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All charges withdrawn against former Springwater mayor

By
In Council Watch
Apr 17th, 2019
11 Comments
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Bill and Lorraine French after charges withdrawn.

Bill and Lorraine French after charges withdrawn. -Nicole Murphy photo

News release from the Justice for Bill French committee

Former Springwater mayor Bill French no longer faces any charges under the Municipal Elections Act. All 10 charges were dropped today in Barrie Provincial Offences Court.

“A trial is no longer necessary nor in the interests of justice,” prosecutor Angela Severson told the court.

French said he feels that statement “sums it all up.”

As part of an agreed resolution, French accepted responsibility for the alleged contraventions and volunteered to donate $2,000 to the Elmvale and District food bank.

“Mr. French has long acknowledged that bookkeeping errors were made in his post-campaign filing,” French’s lawyer Phil Horgan said in a statement.  “By withdrawing the charges, no finding of guilt has been made.  But it should be noted that Bill French was quite prepared to defend all of the charges.”

The matter, which has dragged on for almost four years and cost the Township of Springwater in excess of $310,000, was concluded in less than 10 minutes.

Horgan said the Municipal Elections Act does not mandate perfect compliance, but rather that candidates take all reasonable steps to comply.  “Mr. French believed that he did so.  He retained an expert accountant to assist in his MEA filing from the 2014 campaign. There was no effort to deceive voters, or conceal expenses, as acknowledged by the auditors involved. “

In addition, “the quantum of the errors was minimal, and had no bearing on the overall spending limits of his campaign ($15,214.72), for which Bill French stayed well within the allowed limit ($20,363.90),” Horgan said, adding: “in the interests of resolving the proceedings, which were beneficial neither to Mr. French nor to the Springwater taxpayers who were paying the prosecution’s costs, Mr. French was willing to acknowledge some mistakes, and make a charitable donation to resolve the file.”

French read out a prepared statement to a small crowd of supporters outside the courtroom.

“From Day One, I acknowledged there were some minor errors and omissions in my 2014 Election filing,” he said. “I still firmly believe the Compliance Audit Committee erred in approving the compliance audit in the first place as the nature of my minor filing errors did not warrant it.

“The costs to the Township are well in excess of $310,000 today. I expect that when all the bills are paid it will be much more. Just think of what could have been done with that wasted money.

“To my surprise, certain actors inside and outside the township were able to use the Municipal Elections Act as a weapon and succeeded in having me defeated in the 2018 election by 82 votes which was their ultimate goal.”

“We’re glad this issue of the charges against Bill has been resolved,” said Bernard Pope of the Justice for Bill French committee, adding, that the committee came together “because we know him to be an honest man and a conscientious public servant.”

The committee launched a petition calling for a review of the Municipal Elections Act and asking Springwater Township to take whatever action might be appropriate to end the prosecution. More than 800 people have signed.

The committee is also raising funds to assist French in defraying legal costs that have risen to $65,000.

“We urge people who are concerned about what happened to sign the petition and we would be honoured to accept donations,” Pope said. (See the Justice for Bill French website for more information.)

11 Responses to “All charges withdrawn against former Springwater mayor”

  1. Ann says:

    This is fantastic news Bill! I’m so glad this witch hunt is finally over for you.
    Now the perpetrators should be held to account.

  2. Rick Webster says:

    At the outset, had he apologized and offered to donate $2,000 to the Elmvale Food Bank as a sign of good faith and humility this issue would have been dropped many tens of thousands of dollars ago. The result shows that he cares more about himself than he does about the ratepayers of Springwater.

    • Elaine Stephenson says:

      Duhh…..those who made this into a witch hunt didn’t want charges dropped; they wanted him humiliated & out. It would be great to see him come back, with a vengeance. But then, he deserves peace & happiness.

  3. Connie Spek says:

    Mr. Webster we all know that this action against Mr. French was well out of line. It showed a misuse of the process. It was as an earlier person has remarked a “witch hunt”. It was not he that cost the taxpayers of Springwater all these thousands of dollars but the individual who started this whole process rolling. One day we may learn the full truth.

    • John Morgan says:

      Thank you Connie for telling it how it is. This was not a made in French land but in the land of sour grapes from losers.

  4. Rick Webster says:

    Ms. Speck. The full truth is found in two readings which I recommend for you. One is the Municipal Election Act and the other is ruling of the Superior Court of Ontario which I have attached below for your convenience.

    https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onscdc/doc/2018/2018onsc94/2018onsc94.html

    • Lorraine Steurs French says:

      Mr. Webster:

      I was at the hearing, you weren’t, but that has never stopped you from commenting about things you know nothing about.

      Might be good if Webster reviews comment from Molloy’s written decision:

      “The Committee is a proper party on judicial review. However, in my view, it misconceived its role before this court. It is perfectly appropriate for the Committee to take a position with respect to issues of jurisdiction, the interpretation of its home statute, the standard of review, and the like. However, except in exceptional circumstances, the Committee should not defend the merits of its own decision.”

      At the hearing Justice Molloy did not permit the Committee to present its arguments. I wonder if the Township got a rebate on an unused court prepared submission?
      Gee, does anyone know if Webster knows someone on the committee? Sounds like it.

  5. Treena French says:

    The disturbing aspect of this story is the real victims, the constituents of Springwater which includes Bill French. The wrong doing here is the absolute waste of taxpayers dollars. The compliance audit committee made a very poor decision to pursue this matter at length funded from the pockets of the people of Springwater. WHY and by whose direction were hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted should be the concern. The end result being a withdrawal of all charges. Mr. Webster, your perception is not the reality and it is unfortunate that you seem more concerned with continuing to place blame on an individual who had no control of this run away train. It sounds like there is some resentment of the fact that Bill decided to defend himself. When did that become a crime? Here is an analogy on a grander scale. There are many examples of individuals who were wrongfully convicted of a crime, a famous Canadian one being David Milgaard. Once exonerated and released do we imply and blame him for the cost of pursuing the crime against him or the cost of wrongfully housing him in a prison for 23 years? This is the ideology of some of the key players on this matter. Arrogance and ignorance run amok.

  6. Don Molloy says:

    So if I have this correct an appointed committee hired a professional auditor to audit less than $20k of election expenses. The committee didn’t like the results of the audit so hired another auditor. Hired lawyers and spent a lot of my tax dollars to find that the first audit was ok. Something wrong with system when it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure out $15k in election expenses.

    Don

  7. Kate Dewey says:

    I am delighted to hear this wonderful news. What a relief for all of us.

  8. Janet Lord-Genyk says:

    Mr. Webster, please check your facts. Why are you and so many others trying to tarnish Mr French’s character? Justice was all that he and his supporters ever wanted! This was a total scam from day one. I wonder if the 5th Estate would like to have a good look at this whole business and find out what really happened? We do know one thing, that many in the legal profession made lots of money.

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