The warden got it wrong
Simcoe County Warden Gerry Marshall kicked off Tuesday’s debate about recovering $5,000 in legal costs from AWARE Simcoe with a rant. Here it is:
Marshall: Council of Canadians references administration attempts to sue, I guess, and lawsuits being perceived or pursued. My understanding, my investigations show there was no attempt to sue anybody and no pursuit of a lawsuit, so that I find that language matters, and so this wild reference to something that actually didn’t occur, didn’t exist, I think perhaps the author is confused with an injunction that was undertaken at that time, and that’s not a lawsuit, for suing people, so, two different things, and certainly I think language matters. I just wanted to share my investigation and felt the need to check the facts and make sure we had it right. I just wanted to share that.
Councillor Gord McKay: Is there a possibility of a verbal response back to correct records?
Marshall: No, absolutely, I just wanted clarity for council.
This is the letter to Simcoe County Council from Maude Barlow that Marshall chose to take issue with:
“On behalf of our 935 supporters in Simcoe County we respectfully request that you do not seek to collect the $5000 recently awarded to the County for costs associated with the Beeton Woods injunction ruling.
“It is not a significant amount of money to the County but collecting it would send a chilling message to your constituents about actively engaging in democratic decisions in Simcoe.
“While collecting the $5000 is not on the same scale as the attempt by a previous Simcoe County administration to sue the perceived leaders of the opposition to Dumpsite 41, it would have the same negative effect as that intended by those lawsuits.
“We believe that the efforts by the injunction applicants were worthy and laudable and that democracy is best served by encouraging public participation in all levels of government.”
Maude Barlow is right and Gerry Marshall had it wrong.
The County of Simcoe sought an injunction to stop the protest at Site 41. That was a lawsuit. (An interim injunction was granted; charges were laid against a number of people who appeared in court, including Keith and Ina Wood; the charges were eventually dropped.)
The County of Simcoe sought $160,000 in damages (plus unspecified further damages and costs) from dairy farmer Anne Ritchie-Nahuis and Beausoleil Island First Nation member Vicki Monague. That was a lawsuit.
This is taken from an April 29, 2010 letter from Anne’s lawyer Murray Klippenstein: “I write to you to provide you with an update regarding the status of the lawsuit that the County of Simcoe (the “County”) brought against you and Vicki Monague in July 2009 related to your protest of proposed Dump Site 41.”
One would expect a lawyer to know what a lawsuit is.
Just to be sure, clarification has been sought from Peter Rosenthal, another lawyer familiar with the Site 41 situation, and he has confirmed that a lawsuit means any legal action brought by one party against another. That includes the injunction application, and the claim for damages. There is no doubt, he says, that the county brought a lawsuit against Ritchie-Nahuis and Monague.
The fact there was a lawsuit was the subject of much discussion in the summer of 2009. This is from an August 10 2009 letter to county council from the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture: “We are very concerned that the County of Simcoe is proceeding with Civil Action against a Simcoe County farmer, without following proper procedure. Anne Ritchie-Nahuis is being named in a statement of claim for unsubstantiated damages increasing by $80,000 a week. It appears there was no County Council meeting where Councilors could debate this extraordinary legal matter.”
And this is the text of the resolution dealing with the lawsuit, passed by council on August 25 2009, while hundreds of people packed the gallery and waited outside the administration centre in Midhurst: MOVED BY: Councillor Cooper SECONDED BY: Councillor Wauchope THAT based on Warden Guergis’ recommendation, the claim for damages in the matter of the Corporation of the County of Simcoe v. Vicki Monague, Anne Ritchie Nahuis (Court file # 09-0961) et al. be discontinued.
For the record, here’s a link SCC-SDS41 to the totality of resolutions that were passed on that day as councillors tried to clean up the fiasco that had developed over the summer months when they didn’t meet and the then warden and a small clique of councillors along with senior staff made decisions without county council support (including to launch the legal action against Anne and Vicki).
As the letter from her lawyer indicates, it took many months before staff followed through on council’s instructions and withdrew the legal action. The Ritchie-Nahuis farm was affected financially and the family ended up paying a substantial amount to defend themselves.
Barlow was in the gallery on August 25, 2009. Thanks to her and many others, we have fields and not a dump site. Marshall was not a member of any council at that time, nor was he involved in Site 41. How curious for him to choose to berate her on the facts of the case. Ritchie-Nahuis immediately asked to meet with Marshall to explain to him what really happened. The meeting took place on Friday.
My view is that Marshall’s statement to council was an unfair attack on Maude Barlow based on an imperfect understanding of the facts. I suggest that county council deserves more clarity from him on the issue and that she deserves an apology. As he says, language matters.
But good for Marshall for agreeing to meet with Ritchie-Nahuis – I don’t think either of the previous two wardens would have done so. Some of his actions indicate that he wants to have the county government work in a more inclusive manner. Listening is a good place to start, and he did that.