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Campaign launched to support former Springwater mayor on compliance audit injustice

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In Council Watch
Mar 20th, 2019
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Bill and Lorraine French

Bill and Lorraine French 

News release from Justice for Bill French committee

A citizens’ committee has launched a campaign to address the misuse of the Municipal Elections Act which resulted in 10 charges of alleged non-compliance against former Springwater mayor Bill French.

“We believe Bill has been the target of an immense injustice,” said Kate Harries, a member of the Justice for Bill French committee. “We do not want this to set a precedent that could taint elections across Ontario.”

French’s 2014 municipal campaign spending came in at $5,000 under his $20,000 spending limit. After three audits, non-compliances involving some $1,000 were identified.

“These were clearly not part of an effort to conceal or gain an unfair advantage – but the result of inadvertent error, which the legislation allows for,” she said.

Harries said this is a matter that should be of concern across Ontario. “Any person elected to public office is at risk of facing huge costs as a result of having a compliance audit committee come after them for minor infractions.”

“All this has cost Springwater taxpayers over $200,000, and Bill French has spent $55,000 in defending himself against what we view as a politically motivated prosecution,” she said.

French’s lawyer Phil Horgan said Springwater taxpayers should question whether the ongoing pursuit of Bill French is in the “public interest.”

“Previous cases for spending irregularities have been excused for greater sins,” Horgan said. “The excessive spending by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in 2010 ($40,000 alleged over the $1.3 million spending limit) was not pursued.  Sudbury Mayor Brian Biggar was excused on charges of improper fundraising in 2014.”

Horgan noted that the Springwater-Oro-Medonte compliance audit committee from 2014 no longer exists, owing to the passage of time.  “Yet these charges over what are essentially minor bookkeeping entries continue to be pursued as against Bill French,” he said. “Bill intends to defend himself.”

Horgan added that a preliminary question of law will need to be answered, as to whether the Springwater Council can continue this prosecution, “when the governing legislation clearly intended that no municipal council be allowed to pursue such prosecutions in the first place, given the obvious risk of political interference.”

And, he said, “one need only be reminded that our prime minister is facing a related set of questions on prosecutorial independence.”

The Justice for Bill French committee has set up a website (Justice for Bill French) with a petition calling on:

  • The Province of Ontario to re-examine the Municipal Elections Act to determine what limits or changes should be made in relation to the power and conduct of compliance audit committees, to ensure that the Act is applied fairly and appropriately, and on
  • Springwater Township Council to take whatever action it considers appropriate to end this costly prosecution.

The committee is also soliciting donations to help French with his legal costs.

The next court date in this case is Thursday March 28 at 1 p.m. at the provincial court, 45 Cedar Pointe Drive, Barrie.

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