here), Judge Ramsay concluded that “the action (meaning the lawsuit the NPCA and D’Angelo filed against Smith) was designed to silence the defendant, who was an annoyance to the Authority.”
Yet here we are on January 9th – the day of this NAL posting – following two rulings by a long-serving and distinguished Ontario Court Judge, ruling against the NPCA suit and ordering it to pay the target of the lawsuit court costs, and not only is there no apology for all of the anguish Smith and his family have been put through over the past year, or to the public for God knows how much more money the NPCA spent pushing this case, but the bosses at this disgusting excuse for a Conservation Authority have the audacity to come out with a statement that basically charges Smith all over again with making false claims and blames him for the tax money it cost to drag their case against him through the courts.
I read in a recent report on this, published in the St. Catharines Standard, that in the wake of the rulings in his favour, Smith and his lawyers are in the process of withdrawing a counter lawsuit they filed against the NPCA. Given the NPCA’s appalling statement, one has to wonder if they aren’t dropping it too soon.
In another Standard story, published this January 9th, two members of the NPCA board – Welland Mayor Frank Campion and St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms (who was still chair of the NPCA board, a year ago this past fall, when it voted to launch the lawsuit against Smith – sound like they are now trying to do a mea culpa or wash some of the blood off their hands here.
According to the January 9th Standard story, “Frank Campion says he was opposed to the lawsuit against Smith from the start.”
Oh ya. How do we know when the vote to sue Smith was carried out behind closed doors? And isn’t Campion possibly breaking some sort of confidence code himself here by discussing the position he claims he took during an in camera or closed meeting? At the very least, it gives an appearance that he is now trying to make himself look like one of the good guys while leaving fellow board members out to dry.
In the Standard story, the paper also says Campion told him that the January 5th statement the NPCA posted on its website about Ramsay’s latest ruling ‘doesn’t reflect his decision.”
Aren’t the NPCA’s statements to the budget approved by the board before they are released, or maybe they are and Campion’s opinion was treated with so much respect it was ignored in the end.
So much for a line Campion came out with last year that one of the reasons he hasn’t quit the NPCA board, despite all the garbage, is that he hopes he might still be able to steer some good there. Sounds like hoping Ivanka Trump might be a positive influence on her father.
Then, in the same Standard story, there is Timms now on record trying to say it was wrong to sue.
“Lesson learned. I get it,” Timms was quoted saying in the story about the way the lawsuit ultimately went. ‘Timms says,’ the Standard story continues, that ‘he will urge board members that any future complaints and inaccuracies are dealt with at public forums.’
Now there’s an idea. How many times have private citizens and others, including the office of at least one Niagara area MPP, ask the NPCA to disclose information on matters of public interest over the last two or three years, only to have to spend time and money filing a request under the provincial’s freedom of information legislation in an attempt to get it?
In his statement to Niagara At Large this January 9th, Ed Smith had the following to say about any misgivings the likes of Campion and Timms are expressing now.
“Members of the NPCA will make all the noise they wish to about it, and they may even try to distance themselves from responsibility for any of this,” said Smith, “but it begs the question why are we hearing this from you now? If you were against this action where was your voice on the issue for the past year?”
“The time for accountability is coming, the next election is October 2018,” Smith added. “I would also point out that the NPCA is right now in the process of suing yet another citizen (former NPCA employee Jocelyn Baker).” Smith said. “How many tax dollars will they spend on that? They do not seem to learn their lesson. If the members of the Board who are now trying to build distance from any responsibility for my case, are truly serious then I look forward to hearing they are starting moves within the Board to drop the other lawsuit completely.”
Let me wrap up by repeating one of the comments Ed Smith made here – “The time for accountability is coming, the next election is October 2018.”
I would suggest that if Bruce Timms or anyone else on the NPCA board – after all of the many months they have had to stand up and speak out against some of the crap this body has pulled – “get it” or get anything, it is that the next municipal elections are now only eight months away that that a critical mass of people across Niagara have had it with the current bunch of elected and non-elected characters managing this Conservation Authority.
Remember them this coming October when it’s time to vote in the municipal elections!
To read the full text of Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay’s January 5th, 2018 ruling click on – NPCA v. Smith – Costs Endorsement – Jan 5 2017
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