Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A gift of giving, an act of taking

Christmas celebrations provide us an opportunity to enjoy family and friends with a feast of sharing, whether big or small. Christians across the globe come together to honour the birthday of a new beginning, and although to many the spiritual aspects are still important, a more modern, cross-secular trait has slowly crept across the traditions of Christmas.

Two symbols of Christmas have become synonymous with December 25th. First of all the man in red, Santa, with his bag of gifts. Whether we await his arrival through the chimney, or simply the promise and high expectation that our parents will act on his behalf, brightly decorated gifts are still the most anticipated joy of many. Along with Santa, the Christmas Tree has become an absolute prerequisite of celebrations, after all where would Santa leave his treasures if not under the decorated tree.

The Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany with its predecessors traced back to the 16th and 15th centuries. It acquired popularity outside of Germany during the second half of the 19th century. Queen Victoria of England, who visited family in Germany regularly, first was drawn to the charms of the decorated evergreen. As she also fell under the charms of Prince Albert, later marrying him, the decorated tree was to find its way across the ocean to England. Canada was first introduced to this decorative tradition in the winter of 1781 by Brunswick soldiers stationed in the Province of Quebec, on guard against a possible invasion by American troops.

Although the Germans can lay rightful claim to have introduced the modern version of this venerable symbol of Christmas, and of the magnificently crafted colourful glass ornaments, the worship of the evergreen dates even further back into history. Egyptians brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life's triumph over death at the beginning of the winter solstice. Early Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a festival called Saturalia, and gave coins for prosperity, feasts for happiness, and lamps to light one's journey through life. Later in the 1960's the Americans found a new tradition, the Aluminum Tree, the creation of Kwanzaa by Maulana Karenga, and along the way threw out all the beautiful and elaborate German glass tree ornaments.

To many Christmas means a multitude of things. Children of all ages think of gifts and the glitter of the decorated trees, even aluminum ones. Those who value the spiritual aspect commemorate the birth of Christ and hold on to the values of His teachings. Retailers see this as a chance to balance their books and continue on another year. Few think past this, few think of the taking that has continued for as long as the traditions have.

One of the greatest economies of the world is still suffering and many Americans do not have enough to feed their families. A shocking visual example came with employees of Walmart asking for donations to sustain their own families. Poverty is not a new plague or a symptom of a troubled world economy. Lands in Africa, Asia and India have lived with this issue for centuries. In Canada donations to registered charities keep decreasing, whether it is the fact that Canadians have less money at their disposal or that they have lost some trust in these organisations is debatable. Still the decrease is notable. Food banks, the first line of defense for the poor or the struggling are facing empty shelves. Many in our modern society are finding it difficult to simply provide the basic needs for themselves. Yet that is not the whole story, so to speak.

For decades we as a combined humanity have taken from our planet without thought of the consequences. Those who sit on thrones of power, whether in the West or the East, think little other than to retain that power. Corporations not only pull the proverbial strings of power, they in fact control it as a whole. As a species, humanity sadly understands taking more than giving. Recent news that Mexico will increase its crude oil production to new highs, competing with Canada's oil sands, can only raise serious new concerns for our combined future. At the same time the US is predicting to increase its own oil output to hit near record highs by 2016. Yet environmentalists are still playing at a game where they applaud the Obama government on stalling the Keystone Pipeline. Is there any credibility in the major environmentalists when the US, under Obama's control is working at such a huge increase in oil production? It is true that we have no real or viable alternatives to oil and its end use? Under such a massive cloud of potential profit it is not likely an effort will be made to develop one either.

As we celebrate this season of joy with our families and friends we may think of the disadvantaged and drop a bag of donated groceries to a food bank. Some of us will go a little further and give more to charities struggling with what seems an eternal human malady. Yet how many understand that each and every one of us, from the most affluent to the poorest, are in fact the disadvantaged. The rich could not even come close to understand such a preposterous concept, and the poor too poor to think about it. How then do we heal the gradual crack that is slowly, ever so slowly, becoming wider in our home, our planet?

It is not pessimism that gives rise to such a question, but realism. It is not a lack of joy but rather for the sake of joy that this question must be asked loudly. Christmas is a celebration of togetherness, only let's not drop our precious ornament to the ground and watch it shatter.

A Merry and Joyous Christmas to all our readers and a hope of many more to come.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze's trail of bias

Ontario has seen a new warrior come to greater public attention. The battlefield for this guardian of honour is municipal politics. His, or her, title is the Integrity Commissioner, and with such a title in tow we may expect a knight in shining armour. After all integrity has connotations of sound moral principles, uprightness, honesty and sincerity (all borrowed from the Webster's Dictionary). These warriors have been provided with a certain degree of legislative armour through the Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act, 2006. Ready and willing, they forge out into the quagmire of municipal politics, for a hefty fee of course. No one would be expected to take on such daunting tasks purely on altruistic reasoning, and at the end of it all it is only tax payers' dollars, a well that government seems to think is limitless.

These staunch and courageous warriors are provided with the task to enforce and defend issues surrounding Code of Conduct and behaviour of those we elect, and those who claim to act on our behalf. Municipal politics is not all that simple, as one may think. At the centre sits the mayor or regional chair, with all sorts of councillors, boards and committees. It is a web of sorts that spreads its sticky tentacles throughout the community, and at times beyond. Today we find many municipalities instituting codes of conduct as a base guideline or a framework for those we trust with representation of the greater good. When something goes wrong, and as human nature will have it, it always does, these warrior knights come crashing in. Yet there is an almost disturbing reality, these warriors have no real authority or power to do anything.

The Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act 2006, Bill 130 is a lengthy document, as all government legislation is. Its language could intimidate the uninitiated individual to seek an interpreter of such a language. Regardless of the complexity of language this is the bible for all the procedures that municipalities follow, and section 223.3 outlines the Role of Integrity Commissioner followed by section 223.4 - Inquiry by Commissioner. Here we may fall into a false sense of security thinking that our knights truly have some authority. Under section 223.4 it claims that the commissioner has the authority to gather any documents and question witnesses under oath. Further examination allows for a tremor of an alarm.

As an integrity commissioner, he or she have the authority to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath and gather, or even demand, all and any documents pertinent to an inquiry. When an investigation is complete the commissioner is no more effective than the armchair sports enthusiast yelling out advice and tips at a television screen. This courageous, and dare say expensive, knight can only present any recommendations to city council. It is up to council to implement those recommendations or not. Council decides what they wish to do and may at their discretion ignore the commish in total.

Finally section 223.4 outlines any penalties that may be recommended by the commissioner. Even if dishonesty, breach of trust, lack of dignity etc, etc. is proven a commissioner may only recommend a reprimand or at worst the suspension of a councillor's pay to a maximum 90 days. Now is when one realises that the armour is simply a fake, and the warrior's weapons provided by the government equivalent to the special effects wizards on a movie set. A question looms in the air, even if the pay of a councillor is suspended, who gets the money then? After all it is still taken from the bottomless pit of the public purse, as the councillor doesn't get it. Who does?

With all these realities put into their right place a bigger question is raised, as if there is room for a bigger one at this point. Regardless of the impotency of an investigation, still the fact that an integrity commissioner had conducted an investigation can be spun by media into a blemish or worse on the reputation of an elected individual. But what if the integrity commissioner and the investigation itself raise serious questions of integrity? The premise upon which any investigation is conducted is that it is absolutely fair to both sides of an argument. Any integrity commissioner must remain throughout his or her investigation totally impartial. If that is not the case and it can be proven to be so, where does that leave the whole process of commissioners and their investigations. What happens to sections 223.3 and 223.4 of the Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act 2006 Bill 130? Have these knights then only become highly paid mercenaries?

Exactly such a situation has developed in Niagara, Ontario with the integrity commissioner brought in to investigate complaints against a regional councillor. Two complaints were before Robert J. Swayze, one from four staff members of Niagara Regional Housing and another from a director of Regional Public Health. These complaints were made against Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski.

Regional Councillor Petrowski has been described as a 'bull in a china shop', and his demeanour may not always be pleasant. He is naturally loud and expressive and for that reason, Councillor Petrowski can be seen as intimidating. Most of all Councillor Andy Petrowski is not a man who plays by silent rules of what has become government. It is because of this unwillingness to tow the politically correct line, that Councillor Petrowski finds himself often as a target for those who would rather continue business as usual.

Integrity Commissioner Robert J. Swayze sets out details in his report as to the nature of the complaints. He also states that he spent quite some time with those who filed the complaint. Quoting from page 3 of the report Mr. Swayze states, “I questioned the four NRH staff, firstly as a panel and then each of them individually.” Robert Swayze's background is that of a Barrister and Solicitor, and as such it is safely presumed that with such a background he is somewhat in tune with human nature. Interviewing the four complainants of the NRH first as a panel is bewildering. At that point the four staff members of the NRH were in a position to present a unified chorus, and the report clearly confirms that as a fact in the opening of its conclusion.

No lawyer accepts as fact simple testimony without verification. In the situation of the staff members from the NRH, background would not of been provided, or one that only suited possibly the chorus. The situation surrounding the “severely handicapped” tenant of a building where the landlord was and is the NRH, is both disturbing and unacceptable. It has been claimed that the July 23rd 2013 meeting was a “case conference meeting” to “discuss solutions for a hard-to-serve tenant.” These are all words taken from Commissioner Swayze's report. Such language had to of come from staff members of the NRH, and it appears that the mental picture painted here is of a tenant who was difficult to work with. What else would “hard-to-serve tenant” mean?

Facts paint a very different picture in this situation revolving around double-amputee Bob Hansplant. None of the NRH staff would have told Commissioner Swayze that the intolerable conditions that Bob Hansplant had to endure lasted over three and a half years, with the NRH staff in full awareness. Did Commissioner Robert Swayze want to know all the facts before stating in his report's conclusion, “I believe the testimony of the six staff members I interviewed...” All the alarming facts surrounding the tenant Bob Hansplant, including photographs of his apartment and a video interview were available. More disturbing is the clear evidence that a senior member of the regional staff had intentionally misrepresented the truth about the building and its landlord where this tenant lived.

Had Commissioner Robert Swayze given as much time to interviewing, either as a “panel” or individually, witnesses who had a different perspective, would his decision have altered? The email alone by Steve Murphy to Regional Clerk Janet Pilon had to have raised doubt on the accuracy of anything from the NRH staff. Niagara Regional Housing staff claimed “how upsetting” the facts, when published, were to them. Yet regional staff have been known to misrepresent the truth, provide intentional misconception and simply say what is the opposite of truth before. Simply refer to the letter by former Regional Chairman Peter Partington dated September 27th 2010.

Former Regional Chair Peter Partington had little choice but to change the flow of words by regional staff such as Andrew Pollock, Director, Waste Management Services. He also had to admit that the Summer Greenscene 2010 had misrepresented the truth regarding the recycling of plastic bottle caps. In its newsletter delivered to all residents of the Niagara Region it claimed “Caps are not recyclable.” That was not true and in the end former Regional Chair Peter Partington had to admit it. Furthermore look at the case of Dr. Valerie Jaeger, the most senior regional medical officer.

Robert Swayze as a Barrister and Solicitor chose the extreme opposite of impartiality and fairness. He claims to have given enough time to Councillor Petrowski to provide additional information. Yet to provide an investigation, all facts and information are required from both sides, it was not the case here. In an article written by Micheal McKiernan titled Lawyers grabbing piece of integrity commissioner action for Robert Swayze
is quoted as saying, “It's an evolving field, changing all the time. There's such an enormous variety of issues that come up and you're always creating new law and new approaches.”

The Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act 2006, Bill 130 sets out the 'law'. Integrity Commissioners have no more power than the Ombudsman, and the famous jargon of Andre Marin, with “moral suasion.” No commissioner can do anything other than make recommendations to a city council, it is up to that respective council to act on those recommendations or not. What “new law” does any integrity commissioner create? He or she has no real authority nor power!

Further into Bill 130 - Reference to Appropriate Authorities, section 223.8 states, “If the Commissioner, when conducting an inquiry, determines that there are reasonable grounds to believe that there has been a contravention of any other Act of the Criminal Code (Canada) the Commissioner shall immediately refer to the matter to the appropriate authorities and suspend the inquiry until any resulting police investigation and charge have been fully disposed of and shall report to the suspension to council.”

Commissioner Robert Swayze is a Barrister and Solicitor with a speciality in municipal law. He is an individual with full understanding of the law and this section of Bill 130, even though he may not be a criminal lawyer. Another integrity commissioner had requested that further information was not divulged to her by a complainant regarding circumstances of a by-law fine being fixed by a mayor. Commissioner Suzanne Craig had said that even though she was not a judge she would have no choice but to stop her inquiry and contact appropriate authorities if she had heard any more on the issue. Robert Swayze on the other hand claiming that “you are always creating new law...” decided to possibly ignore the law already in place.

An individual had requested that Commissioner Swayze open an investigation for breach of the Code of Conduct against a member of the Niagara Regional Council and Mayor of St. Catharines, Brian McMullan. This request stemmed from a period of ugly and anonymous posts placed on the St. Catharines Standard's web page. The posts were not only slanderous in nature but had taken another alarming twist. One of the individuals using a fictitious name filed a false police report. According to the Criminal Code (Canada) filing a false report is breach of the Code and an offence which can carry time in jail.

Individuals who hide behind fictitious names and post insults and slander are simply cowards, and at times such cowards are best ignored. In this case the situation had reached a new level of insanity with the false police report. The target of these anonymous posts was Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski. Councillor Petrowski sought out ways to find an end to this malicious barrage of attacks. A newspaper article had appeared in The Standard regarding the posts and the issues which were the catalyst for the posts. Regional Councillor and Mayor of St. Catharines, Brian McMullan admitted to knowing the identity of some of these anonymous
individuals. Mayor Brian McMullan's direct words were published in The Standard's article. Admitting to the knowledge of the identity of one or more of the individuals who had committed a breach of the Criminal Code becomes a breach in itself and possibly conspiratorial in nature.

A member of the public brought this to the attention of Robert Swayze, himself a Barrister and Solicitor. Robert Swayze's response was not a surprise. He said “Your allegation that Councillor McMullan used information provided by the “phony Tim Lewis” against Councillor Petrowski is not wholly true.” Swayze claims that he “reviewed the press reports,” and if he had fully reviewed the press reports, as a lawyer, he would have to question the possibility of one disturbing fact. How could Mayor Brian McMullan admit to having knowledge of the identity of the anonymous individuals, as well as the “phony Tim Lewis,” and not find it a breach of the Code of Conduct?

Still it is not the first time that Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze displayed what may be considered selective justice. An article by Doug Hallett of the Guelph Tribune titled 'Integrity commissioner slaps two councillors wrists', raises some ugly questions regarding Robert Swayze's M.O. In the situation surrounding councillors of the City of Guelph, it was apparent that two of the elected councillors had broken rank and provided information to Doug Hallett. In came Integrity Commissioner Swayze, he admits that he did not conduct a full investigation but he still made his comments and recommendations.

In this instance Robert Swayze states, “In my opinion, there is never justification for a councillor reporting complaints about staff to the press.” He further claims, “For this reason, granting the interview with the press and reporting the application is contrary to the Code.” For clarification what Swayze refers to as “the application” relates to the point that two councillors had filed or intended to file a Freedom of Information application. Swayze doesn't stop there, he further says, “the negative statements in the article on staff by both councillors Guthrie and Kovach are also contrary to the Code.”

This certified “specialist in municipal law” decided that he would conduct interviews with the CAO and Mayor of Guelph on a face-to-face basis for some 90 minutes. Yet when it came to the councillors who he made his comments against he refused to speak with them. It was later revealed that Councillor Gloria Kovach “requested a meeting with Swayze and attended said meeting armed with a full statement on the matter, which Swayze refused to accept from her.” (by Scott Tracey, Mercury staff writer).

One doesn't have to watch CSI too often to know what M.O. stands for, though in the case of Swayze versus fairness and objectivity, it is somewhat alarming. Commish Swayze said of the Guelph incident, “All councillors... must understand that they have been elected to become part of a team...” If that is Robert Swayze's mantra then the people who elect these councillors, whether in Guelph or Niagara or anywhere else, are in trouble. In the end Swayze guarantees that the people dwell on a cloud of misconception, believing that they elect their municipal representatives to represent their interests or that of their city as a whole. According to the certified specialist in municipal law, by the Law Society of Upper Canada, Robert Swayze, Barrister and Solicitor, elected councillors first must consider the team over everything else.

In Guelph Robert Swayze came in to investigate, or was it something else? His words were at the time that he “interpreted the referral as requiring my comment on the (news) report on the context of the Code of Conduct – and not as a direction to conduct a full investigation.” Still the whole issue was revolving around councillors and a news report in a local newspaper. In St. Catharines Regional Councillor and Mayor of St. Catharines admitted to having knowledge of the identity of individuals who had lied and committed slander. Then these individuals went further and breached the Criminal Code. Swayze responds “It is not within my mandate as Integrity Commissioner to “muzzle” members of council.” Yet in Guelph he did just that, he put a “muzzle” on councillors, told them that they are to think of the team first over any thoughts of the better good of all.

Robert Swayze's actions require serious questioning. It is not whether one likes Councillor Petrowski or not, whether one thinks of him as crass or passionate. Councillor Petrowski will make it clear that he advocates for those who elected him and not for the “team.” Councillor Brian Heit said it was an inadequate apology by Petrowski, yet Brian Heit is the same councillor who objected to acknowledge the death of a cripple who had endured intimidation and horrendous living conditions at the hands of Niagara Regional Housing. Will Brian Heit chastise Regional Councillor and Mayor Brian McMullan with the same words, that he has “to understand when he goes out of bounds”?

In the end this knight and protector of the 'Code' and teamwork simply leaves behind a load of questions. Without a doubt Robert Swayze will claim that the situation in Guelph was different to Brian McMullan's little public statement. He will claim that Councillor Petrowski doesn't understand “irony,” or that he misses it all together. At the end of it all, whether in Guelph or Niagara, Robert Swayze does not accept the possible fact that he indeed waves a muzzle in the air as a whip of intimidation when he threatens “I'll be back.”

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The passing of Bob Hansplant, the passing of an ordinary man

Bob Hansplant was not a celebrity, nor was he a public figure. He was an ordinary man, and at the same time he was an extra-ordinary man among us. As a child he lost his father and found himself shuffled through orphanages. Bob was not given an opportunity to take part in the most basic education, and never learnt to read and write. He worked hard to earn a living and in his early sixties found himself in St. Catharines.

I had met Bob Hansplant only a few short months ago. It was not at a social gathering but rather under an air of unpleasant circumstances. I had been told of a double-amputee living in an apartment where he could not even shower in the privacy of his home. His apartment complex was run by the Niagara Regional Housing authority. All that I had been told sounded obscene to believe and I had to speak with Bob himself. The result in the end was the interview with Bob, available now on YouTube and the article, Disabled Body, A Heart Full of Pride – The Bob Hansplant Story.

As a man facing immense challenges, unable to walk, losing parts of his fingers to illness, and facing other health issues, Bob still did not find a need to wallow in self pity. He was somewhat reticent to speak of his past in detail other than that his mother was First Nations, that he lost his father at a very young age, and that he was born in Orillia. Instead he was more proud of the various certificates he had been awarded for his efforts, both in his community and for his own personal growth.

Bob's situation at the time of our meeting was intolerable. Not one of us would permit a relative or a friend to endure such treatment. He was confined to a wheelchair, yet as I looked around his small apartment one clear sign of trouble stared back at me. The walls around his entry and bedroom had holes in them. Bob explained how for some four years he had to go down from his apartment on the fourth floor to the second floor to take a shower. In those four years he had never been able to take himself onto his balcony as there was a stoop some eight and a half inches high at the balcony door.

Niagara Regional Housing had known of his conditions and had done nothing. Individuals both elected and paid by the public purse decided to lie to cover up. One such glaring lie comes from Steve Murphy, Niagara Region's Accessibility Coordinator. Steve Murphy in an email to Janet Pilon, the Regional Clerk states, “In the event this landlord...”. Prior to this he says that “The Niagara Region has adapted FADS (Facility Accessibility Design Standards)...”. He also says, “This gentleman was not residing in a building owned, operated or leased by the Niagara Region...”. 

Simply look at the document from The Landlord and Tenant Board File #SOL-39190-13, an official Provincial body and document. Here it states Niagara Regional Housing as the landlord! Steve Murphy has to be removed from his very highly paid position and a demand for a full investigation is required. Can such deceit be permitted? Can such a terror campaign be permitted against a double-amputee who simply wanted to live a life with some dignity?

Listen to Bob Hansplant's own words from the interview when he says that “I am no different to you.” These words will remain in one's mind for a long time. Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski was appalled by the conditions that Bob Hansplant was living under. For his concern and willingness to stand against the stream of acceptability in Niagara's regional government, Councillor Petrowski has been subjected to a public spectacle of an integrity commissioner's investigation. It seems that the price for integrity is an attempted public smear campaign by those who cannot allow public scrutiny of their own actions.

In the end Bob Hansplant passed away and the regional government got what they needed, silence. As Councillor Andy Petrowski raised himself at the Regional Council meeting to publicly state and confirm the passing of Bob Hansplant, another regional councillor decided to object Councillor Petrowski's actions. Regional Councillor Brian Heit did not want it mentioned that Bob had passed away. The saddest of truths was attempted to be silenced. Why did Councillor Heit object, was he afraid of the truth, what was his motivation for such a cold and empty act?

Bob Hansplant was a man who could not read or write, yet he felt the same joys and sorrows as any of us. Bob could not walk, yet he stood tall with a heart that wanted to ensure others did not have to endure his pain and indignity. Bob cannot be simply forgotten, nor the injustice he had to survive.

I am no different to you,” Bob's own words linger in the air as we say farewell to an ordinary man, filled with an extra-ordinary spirit.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig Presents Report

The Integrity Commissioner, Suzanne Craig presented her final report to the St. Catharines City Clerk dated October 23rd. There was no investigation of the allegations of deceit by City Councillor Jeff Burch. Councillor Burch therefore has not been cleared nor has he been found at fault, as that could not be possible without a thorough investigation conducted. Two major obstacles stood in the way of an investigation, first and foremost the Code of Conduct as it had been written provided no real authority to the Integrity Commissioner. Second, an OMB hearing had been scheduled and the issues surrounding the allegations cross-referenced issues to be raised at the OMB. In the end it appears that under provincial regulations the OMB supersedes with its authority over an Integrity Commissioner.

Councillor Jeff Burch now stands under a cloud of allegation that he intentionally and willingly mislead council, and that he was deceitful in his own chosen words during a public council meeting on April 29th 2013. This report by the integrity commissioner is not anticipated to find its way for public viewing, not at the hands of the City of St. Catharines. Under the rules that govern such reports, a city council may sit on a report for 90 days before making it public. In this specific case no investigation was conducted and as such no recommendations had been made by the Integrity Commissioner, Suzanne Craig. Comments made by the commissioner only add to a list of questionable acts by a city government and its manipulations of the local media.

It has been confirmed by the integrity commissioner that she had requested from the City of St. Catharines she be given web presence, and that the report be made public on the city web. Expectations do not run high on such an event occurring, and for that reason the full report, in its entirety, has been published here.

Under the rules that govern the game of Code of Conduct, the council has the authority to huddle and withhold the report by the Integrity Commissioner for 90 days. As the commissioner did not, was not, able to conduct an investigation, and therefore made no recommendations, the council does not have to release any of it to the public. Commissioner Craig states on page 3, “The Code is a document that was adopted by St. Catharines City Council as an agreement to a common understanding of rules regarding behaviour of individual Members of Council.” What does this really mean in real language?

One of the key principles of the 'Code', boldly claims, “Members are responsible for making honest statements and no member shall make a statement when they know that statement is false, or with the intent to mislead...” Councillor Jeff Burch knew he was being dishonest at the April 29th meeting and continued on. Commissioner Craig quotes from the Councillor's Guide published by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. On page 3 of the guide there is a caution to Members of Council, “be sure to familiarize yourself with any policies or protocols that your municipality may have in place to minimize liability or for other specific reasons.” Councillor Jeff Burch knew the facts, knew the applicable Ontario legislation, and he knew he was intentionally deceitful and misleading.

The second key point of the 'Code' states, “Members are expected to serve the public interest by upholding both the letter and the spirit of the laws and policies established... Ontario Legislature.” Now this one is truly something to behold. Listening to Councillor Burch's words one can truly understand how he served the public interest and upheld the letter of the law or policy. Yet Commissioner Craig states, “The matter subject of this complaint falls outside of the jurisdiction of the Integrity Commissioner and therefore, I cannot make a finding regarding the veracity of the allegations made against the Member of Council.”

In Ontario the public cannot expect that the interests of the public, or public trust itself will ever be defended. Whether it is the Ontario Elections Act or the Municipal Elections Act, there is a common fine print guarantee provided in invisible ink. No elected individual regardless of how corrupt, dishonest or deceitful will face any consequences, even when evidence proves the corruption, dishonesty and deceit beyond doubt.

Still Commissioner Craig had made some attempt to provide a basis of dignity in her attempts to elevate the issues placed before her. Her report ends with these words, “However when evaluating the integrity and ethical conduct of a Member of Council, my role is to apply the rules of the common basis for acceptable conduct to the facts gathered throughout the investigation. As no investigation will be undertaken, it is the position of this office that no finding of fault can be made in relation to Councillor Burch.”

Councillor Burch has not been cleared of the serious allegations, nor has he been found guilty of them. Public trust, integrity and ethical conduct take a beating in the end, and the science, or is it the alchemy, of politics scores another corpse to trample. If the City Council of St. Catharines releases anything, it will be the last sentence alone. The council will have the support of its clean-up crew at The Standard. After all The Standard published the words of the wonderfully eloquent Councillor Jennie Stevens without providing any facts.

The report by Commissioner Craig did however make three very alarming comments. In brief the Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig had raised the issue of “clarity” and “insufficient disclosure” at the City. Craig referred to the “discrepancy between the Ontario Regulation 97/04 requirement for permits and the absence of a site alteration by-law in the City...,” Craig quotes the words of the Niagara Escarpment Compliance and Enforcement Officer, Mathew Williamson, “fill material being deposited without approvals from respective agency(s),” Finally Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig states, “what if any communication will be provided to residents regarding the OMB hearing on the matter regarding the Merritt Street property.” In short the answer here was – NONE!

Reading this neatly presented report of four pages, one begins to question if some frustration might of crept forward between those very neat words. Commissioner Craig begins her response to Complaint 0113 with a quote from 'The Code'. It appears that there was a purpose to 'The Code', and it was to “...ensure that (Members of Council) share a common integrity base and through adherence to its principles, the Code of Council, serves to enhance public trust.” By the end of this report, or response by Commissioner Craig, one alarming, nagging question clings to the foul air. How was public trust enhanced?

As the report states, Commissioner Suzanne Craig had a teleconference with the Deputy CAO and other senior officials from the City, and on October 8th 2013 met with the Complainant face to face. It is this meeting that raised greater alarm. Rules, regulations and procedures were explained. Then the Commissioner asked the Complainant to take the proverbial gloves off, to be open about his concerns and the issue at hand. Background information was provided to the situation and the allegation which formed Complaint 0113.

The now infamous telephone answering machine message by Councillor Jennie Stevens was explained. In that message, Councillor Jennie Stevens had said that she spoke with the mayor, and names Mayor Brian McMullan, and then says that the mayor had taken care of the ticket (a lawful by-law fine) and the individual did not have to pay it. At this point Commissioner Suzanne Craig stops the Complainant from continuing with these words: “I have an obligation also to report, if I believe that if there was something that I believe was criminal I have to report it. Thank you for sharing that, but we have to end it there.”

Rules and procedures are an integral component of law and legislation. As an Ontario Municipal Board Hearing was confirmed to be scheduled by the Complainant, Commissioner Craig explained that under normal circumstances she would close the file and depart. The OMB apparently holds a position of higher authority over an Integrity Commissioner, and therefore carries with it jurisdictional authority. Commissioner Craig decided not to do what would of been expected, but instead to still provide the report that she had. It would be impossible to guess what was the motivation behind this decision. Was it the serious nature of the allegation or the severity of evidence provided in support, the teleconference with the Deputy CAO and other senior officials of the City? Or was it simply the dignity of belief that our system of government was worth investment?

Commissioner Suzanne Craig was stopped from investigating Complaint 0113. Truth was not served, and Councillor Jeff Burch not cleared of the allegations of intentional deceit. Is it cowardice or something else that protect our elected officials from facing any consequences for their actions? Whether it is the horrific farce of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, or the fixing of a lawful fine by St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan, or as Complaint 0113 alleged, the intentional deceit by Councillor Jeff Burch, none of them face any consequence.

In St. Catharines the City Council may decide to let Marlene Bergsma of The Standard to stride her stuff again, as she had so many times in the past. If Marlene Bergsma does, she will most likely pick the last twelve words of Commissioner Craig's report and not even the whole last sentence. For that reason it is published here in its entirety.

Finally a clue to the possible frustration of the Commissioner may be the stutter in the numbering of the neatly arranged report. The number 15 seems to repeat itself and lead to only a high cliff. Political transparency in the end is only a popular phrase now thrown around like confetti, and the only real transparency may be in the see-through undies if worn by those we elect.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Ego, Corruption and Truth Collide

Journalists are different from other people. We're trained to report on all sides without fear or favour. We're trained to serve the people, not the powers that be – which includes governments and our unions and our political beliefs and the nice people who sign our cheques.”

These words were published by Tim Knight in his regular column Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren't Journalists for HuffPost Canada, October 4th 2013. To be more correct, Tim Knight wrote those words and it was HuffPost Canada that did the publishing, after all accuracy is important when dealing with a subject like journalists. It was later cut, pasted, and republished by John Malloy on The Canadian Daily.

Now that accuracy has been checked, one would be hard pressed to find a more pompous and self inflated egotistical comment in print anywhere. Then again, it is Knight who claims that “professional” journalists need not quote “sources,” and that “acerbic judgements” are permitted to such highly regarded individuals.

Tim Knight continues with his exultation of the virtues of journalists saying, “Our first, last and only important responsibility is to be trustworthy servants of the people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world.” One has to stop and reach for a brown paper bag in case the digestive system wishes to revolt after reading these words. “Trustworthy servants of the people...,” can it be that Tim Knight actually believes in what he wrote?

There was a time when the public had unequivocal trust in what the newspaper boy on the corner was selling for a few cents. Those days have long passed into history, as has the price and newspaper boy. Reality hasn't stopped Tim Knight from quoting another dinosaur from the journalists' hall of fame. Knight claims that he doesn't go as far as Morley Safer, a former co-host of CBS's 60 Minutes, but he still quoted him as stating: “I would trust citizen journalists as much as I would trust citizen surgery – The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard.” Maybe someone should of reminded old Morley as to how many doctors did not know the difference between left and right before extracting the wrong organ. Or had old Morley not read about the number of misdiagnosed cases by doctors, or the fact that many doctors ask for one's credit card prior to putting on the trusty rubber gloves.

Reality is often a difficult pill to swallow, and dinosaurs only relate to the Big Bang Theory in the end. Tim Knight claims to have had some journalism student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC, going by the name of Danya LeBlanc, ask him questions on the subject of citizen journalists. Since Knight subscribes to the idea that professional journalists do not need to concern themselves with sources and adds at the bottom of his article, in bold print, “All the interviews have been edited and condensed,” one may not be blamed to question the existence of a Danya LeBlanc. Or in the least what, if she does exist, did Danya really ask? Regardless, it is Tim Knight's response that matters, he said, “There's no such thing as citizen journalists,” he calls them “citizen bloggers.”

Bloggers are not by nature into accuracy, balance and fairness, the hallmarks of good journalists.” By nature ego precludes such mundane criteria as accuracy, balance and fairness. After all simply look at the masthead where Tim Knight's article appears on HuffPost. It is a BLOG!

Experienced professional journalists, what does that really mean? Experienced, well that is someone who has done something more than once. Professional, the same, someone who has done a thing more than once and has been paid to do it again. Finally, journalist, now that is a good one to answer. Competence in their given language is quite beneficial to begin with. An ability to analyze facts, carry out research, and then put all of that into a well worded package. Most importantly, one who calls themselves a journalist has to know the right questions to ask, and recognise when an answer is removed from the truth. Granted this last one comes with experience, which again goes back to doing something more than once.

Getting all the fundamentals out of the way, it is time to challenge Tim Knight, his ego, and his Kamloops student, if she really exists. Knight continues to bandy about terms like “professional journalist,” and “experienced, trusted, report facts, due diligence,” and so much more. Since these words come from a man who appears to think of himself as becoming suddenly a “journalism guru” and “modest” to boot, Tim Knight should be able to explain just how “professional” journalists really are.

The first that comes to mind of course is a no brainer, Ezra Levant. Here is a guy who has written for newspapers, magazines and is a host of his own television show dealing with news and current events. Ezra Levant is paid to do all of this, he has done it more than once, and claims to have analyzed facts and asked the right questions. All criteria for 'journalism', professional and experienced has been checked. How does Tim Knight explain this one? OK, we have all heard and used the excuse of the one bad apple and the thing of the whole basket. Phew! We got that one out of the way early.

Now the serious stuff begins, and it is truly serious. Tim Knight's insane statement describing journalists to be “trustworthy servants of the people,” needs clarification. It is time for Knight to explain himself in light of situations that are inexcusable.

Almost a year ago an international fiasco began to unfold in Canada. Chief Theresa Spence set herself up as a martyr, willing to sacrifice herself for her people. At the same time a First Nations movement began to make loud noises, claiming that IDLE NO MORE was not only for First Nations but the protection of Mother Earth. Chief Theresa Spence claimed to be on a hunger strike, making demands of the Prime Minister and Governor-General. Journalists were drawn in like flies and it became a media frenzy. Chief Spence reached not only national recognition but became a symbol on the international stage, as a hero. One simple problem, it was all a farce. The hunger strike was downgraded to a fast, the demands to mere rants. Still these “trustworthy servants of the people” fed on the carcass of deceit.

Information was uncovered that tens of millions of dollars had gone missing from Chief Theresa Spence's Attawapiskat Reserve. True the federal government had done an audit and found irregularities but this information was in addition to the audit. All of the information supported with direct evidence and official documentation was published in a series of articles on Mayorgate. An attempt was made to provide all of this material to the media. An email was received from Kevin Libin, Managing Editor at the National Post and in it he claimed that he was “unable to find much that hadn't already been reported about Spence.” Here the choice of language was carefully considered. Libin could not say that he had not found anything that had not already been reported, instead he used the word “much”.

The fact remained that after examining the dozens upon dozens of reports and stories at the time relating to Spence, nowhere could one find these facts brought forward. No one, not Libin's National Post, nor his reporter Jonathan Kay, or anyone else raised these financial issues, or provided questions based on the evidence made available to Kevin Libin. When CTV had an opportunity to ask some hard questions of Chief Theresa Spence, journalist Kevin Newman instead asked Spence how her daughters were handling the situation.

So much for Knight's “important responsibility” or the “people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world.” Now to pop over to another major newspaper, this time the Toronto Star. Not a small village community newsletter or a supermarket tabloid, but a major journalistic effort in a major marketplace.

An article was published titled 'Lake of Shame', the journalist who wrote this article was Antonia Zerbisias. Environmentalists from both sides of Lake Ontario have fought for years over issues of contaminates and dumping into the lake. Some environmentalists have shown that anything goes in the race for a buck in donations. Still millions of people get their drinking water from Lake Ontario. Fishing and recreational industries bring in tens of millions of dollars. This was an important article.

In 'Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren't Journalists,' Tim Knight makes this claim. “And just so you know before anything we write can go to print or on air, a senior journalist first checks and edits it for accuracy and grammar etc.” Knight's own words once again.

Since in his words Tim Knight claims that a senior journalist first checks for accuracy before anything goes to print or air then presumably he can excuse, or explain this. Antonia Zerbisias has been with the Toronto Star since 1989, that's a few years. She had won the 1996 National Newspaper Award for critical writing – the award noting that Zerbisias “is not one to mince with words as she focuses on the subject matter at hand. She proceeds to give us her insights, analysis and critique not only with rhetorical, stylistic and intellectual rigor, but with gusto and passion, a rare commodity in today's bland politically correct journalism.” (In Your Face the Ryerson Review of Journalism, Spring 2006).

In her article 'Lake of Shame', Zerbisias claimed that dump trucks loaded with asphalt were emptying their loads into Lake Ontario. For the article Antonia Zerbisias interviewed Mark Mattson of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and when questioned on this very serious allegation, Antonia Zerbisias responded July 18th 2011 with this rather shocking statement. She claimed that the information came from Mark Mattson, then said, “I did not verify his words, which might have been a mistake. Still, it is quite possible that Mark was wrong, and that, as a result, I got it wrong.” Antonia Zerbisias never responded again to any attempts at contact.

According to Tim Knight, these “professional ... servants of the people” have their material checked for accuracy. He further claims that, “If these things were not so, experienced journalists wouldn't be able to write some of the things they do.” Apparently it is a “matter of professional trust,” these trusted servants do not need to quote sources, instead all they need to do is to rely “on his (her) professional understanding of the situation.” Finally Knight claims that judgements are based on the fact that they are “trusted, really knows the subject, has done his (her) due diligence and proved his (her) worth over the years.”

Can any of this pomposity and egotism explain the greatest travesty possible in a democratic society. At the United Nations an Independent expert, Alfred M. de Zayas made this statement, “There can be no democracy without freedom of opinion. You should not be subjected to the pressures, the intimidation, whether by Government or by the private sector, which would force you into self-censorship.”

A strong and valid sentiment from the UN's independent expert. Alfred M. de Zayas is an American lawyer of Cuban descent, he is a writer, historian and a leading expert in the field of human rights and international law. He went on to say, If you censor yourself, if you cannot articulate your needs, if you cannot articulate your priorities, then whatever you do, putting a little cross in a ballot box, etc, does not represent your view. It is an act of desperation” (Highlights from the Importance of free expression in New York, October 28, 2013).

Under the shadow of such words, can anyone in Canada accept, or believe that self-imposed censorship is possible, or that it exists? Can Tim Knight in all his pomposity explain, or excuse such a travesty? It is an open challenge to Tim Knight the “journalism guru” to comment on.

In St. Catharines, Ontario, a city with a population of approximately 130,000, there is only one real newspaper under the Sun Media banner, The Standard. True there is a community newspaper, Niagara this Week, which is delivered free to homes twice a week, but here the news is either stale or has not yet happened. There is no television, although the local radio station, now owned by Bell Media boasts with the title, CKTB NewsTalk Radio. It is home to Brock University and Niagara College, where not only Canada's future is molded, but potentially that of the world with a large number of international students.

Tim Knight claims that journalists are somehow different to other people, though he quotes no sources to support this assumption, nor does he provide any facts to verify. He states, “We're trained to report on all sides without fear or favour,” he definitely includes himself in this, and continues “We're trained to serve the people, not the powers that be...” It is an almighty boast and halo that he himself hangs about himself and his ilk. Then it has to be correctly presumed that this guru of journalism can explain the following.

At The Standard, Marlene Bergsma has occupied the position as reporter for many years. She has won and been nominated for a number of newspaper awards, and is considered a senior reporter. Marlene Bergsma lied in an article in order to protect the mayor of the city. Mayor Brian McMullan had fixed a lawful by-law fine, an act that is in breach of the Municipal Act and breach of law. In October of 2010 Marlene Bergsma wrote an article during the municipal elections and lied. Her publisher knew she lied, her editor knew she lied but still the lie was permitted. No one wanted to publish the facts at the time, or for that matter since. As a result of this published lie and the censorship imposed by The Standard and the freely delivered community newspaper Niagara this Week a blog, Mayorgate was born.

The lie first published by Marlene Bergsma was then repeated by another reporter at The Standard. Peter Downs simply parroted Bergsma's lies in another story that he wrote. These trained servants of the people truly proved how trustworthy they were. An article appeared on Mayorgate titled You Are A Liar Bergsma!!!, detailing the lie and provided absolute proof of the fact it was a lie. As one Googles Marlene Bergsma's name that article and its title appears under her name, it has been there since October 2010!

Since October 2010, The Standard has seen city editor and senior editor chairs change butts. Even the publisher's leather chair (leather is only a presumption as there is not a reliable source to quote), has graced a couple of different butts. New reporters have been added to the stable, although Marlene Bergsma is still there, and so is the title of Mayorgate's article on Google. One might admit that to have a bold faced lie published under one's name takes guts, and that a less courageous liar simply lies by intentional omission of facts and truth.

Jeff Bolichowski is a newer addition to the stable at The Standard. He does not have the pedigree of Bergsma as far as nominations or wins go at this stage, though he is a reporter, a paid professional journalist. On August 27th 2013, Jeff Bolichowski wrote an article titled St. Catharines Mayor calls police on councillor. In this article Bolichowski quotes both Mayor Brian McMullan and Councillor Andy Petrowski. One said that the other was “belligerent in tone and demeanour,” implying a verbal confrontation. The other said that he did not confront the mayor. A classic he said, she said scenario. Bolichowski asked the police about this incident, the Niagara Regional Police Service said that police were not required and there was no investigation.

So what is the story here? A better question is, who called The Standard and Jeff Bolichowski? After all this was not a cry for assistance for an officer down, or a high speed car chase of suspects over the police radio, or a shoot out with armed bandits. The fact is this was no story at all, but the headline was an attention grabber and something was missing. Councillor Petrowski requested a copy of the police report. When Councillor Petrowski finally received a copy of the report file GO#2013-75533 by Officer David Weeks he called Jeff Bolichowski and offered him a copy. Bolichowski refused to look at the report and stated he stood by his article.

The official police report states, “McMullan left without engaging Petrowski,” and that “no incident occurred that necessitated police involvement.” Nothing here warranted such an article title and no real story existed. Tim Knight claims that journalists are trained to serve the people, “not the powers that be – which includes governments...”. Who did this article serve, and why would Jeff Bolichowski refuse to look at the police report?

Self-imposed censorship is an affront to democracy. Whether one listens to the words of the UN independent expert on democracy Alfred M. de Zayas or Tim Knight's “the people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world,” self-imposed censorship can only been seen as a travesty and it is unacceptable. In St. Catharines the blanket of censorship is absolute, and the right of the people ignored to an extreme level of obscenity. It is more than the publishing of lies or deceit by omission by reporters Marlene Bergsma and Jeff Bolichowski, it is intentional obstruction of facts and information that the community as a whole have a right to know.

A businessman with connections at the City had broken laws and breached provincial legislation for over five years without any consequences. City staff, paid by the public purse, have been fully aware of the intentional breaches. Mayor Brian McMullan, and Councillors Jeff Burch and Jennie Stevens have been fully involved with the situation since 2008. At a City Council meeting in April 2013 lawyer John Willey, representing the businessman, Sam Demita, lied on public record in order to have two new by-laws passed for his client. Councillor Jeff Burch became party to the lie in an attempt to deceive fellow councillors for a vote in favour of Sam Demita. An integrity commissioner examining breach of conduct allegations against Councillor Jeff Burch expressed her dismay at the conduct of the media. Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig said that she had contacted local media providing an opportunity for any questions to be brought forward. Suzanne Craig was shocked that no one from the local media called or knocked on her door.

After the April 2013 Council meeting an application was filed to the Ontario Municipal Board. Information was provided to The Standard and Niagara this Week. Whilst at the April Council meeting Jeff Bolichowski tweeted information regarding claims made publicly of the breaches of law, but not a word appeared in his article after the meeting. Information was provided to Jeff Bolichowski that proved Sam Demita's lawyer John Willey lied regarding key facts. Bolichowski ignored everything. Niagara this Week was represented by Scott Rosts at the April 2013 public meeting. Scott Rosts did not write anything after the meeting or since, even though all the same information was provided to him as The Standard's Jeff Bolichowski, even though Scott Rosts sent an email stating he will be writing about the situation closer to the OMB hearing date.

Copies of a letter, with the official letterhead, confirming the application to the Ontario Municipal Board were provided to The Standard and Niagara this Week, no comment was heard in response. Finally the OMB confirmed a hearing date, set for November 19th, copies of this letter was also sent to both The Standard and Niagara this Week, not a word appeared in either newspaper. Tim Parent, News Director of CKTB NewsTalk Radio was contacted by phone, during the phone conversation he was told of the blanket of censorship. Tim Parent asked for all the details and documentation to be brought to him, he acted somewhat shocked about the situation. Both his words and his act were simply lies, the phone conversation was recorded.

All the information was provided to him, nothing has been done by Tim Parent and CKTB NewsTalk Radio.

In addition to Tim Parent, radio host Jim Fannon was provided with a personal message regarding the OMB hearing, Jim Fannon hosts a program on CKTB's NewsTalk Radio, and although one's opinion of the program can remain one's own, Fannon is on 'News' Talk Radio. Together the News Director Tim Parent, and program host Jim Fannon decided to censor the news from the people of St. Catharines.

One other attempt was made to provide the people of St. Catharines what they have a right to have access to, by contacting Bullet News Niagara, an online news service. Here the publisher had exited and a new publisher had taken the reigns. The outgoing publisher, Peter Conradi had now taken a senior editorial position with The Standard again. Peter Conradi had previously held the position of City Editor at The Standard and in 2006 had doctored photographs to suit a story rather than the truth. Now Bullet News has a new man, John Robbins who made a public boast as to what Bullet News supposedly pretends to be. He claimed and praised its courage to bring all the news to the people. This self inflated boast was tested and an email was sent to John Robbins regarding the situation about the OMB and the censorship imposed. A response came from Robbins requesting all the information to be provided, it was, and nothing happened.

John Robbins, Publisher of Bullet News crammed his egotistical ravings and boasts on his keyboard in his editorial, Bullet News 'clears the air' about Kim Craitor's resignation and pushed the publish button. In the end he proved how empty and hollow those words were. Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig in her report comments on the “lack of clarity” that exists, and raises the question, “if any communication will be provided to residents regarding the OMB hearing on the matter regarding the Merritt Street property.”

The answer is simple, no communication will be permitted. It is a blanket of censorship equivalent to any that may be seen in Putin's Russia, or Pakistan or Syria. Yet this is Canada! Marlene Bergsma of The Standard with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public. Scott Rosts of Niagara this Week with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public. Tim Parent and Jim Fannon of CKTB NewsTalk Radio with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public. Finally John Robbins of Bullet News Niagara with full intent omitted and withheld the truth from the public.

Tim Knight's Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren't Journalists, was published on a Blog, under the HuffPost banner. It was cut and pasted by John Malloy on The Canadian Daily. To use the words of someone like Morley Safer, “crammed as it is with ravings and manipulations...,” nicely describes the ego of Tim Knight.

An open challenge stands for this self appointed “journalism guru.” Tim Knight claimed, “we're trained to report on all sides without fear or favor,” he also claimed “Bloggers are not by nature into accuracy, balance and fairness, the hallmarks of good journalists.” Here three separate news bases: newspaper, radio and internet, with six individual 'journalists' (well maybe five there is no way to definitively describe Jim Fannon) who have joined together to intentionally censor the news on one issue. Tim Knight throws around terms such as “trustworthy servants of the people, experienced journalists, trained to report, trained to serve, professional trust, salaried professionals,” as rice at a wedding just prior to divorce. Most of all Tim Knight claims “These people and other experienced journalists have earned the right to analyze, to explain meaning, as well as report facts. That's because they're trusted, experienced professional journalists.”

Tim Knight has been challenged to stand behind his words and ego, but that would take 
courage and dignity, and no one will be holding their breath waiting for his response. 

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