On the attack: County to pursue $5,000 from AWARE Simcoe
Before the clearcutting: Beeton Woods in spring
Legal action continues to collect funds regarding effort to save Beeton Woods
AWARE Simcoe news release
Once again, Simcoe County Council has decided to use its considerable resources to try to extract funds from AWARE Simcoe, a citizens’ group that works to protect water, the environment and health.
Councillors met in-camera September 26 to discuss renewed efforts to enforce a crippling $5,000 court order. At issue was the group’s challenge of a 2015 decision to allow the clearing of 35 acres of mature hardwood forest, including endangered butternuts, known as the Beeton Woods.
They voted 19 to 7 – a population-weighted vote of 68-38 – in favour of pursuing AWARE Simcoe (see below for how they voted).
“We’re disappointed,” said AWARE Simcoe vice-chair Sandy Agnew. “Many county councillors seem to think that, as elected representatives, their decisions are by definition correct and citizens have no right to challenge them between elections.
“But ‘the price of democracy is eternal vigilance,’” he said. “We feel, and we received legal advice, that we had a strong case to be considered by a panel of judges.”
Unfortunately the insertion of lawyers at a rate of up to $450 an hour into the democratic process makes a mockery of citizen participation, Agnew said.
He added that the Beeton residents who asked for AWARE Simcoe’s help in 2015 had been stonewalled and told by the county clerk that their only recourse would be to take legal action when they objected to aspects of the county’s hearing process.
AWARE Simcoe disagreed strongly with the judge’s ruling to deny its application for an injunction to postpone tree-cutting until a judicial review was heard in 2016.
“We wanted to appeal,” Agnew said, but once the forest was cleared, the expense of continued legal action did not seem justified.
The county’s recent decision to continue pursuing AWARE Simcoe came in the form of a vaguely worded motion moved by Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope and seconded by Adjala-Tosorontio Deputy Mayor Doug Little.
“That’s fitting,” said Kate Harries, a founding member of AWARE Simcoe, which grew out of the successful battle to stop Dump Site 41.
She noted that Little and Wauchope were part of the group that supported then-warden Tony Guergis in taking legal action against Site 41 campaigners – farmer Anne Ritchie-Nahuis and indigenous leader Vicki Monague – during the summer of 2009, without the approval of the rest of council.
It was this suit that Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow referred to in November 2015 when she asked county council not to seek to collect the court award.
“While collecting the $5,000 is not on the same scale as the attempt by a previous Simcoe County administration to sue the perceived leaders of the opposition to Dump Site 41, it would have the same negative effect as that intended by those lawsuits,” Barlow wrote.
“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.”
Warden Gerry Marshall attacked Barlow for these comments, characterizing her plea as a “wild reference to something that actually didn’t occur.” Ritchie-Nahuis met with Marshall to set the record straight. But Marshall never acknowledged his mistake, nor did he apologize to Barlow for his unwarranted attack.
Marshall has led the charge against AWARE Simcoe on this issue, Agnew said. “We find his actions as warden considerably at odds with his sterling record during his first term as county councillor. But this seems to happen once elected officials come under the influence of county staff.”
Agnew also questioned whether Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes, who has been vocal in his criticism of AWARE Simcoe, has a conflict of interest in the matter.
“Hughes sued one of our board members for comments made in a private capacity regarding his role in the Burl’s Creek approvals,” Agnew said. Hughes launched a defamation lawsuit against Oro-Medonte resident Ann Truyens, but after two years, the day before it was to go to trial in June 2017, Hughes withdrew the claim.
The court ordered AWARE Simcoe to pay $5,000 to the county and $27,000 to developer Tecumseth Estates, owned by the Rizzardo family. The developer is to be paid first.
Last year, county lawyer Marshall Green acted as an agent for the Rizzardos in initiating legal action to enforce the costs order. Whether Green, now a full-time county employee, will again act on behalf of the developer remains to be seen.
HOW THEY VOTED on a resolution to pursue AWARE Simcoe for $5,000
Resolution No. 2017-10
Moved by Councillor Wauchope, seconded by Councillor Little
That the following recommendation (CCW-274-17) Item CCW 17-284 – Confidential regarding Litigation or Potential Litigation, including matters before Administrative Tribunals (Legal) be approved. That the direction to staff “In Camera” be approved and voted on in accordance with section 239 (6) (e) of the Municipal Act, as amended.
Wasaga Beach Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi, Severn Mayor Mike Burkett, Clearview Deputy Mayor Barry Burton, Innisfil Deputy Mayor Lynn Dollin, Deputy Warden/Essa Mayor Terry Dowdall, Penetanguishene Deputy Mayor Anita Dubeau, Oro-Medonte Deputy Mayor Ralph Hough, Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes, Adjala-Tosorontio Deputy Mayor Doug Little, Essa Deputy Mayor Sandie MacDonald, Warden/Penetanguishene Mayor Gerry Marshall, Ramara Deputy Mayor John O’Donnell, Tay Deputy Mayor David Ritchie, Midland Deputy Mayor Mike Ross, Adjala-Tosorontio Mayor Mary Small Brett, Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith, Clearview Mayor Chris Vanderkruys, Tiny Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma, Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope.
Tiny Mayor George Cornell, Severn Deputy Mayor Judith Cox, Bradford-West Gwillimbury Mayor Rob Keffer, Bradford-West Gwillimbury Deputy Mayor James Leduc, Midland Mayor Gord McKay, New Tecumseth Mayor Rick Milne, Tay Mayor Scott Warnock.
Absent – Springwater Deputy Mayor Don Allen, Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke, Collingwood Mayor Sandra Cooper, Collingwood Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson.
Springwater Mayor Bill French declared a conflict.