“Once again, the NPCA leadership has used language in a fashion that tends to obfuscate the truth. The OPP found “no criminal wrongdoing”, that is not the same as finding “no wrongdoing” as the NPCA headline states. The two are very different issues.” – Niagara, Ontario resident, retired Canadian Armed Forces Officer and fearless community activist Ed Smith
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted January 26th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – It took weeks for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) to finally disclose how much of our tax money it spent on its failed lawsuits against Niagara citizen Ed Smith, but it certainly didn’t waste any time posting a statement on its website about the fact that a yearlong investigation of the agency by the Ontario Provincial Police did not uncover anything rising to a level of criminality that it has done wrong.
Well, there’s some cause for celebration around the NPCA board table. And all the more so since the investigation was launched after police were approached by Ed Smith – a citizen in Niagara it has battled both in and outside the courts – with some questions and concerns about the Conservation Authority he believed worthy of a police probe.
“The OPP was approached by Niagara Regional Police (NRP) Chief Maguire to investigate claims brought forward by Mr. Ed Smith of St. Catharines, who claimed there was illegal activity occurring at NPCA,” says the statement the NPCA posted this January 25th on its website.
“Upon completing a yearlong investigation,” the statement says, “the OPP found no basis for the claims brought forward.”
The NPCA statement continues on with a quote from one of the Town of Fort Erie’s great gifts to the Niagara region – Fort Erie regional councillor and now chair of the NPCA’s board of directors, Sandy Annunziata – that reads as follows – “It doesn’t surprise me that Mr. Smith was found wrong again. His allegations of corruption have all been completely debunked by a Superior Court Judge, and now the OPP. The NPCA does great work, by great people,” Annunziata says. “The repeated statements that Mr. Smith was sued for ‘simply asking questions’ is ridiculous. Mr. Smith has been focused on ruining the NPCA’s reputation by repeatedly uttering false accusations, deliberately misleading statements, and relying on a forged document. …”
“If people aren’t outraged at the incredible amount of public resources wasted in investigating Mr. Smith’s baseless claims, they should be,” Annunziata goes on. “Accountability goes both ways. As the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”
Well, let’s focus on at least one fundamental fact then – one that has very much to do with that Superior Court Judge Annunziata refers to and the lawsuits the NPCA and its former CAO Carmen D’Angelo (now CAO of Niagara’s regional government) launched against Ed Smith for allegedly defaming them with questions and concerns he raised about how they are doing business with millions of our tax dollars.
Those lawsuits were dismissed by that Super Court Judge – Ontario Court Judge James Ramsay to be specific – last January and more recently, the same Judge ordered the NPCA to pay Ed Smith $131,000 to cover the costs of defending himself.
In his November 23rd ruling, dismissing the NPCA lawsuits against Smith, who is a resident in the Niagara, Ontario community of St. Catharines and is a retired Canadian Armed Forces officer, Judge Ramsay had this to say, in part –
“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.”
In the same ruling, the Judge also had this to say – “A democracy can’t exist without freedom of expression.” … The NPCA, he concluded, “is a body that has had trouble finding its way.”
NPCA board member Tony Quirk, a Grimsby regional councillor and one of that town’s great gifts to the Niagara region, didn’t wait very long to respond. In a Tweet he fired out two days later, Quirk called the Judge’s ruling, or at least some of it, “very Trump-like.”
And here we are – two months later – and the NPCA continues dragging Smith’s name through the mud, as if the court case never happened, with accusations that he defamed the agency.
It leaves one asking the question – What part of a phrase like “case dismissed” does Annunziata and the rest of the gang on the NPCA board not get?
But let’s get back to the OPP investigation, the findings of which I have yet to review and am certainly looking forward to doing so given a response Ed Smith issued this January 25th to that statement the NPCA posted on its website.
“Once again the NPCA leadership has used language in a fashion that tends to obfuscate the truth. The OPP found “no criminal wrongdoing”, that is not the same as finding “no wrongdoing” as the NPCA headline states. The two are very different issues,” said Smith.
“The NPCA and I were debriefed by the OPP on their findings and I would be happy to attend a public forum with the NPCA and discuss those findings,” added Smith. “The NPCA Chair alleges that Justice Ramsay debunked all of my allegations of fraud which is incorrect in many ways.”
“First and foremost, there never were any allegations of fraud; the NPCA has been the agency talking about fraud, constantly.”
Secondly,” Smith continued, “the Justice actually found that many (most) of the issues in my report were actually not challenged by the NPCA.”
“I am grateful for the investigation that was conducted by the OPP and I am absolutely satisfied with their investigation,” Smith said. “It is my hope that the Auditor General team at the NPCA will request a copy of the OPP investigation. I think it may prove helpful to their work.”
“There are many questions left unanswered at the NPCA, including almost every issue raised in my original report (the one listing all the questions and concerts that triggered the Conservation Authority’s failed lawsuits). I look forward to the Auditor General’s report to provide the answers that this government agency has so far refused to provide.”
In other news directly related to all of this, Ed Smith has decided to drop a countersuit he launched last year against the NPCA – a decision this Niagara At Larger commentator views as quite generous and perhaps premature given the fact that the NPCA can’t seem to stop trying to re-litigate its charges of defamation against Smith, much less apologies to him and his family for all the stress these lawsuits put them through.
Further to that, Smith says he is donating about $9,000 dollars left over from a defense fund established for him – a fund set up when members of the Niagara community came together a year ago to contribute to his legal costs – to three women’s shelters in the region and to a new non-partisan citizens organization set up called “A Better Niagara” which is dedicated to find good, civic-minded candidates to run in this coming October’s municipal elections.
Perhaps, Annunziata and others on the NPCA board might want to dig into their own pockets – not the public’s – and match Smith’s donation.
Even if they do, I’m hoping voters across this region will take advantage of the October municipal elections to give the boot to the whole lot of them.
Meanwhile, let’s have that public forum on the findings in the Ontario Provincial Police report.
Come on Sandy and company. Why not take Ed Smith up on his challenge.
If there is nothing to all of the questions and concerns he raised about the way you do business or about the findings in that OPP report, you and the rest of the NPCA gang should be able to mop the floor with Ed Smith, once and for all
I – for one – would buy a ticket for a chance to see you try. Maybe the proceeds could go to A Better Niagara.
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