Friday, March 29, 2013

The Myths and Beauty of Easter

Spring has finally arrived with its natural wonders awakening all around after months of slumber under a Winter's blanket. The soil's crust beginning to thaw and crack open as new life reaches out for the comfort of the sun's warm embrace. With the awakening of life around him man's first celebration acknowledging the rebirth of nature hops to attention. Dusting off his furry coat, cleaning out his basket, the Easter Bunny is ready for duty.

Who is the Easter Bunny? Is it not simply a cute and gentle creature with long soft ears and whiskers? That he may be, but in the early days of Spring this gentle furball has a secondary role to play. He now delivers little treats to children, appears on greeting cards and on store window decals. But who is he really, and why is a rabbit delivering eggs?

The Easter Bunny has some similarity to Santa Claus, though he is way more cute than the old dude with the white beard. Our bunny also has a lower travel expenditure to report as the Easter Bunny has many more relatives around the world to help with deliveries unlike the bearded old dude. In fact there are hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of varying types of Easter Bunnies hopping around putting smiles on the faces of children and shop owners alike.

That in itself is a clue which helps to track down the origins and mystical allure of the bunny. Most of us have heard the saying “to breed like bunnies,” and female rabbits and hares, (it's enough to say that hares are simply another model of a bunny) sure know what that means. Female rabbits and hares can conceive a second litter of offspring whilst still pregnant with the first. This is scientifically known as superfetation, but science is too cold an explanation at such a time. It's enough to say that our bunny has become a symbol of fertility and of Spring.

The first mention of the Easter Bunny appears to come in Georg Franck von Frankenau's 'De ovis paschalibus' (About Easter Eggs) in 1682. Our Easter Bunny is no youngster, just like Santa. North America came face-to-face with the traditions of the gift bearing bunny in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area retold stories about the “Osterhase,” and according to those legends only good children received gifts of coloured eggs.

Regardless of where the legend of the Easter Bunny comes from he is still always associated with eggs. Everyone knows rabbits do not lay eggs, so why the egg? As with the cute bunny the brightly decorated egg has been symbolic with Easter's celebration.

Today we have the traditionally decorated eggs, eggs coloured with edible food colouring, chocolate eggs, eggs filled with Smarties, and oh so much more. Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus believed that the world began with an enormous egg, so much for the mumbo-jumbo of the Earth being flat. Hollywood brought an alien named Mork in a flying egg, and Carl Faberge turned them into jewelled treasures.

Eggs in general, were a traditional symbol of fertility, similar to the rabbit, though the practice of decorating eggshells is more ancient. Decorated Ostrich eggs that are 60,000 years old had been found in Africa. Ostrich eggs decorated in gold and silver were known to be placed in graves of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago. Early Christians of Mesopotamia stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, and the Christian Church officially adopted the custom of regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection in 1610 AD, in a prayer by Pope Paul V.

Both Western and Eastern Christianity prohibited the consumption of eggs during Lent and other traditional fast days. Today fasting seems to be more a political diversion or a publicity stunt. Within the Christian faith fasting is held to symbolize the cleansing of both the body and soul in preparation for the celebration of Christ's resurrection. In the Eastern Orthodox faith baskets of coloured eggs and other Paschal foods such as paskha, kulich or Easter breads were brought to the Church for blessing.

Celebration brings with it in course joy and games, the traditional Easter egg hunt is a game where eggs may be hidden indoors and out for children to search out. The child with the largest number of eggs found wins a prize. Another traditional game played in many countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, and more, is the tapping of hard boiled eggs where each player hits the other player's egg with their own. The winner is simply the player with the last intact egg, and the prize is up to anybody's imagination. European settlers brought with them, as they populated the New World, a tradition of egg rolling, a game played by children who would roll eggs down hillsides at Easter. It is a tradition that continues to this day each Easter on the White House lawn. Later the egg shells are used as a carpet at press conferences.

Regardless of what country or tradition, eggs have been a part of Easter celebrations for centuries. Whether one prefers the brightly decorated Easter eggs or the cute Easter Bunny, it is the meaning behind such a celebration that we all share. To some it is a deep religious time symbolizing sacrifice and rebirth. Others simply celebrate the awakening of nature after Winter's slumber. In the end we all share in the commonality of celebration of life.

Yet one question remains unanswered, begging to be asked. Santa knows that each December 24th is the day he trains for all year. The Easter Bunny does not have that luxury, as Easter changes year to year. Research has provided this explanation, “Easter is the Sunday following the paschal full moon.” Mind you this explanation needs an explanation.

Wikipedia explains that the paschal full moon refers to the ecclesiastical full moon of the northern spring used in the determination of the date of Easter. It is warned on Wikipedia that the calculations to determine the date of the paschal full moon are “somewhat complex.” The brief description is as follows: “Nineteen civil calender years are divided into 235 lunar months of 30 and 29 days each (the so-called “Ecclesiastical moon.”) The period of 19 years (the metonic cycle) is used because it produces a set of civil calendar dates for the ecclesiastical new moon. Exactly one ecclesiastical new moon in each year falls on a date between March 8 and April 5, both inclusive. This begins the paschal lunar month for that year, and thirteen days later is the paschal full moon. Easter is the Sunday following the paschal full moon. In other words, Easter falls from one to seven days after the paschal full moon, so that if the paschal full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday.”

A slightly simpler explanation was found on, here it said “Easter is called a moveable feast because it is not celebrated on a fixed date every year. Easter falls somewhere between late March and late April each year, following the cycle of the moon. After several centuries of disagreement, all churches accepted that Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon which is the first full moon on or after March 21.”

Adding to the mix one cannot eliminate the fact that Eastern Orthodox Christians use a different set of arithmetical parameters in their calculations. In 2013 Easter Sunday for Eastern Orthodox Christians will be Sunday May 5th.

It is understandable why the Easter Bunny simply kicks back till he sees the red light blinking, and then he hops into action. So whether it is a spiritual emotion or simply a celebration of life, raise a glass, crack an egg, hug a bunny and enjoy.

Send comments to:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What is the $ Value of Extinction

Ah the smell of gunpowder and the thrill of pitting one's wits against a wild beast. Maybe that beast is a gentle rabbit or a deer, maybe it's a majestic creature such as the polar bear. Whatever living creature that it may be at the end of the rifle sights the question remains the same. What motivates modern man to leave the comforts of his natural environment, his home and Facebook, put on camouflage, load a hunting rifle and end the life of another creature?

Hunting has no real justification today other than the satisfaction of a blood lust. We no longer need to find food in the wild, our supermarkets are well stocked, even if somewhat overpriced. As an alternative, one which is well travelled, there are numerous burger, pizza and other sundry fast food outlets waiting at our beck and call. Clothing is simply a choice between a mall or boutique, depending on the size of one's wallet. Even if a fur is preferred then enough is available that has been professionally treated and dyed into any natural colour of the rainbow, and ready to wear.

The time has long gone when man was cutting out the path for the future out of the wild. Then, sheer survival rested in the hands of the hunter and his good eye. It was also a time when the wild beast had an opportunity to show its displeasure with any hunter who's aim was not true as he fumbled with musket ball and gun powder. Today our weapons are sophisticated, as we claim to be, and even a crossbow comes with a manual in several languages upon purchase.

So what drives man to kill? Today we truly are more sophisticated with a touch of maturity added. We have come to recognize the limitations of our environment and the consequences of our actions. Collectively nations from around the world have gathered lists of animals and creatures that have become at risk of extinction. Governments have been joined by non-profit organizations in an attempt to stop the total destruction of so many individual species.

China's Panda Bear has become a world symbol of a species at risk of total destruction and the efforts to ensure such a reality does not happen. Other creatures such as the Sumatran and Javan Rhino, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Jamaican Rock Iguana, and so many more are on the endangered list or species at risk lists. Canada has completed the National Strategy for the Protection of Species at Risk and adapted the Species At Risk Act (SARA) in 2002. Dozens of mammals, fish, reptiles and birds are listed so as to preserve our nature for future generations.

In 2011 Canada finally listed the Polar Bear - Ursus Maritimus – as a “species of special concern.” Under SARA, Species At Risk Act, this category is one level below threatened and two below endangered. Parks Canada ( Species at Risk Glossary explains the category as “a species of special concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.” The US had taken stronger steps by listing the Polar Bear as a threatened species in 2008.

According to the Justice Laws Website, Species at Risk (S.C.2002.c.29) section 73, Agreements and Permits states, “The competent minister may enter into an agreement with a person, or issue a permit to a person, authorizing the person to engage in an activity affecting a listed wildlife species, any part of its critical habitat or the residences of its individuals.” In Subsection (3) Pre-conditions, (c) states, “the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.” Ursus Maritimus has somehow fallen between what seems to be a species at risk and a category of some concern only. Can this be simple political semantics at play, bowing to international pressure, or should it be of 'special concern'. In 2013 at the CITES Conference, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Canada's federal government proved again that duplicity is a tool wielded by experts here, and the government found a rather astonishing ally raising its voice on the world stage.

According to the Government of Canada, Species at Risk Registry – Species Profile of the Polar Bear, “the Polar Bear is the largest terrestrial carnivore in the world.” It is found in the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway and Russia, Canada's population makes up two-thirds of the global population. The Government of Canada states, ”Although there is uncertainty about the overall impact of climate change on the species' distribution and numbers, considerable concern exists for the future of this species in Canada.”

Canada's government admits that “At present, the main limiting factor affecting the species is human-caused mortality, almost exclusively from regulated hunting. There is no harvesting program that currently takes into consideration anticipated changes in rates of survival and reproduction due to the effects of climate change on the biology of Polar Bears, particularly the reduction in the availability of prey.”

Environment Minister Peter Kent on November 10th 2011 said, “Canada's home to two-thirds of the world's polar bear population and we have a unique conservation responsibility to effectively care for them. Our government is demonstrating leadership in protecting this iconic species.” That was in 2011, now in February 2013 Peter Kent's government showed a very different face on the world issue.

At the CITES convention in Bangkok early March this year, Canada proved that duplicity and hypocrisy are still the favoured tools of its trade. Once again Peter Kent's words show that Canada will say one thing and for reasons motivated by economics do the opposite. At the wildlife summit the US, supported by Russia had proposed to ban the trade of polar bear skins, teeth and paws. A leading polar bear expert from Russia said, “Polar bears are struggling for survival already and exposing them to hunting will drive them to extinction.” (The Guardian, March 7,2013,Damian Carrington). Conservation groups such as the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) made it clear that potential exists that two-thirds of the 20,000 - 25,000 polar bears existing today could be extinct by 2050.

Canada opposed the ban and argued that these predictions were based on emotion rather than science, citing its strict regulations on polar bear hunting which ensure sustainability of the polar bear population. President of the national organization representing indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada, Terry Audla went so far as accusing conservation groups of lying rather than presenting facts. He said, “A ban would affect our ability to buy the necessities of life, to clothe our children. We have to protect our means of putting food on the table and selling polar bear hides enables us to support ourselves.”

In what might be considered a surprising move the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) supported Canada and its opposition of an export ban. The WWF claimed that decisions made without scientific evidence would damage the CITES organization. The senior Arctic species officer with World Wildlife Fund, Peter Ewins said in July 2011, when the federal government announced that the Polar Bear was to be listed as a species at risk, that any government management plan would likely fail.

Peter Ewins went on to say “The No.1 problem that dwarfs everything else is fossil fuel induced global warming. So a management plan that's focused on Inuit and the Arctic and habitats and things in the Arctic isn't going to do diddly-squat. If we all stopped driving cars tomorrow, that would probably start to help.” (CBC News, July 12 ,2011,Polar Bears to be listed as species at risk). Maybe someone could ask Peter Ewins what kind of automobile he drives and if he has stopped doing so.

As the federal government was announcing that the Polar Bear was to be listed as a species at risk under the category of special concern, Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for the Nunavut government had this to say: “If the federal government want to list species because they are concerned about climate change, they need to come and list every single species in the Arctic. If climate change continues it will impact every single species.” (Canadian Press) Climate change is very real, it is not simply an alarmist’s bogeyman, and there is no sign of it slowing down. This is simply because no government on any continent is willing to take the necessary real steps to do anything about it.

Mr. Gissing also said that the federal government listing the Polar Bear as a species at risk was of no great concern and the designation would not change how Nunavut was already managing the Polar Bear population nor the traditional hunting rights for aboriginal people. This statement was truly a clear indicator of the duplicity of the federal government. Environment Minister Peter Kent was full of his usual hypocrisy when it came to the federal government’s environmental policies, when he said “Our government is demonstrating leadership...”

The smoke and mirrors began with the Canadian government bowing to international pressures with the listing of the Polar Bear as a species at risk. Canada’s real “leadership” was demonstrated in Bangkok at the CITES conference. This was no different to Canada’s signing onto the Kyoto Accord and then withdrawing, its environmental policy hacked for the sake of energy development or its open policy on the oil sands. In Canada more often policy is governed by economics, when there is money to be made all else pales in consideration.

According to, “Big game is a part of Nunavut's tourism industry, for good reason, Nunavut features some of the most exotic and highly prized big game animals on Earth, including extremely dangerous polar bears, numerous herds of muskoxen, abundant barren- ground caribou, a sustainable harvest of walrus, plus the healthiest and least threatened population of wolves in the world.” Nunavutians claim the Arctic Wolf (canis lupus arctos) “is also the only wolf in the world that is not threatened – largely because they rarely encounter humans.”

HenikLake Adventures touts “Polar Bear Hunt in Canada's Arctic – We are sold out until 2014 but we do get extra permits from time to time. Please fill out the information request form to be put on our waiting list.” Photographs of several 'kills' tantalize the avid adventurer and are partnered by these comforting words, “Government biologists closely monitor Polar Bear Populations in the Canadian Arctic and allow a limited amount of licenses to be issued each year in the Western Hudson Bay Population. The Polar Bear migrate northward from the Churchill, Manitoba area which is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World.” It must be said that Henik Lake Adventures, and other such tour companies, are not doing anything illegal, they are simply entrepreneurs making a buck.

The hunt does not include airfares to and from Arviat, gratuities to guides and more, but it does include the “services of our experienced Inuit guides; 1 hunter per guide.” Costs for such an adventurer of a lifetime are not low, with an average fee of $40,000 to $45,000 per hunt, with a $15,000 per person deposit required. To be a non-gun toting observer alone it will cost one $7,500.

Law requires that every hunter must be accompanied by an Inuit guide. A representative from Environment Canada has said on the phone (recorded for quality control), “you would have to have an Inuit guide, and it would be very costly I am sure.” Yet the aboriginal people claim it is their tradition that must be safeguarded. Terry Audla, president of the national organization representing indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada talked of “the ability to buy necessities of life to clothe our children.” Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for the Nunavut government, said that the designation as a species at risk would not change anything or take away traditional hunting rights for aboriginal people.

As a response to a 2009 study by the Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare - “polar bear hunting is not an Inuit tradition,” Gabriel Nirlungayuk had this to say in the Globe & Mail August 24th 2011, “Who are they to say that it's not tradition? It's not traditional for you guys to be in a car. Should you be riding horses? Our culture has evolved.” Mr. Gabriel Nirlungayuk is the director of wildlife for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. an organization advocating for the territory's Inuit.

Polar Bear hunting is simply business and it's a relatively big enough business for it to be protected. It has spawned tour companies such as Henik Lake Adventures and others. In addition to the tour companies handy tips are offered on the internet through sites such as Here the question is answered, “Once you have your Polar Bear, Grizzly or black bear trophy on the ground what are you going to do with the skull?” Just follow the handy materials needed list to prepare yourself and then five easy steps to be able to display a shiny clean trophy. describes polar bear hunts as “one of the toughests hunt. Only fit and mentally tough hunters can endure the mental and physical challenges posed in this expedition.” It is big game hunting at its biggest, and it is part of Nunavut's tourism industry. Whether it is the government protecting a source of revenue or the aboriginal people protecting their own cash supply, the polar bear simply remains a commodity.

Terry Audla, president of the national organization representing indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada went so far as to attack the US and their push for a ban on Polar Bear Trade. Audla said: “The US is using the polar bear as a blunt tool to bring about climate change concerns – it is the perfect poster child.” (The Guardian, March 7, 2013). Audla also played the hearts and strings with his speech of indigenous people being able to provide the necessities of life and clothe their children. Yet polar bear trophy hunting accounts for less than 2% of the average income of Inuit residents (Environics Research Group, March 16, 2010 – Overwhelming Majority of Canadians Support CITES Ban on Commercial Trade of Polar Bear Parts).

In the end the Polar Bear becomes a “poster child” for the aboriginals equally to sell their demands. Canada's government on the other hand argued that there is not enough scientific evidence available which shows the polar bear as a species in danger of a population collapse. So even though it listed the polar bear as a species at risk, the stand Canada has taken raises questions as to why did it bother to do so.

The Commissioner on Environmental Co-operation, which is part of NAFTA, had accepted a petition which would force Canada to explain its policies on the Polar Bear to the international environmental watchdog. A lawyer representing the Center for Biological Diversity has stated “The Commission found that we had a sufficient allegation and provided sufficient documentation of the violation that we can move forward in this process.” (The Canadian Press December 1,2012).

A spokesperson from Environment Canada said the government is currently developing a management plan for the polar bears. Yet the Canadian government doesn't believe that the Polar Bear faces a risk of a “population collapse.” One of the biggest wildlife conservation non-profit groups doesn't believe any management plan will do “diddly-squat.” The Nunavut government will not be affected in any way in its policies towards aboriginal traditional rights regardless of any management plans. So in the end the trophy taking will continue as arguments at conferences and committees do so equally.

The world can only hope that the Polar Bear can survive the impact of men as it does its harsh natural environment and not reach a “population collapse.” In the meantime, “Hunting teams leave with their snowmobiles, dog teams and sleds. Temperatures can reach -40F and below, the only forms of protection you have are the clothes and your tent. Polar bear hunting expeditions can take several days and sometimes several weeks due to unpredictable weather. Sometimes visibility can drop below 100 yards.” (

Send comments to: 

Monday, March 11, 2013

A neighbourhood pays as a developer profits

Site Servicing and Grading Plan, April 2009

The Webster's Dictionary describes the word corrupt as, “changed from a sound condition to an unsound one, spoiled, contaminated, rotten.” Are we to accept the pessimist's view that man's greed is insatiable and therefore his nature to corrupt simply as fait accompli. Thankfully through the ages many have not accepted such defeat and have fought against oppression, and more recently for the very future of our Earth and its environment. But to change the “unsound” to “sound” again is not an easy task. In Canada the city of Montreal has had that painful task, one which has travelled with reverberations of shock and dismay.

St. Catharines Ontario a smallish city of some 130,000 inhabitants, sits as a gateway to the Niagara Peninsula. It is home to some of the incredible natural beauty with the Niagara Escarpment, and faces the same questions of survival in tough economic times as do many cities of varying sizes across North America. Change has become a necessity if decay is to be kept at bay.

In Merritton, a residential area of St. Catharines, once a small township of its own amalgamated into the greater city, long time residents woke up to an alarming situation in 2008. Severe flooding had hit homes, flooding basements, making backyards impassable and torrents of water running down driveways. Immediate complaints to city offices had been made. Many of the residents had lived in the area for decades some well into their sixties had been raised locally and lived their lives here. None had seen any flooding such as this prior to 2008.

City of St. Catharines engineers Mike Wilson and Ron Winterbottom inspected the flooding, in particular the home of Mr. Leeson where flooding damage was severe, leaving a hand written note by Ron Winterbottom City of St. Catharines engineer which stated “Drainage problem due to developer on Merritt St.” The City of St. Catharines had been made fully aware of the problems that hit an established neighbourhood. All the complaints made by residents of Pinecrest Avenue had become a matter of record.

Ron Winterbottom, City Engineer in his own handwritten note made it clear what residents already knew. He stated that the drainage problem was due to the development on Merritt Street, relating to a business that had moved its operation from its long-time location across the road. Sun Collision had been located on the opposite side of Merritt Street for a number of decades. Its owner Sam Demita decided to move the business across the road to a larger property. This property consisted of a portion that had been used as a commercial enterprise and a very large portion that was a natural ravine. Local residents who had played as children in the ravine had described it as a haven for local wildlife and a natural watercourse. The ravine stretched eastward hundreds of feet, approximately 100 feet wide and at depths of 25 to 30 feet, heavily wooded running parallel to Merritt Street towards the City of Thorold.

Owner and operator of Sun Collision decided to fill the ravine and turn it into what he would consider usable land. Dump trucks began to empty their loads in the dying weeks of 2007. A number of local residents had recounted how they heard bulldozers working under flood lights well into the dark of night. Other than the disturbing sound of machinery after dark little else changed in this neighbourhood till late February 2008.

Melting snows in February 2008 brought with them a meltdown of a neighbourhood. Torrents of water not only came rolling down driveways but also invaded basements and made a section of the local sidewalk equivalent to a rice paddy field. Floods of complaints to local authorities from residents brought out an inspection by City of St. Catharines engineers in early March 2008. As already stated a hand written note by one engineer confirmed what local residents had already became very aware of. Yet it was the apparent indifference to the plight of the residents by the City of St. Catharines that was most shocking. In a Notice of Decision dated April 2, 2008 the Committee of Adjustment issued this statement, “By applying site plan control measures the site will be considerably improved and will not have an adverse effect on the neighbourhood.”

Members of a Committee of Adjustment must visit the respective site which they are considering to approve applications on. In addition to the site visit engineering reports are provided and a minor problem such as numerous residents complaining about flooding would of been hard to ignore, or at least should of been hard to ignore. Yet the Committee of Adjustment for the City of St. Catharines had the audacity to state in writing “will not have an adverse effect on the neighbourhood.”

Throughout 2008 various residents of Pinecrest Avenue tried contacting the City of St. Catharines, others had contacted the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and Trillium Railway. Each of these responded in a similar fashion, no care whatsoever. One resident was told by a representative of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority that it was his problem and he should raise the level of his backyard. At the same time the dumping and filling also continued.

Finally April 1st 2009 brought an inspection by an Enforcement Officer from the Niagara Escarpment Commission. As a result of this inspection Niagara Escarpment Commission Compliance and Enforcement Officer Mathew Williamson provided in writing April 20th 2009 this statement: “The Niagara Escarpment Commission shares your concerns of the fill material being deposited without approvals from the respective agency(s).” Then in June of 2009 photographs of tonnes of asphalt dumped and within days buried. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario approved an investigation which was conducted by the Ministry of the Environment.

Ministry of the Environment found Sun Collision and its owner Sam Demita in breach of Ontario Regulation 347. The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) Section 14(1) prohibits any person from discharging, or causing or permitting the discharge of a contaminate into the natural environment, where it may cause adverse effect. Under Ontario Regulation 34, “certain waste materials, including tires and asphalt cannot be buried or used as fill (whether or not an adverse effect is proven). Waste asphalt is regulated as a waste (whether or not it causes an adverse effect) unless it meets the exemption criteria in Sections 3(2)17 or 3(2)18 of O. Reg. 347.”

According to the official MOE report dated March 3rd 2010, Sun Collision, the site owner, was advised to remove tires, concrete with re-bar, asphalt and tree stumps that were uncovered during the excavation of the test pits. The report also stated that Sun Collision was required by the ministry to hire a qualified consultant to undertake a further assessment and undertake remedial actions if required. Although it was declared in the final report by MOE that “seven test pits in the fill deposition were dug at the site using a backhoe and sampled as directed by the ministry,” the report did not state where on the property the test pits were dug nor to what depth.

This was a critical question at the time, and still is. Photographs which showed large amounts of asphalt in huge chunks on the property were at the very end and were pushed over the edge by machinery. It was not a small amount of asphalt but a very large deposit. Also the ravine was in the shallow points at 25 feet deep to at least 30 feet deep and only later in 2010 was it made public that the test pits were only dug to a depth of 10 feet. Nothing made sense, in particular as it was the owner of the property who was “directed by the ministry” to do all of this. But MOE will say that is the usual procedure in an 'investigation'. Still a clean up was ordered.

Sam Demita began to park damaged vehicles along the fenced property line running alongside the disused railway line. Damaged vehicles have a tendency to be in less than perfect condition and the chances of leakage of hazardous materials in the least an issue to consider. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario thought it was an issue and ordered the MOE to investigate. The local MOE on the other hand decided they would not. Ontario's Commissioner for the Environment had this to say, “The applicants did raise a legitimate concern that can receive too little attention: vehicles, damaged or not, leak fluids on roadways and parking lots. Precipitation runoff carries and deposits contaminates into rivers, streams and lakes. Brake fluid, antifreeze and motor oil, for instance, and petroleum distillates.” A very strong observation presented in the 2010/2011 Annual Report Supplement by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

Ministry of the Environment on the other hand had their own opinion one less logical even somewhat farcical. In a written statement as a refusal to accept the ECO request to investigate MOE said, “As a general rule cars leak fluids at the scene of an accident and such fluids would be subject to clean-up at the accident scene. As a preventive measure, the property owner has already been advised to move the damaged vehicles away from the property line so as to lessen the potential for fluids to move off site and to clean up any spills detected in a timely manner.” To anyone who is well conversant with the English language the contradiction between these two sentences from the MOE reaches a new level of absurdity.

Generality only has a place in bar room conversations, reality and specifics are the science of environmental investigative decisions. An alarming reality is brought to attention in the report by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US. It clearly identifies the individual components for potential environmental adverse affect in relation to damaged or abandoned vehicles. This report was titled Developing an Abandoned Vehicle Cleanup Program and the issues are no different to damaged vehicles in a collision yard, perhaps even more time sensitive in nature. For those who found it hard to grasp this decision the EPA even prepared a cute picture. 

Sam Demita was instructed by the MOE to move the damaged vehicles in three separate and individual communications, this was confirmed by Assistant Deputy Minister Kevin French. Demita refused to abide by the ministry instructions and kept the damaged vehicles parked at the fence line for some two years without any consequence to date.

Sun Collision owner Demita had not moved any of the damaged vehicles from the property line for over twelve months after the MOE report of February 2011. It was difficult to understand how any business, in particular one as small as Sun Collision could simply ignore a ministerial instruction. Minister of Environment Jim Bradley was contacted in writing with dated photographs spanning a period of twelve months showing no vehicles had been moved. At first Minister Jim Bradley refused to respond then in the end he instructed the Director for Investigations and Enforcement Lisa Feldman to act on his behalf. This was confirmed in writing by Director Lisa Feldman on June 13th 2012. Director Feldman then upon apparent instructions of Minister Jim Bradley, altered details of the MOE report dated February 16th 2011 which had been copied and presented to the Environmental Commissioner's Office under MOE file reference ENV1180AC-2011-2 and EBRO File# 10EBR004.1

Director Lisa Feldman altered an official report presented as record by the MOE upon the instructions of the Minister for the Environment Jim Bradley. This was not a situation to be taken lightly, more so as Minister Jim Bradley proceeded to instruct a second director of the MOE to alter details of another official report. Director West Central Region Bill Bardswick in a letter dated June 21st 2012 confirmed in writing that he was acting upon instructions of the Minister, Jim Bradley. Director Bill Bardswick then continued to make statements which related to an official MOE report copied to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and presented as part of the ECO's annual report to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Director Bardswick in fact altered key points of the MOE report originally dated March 3rd 2010 reference number ENV1180AC-2009-100a and EBRO File# 09EBR004.1.

Sun Collision owner Sam Demita refused to obey official ministerial instructions. The MOE in return alter details of two official reports filed on record, even presented at the Ontario Legislature as part of the Environmental Commissioner's Annual Report, upon the instructions of Minister Jim Bradley.

To get the ball rolling, 'business man' Sam Demita filled a natural ravine without any permits, was caught in breach of the EPA Ontario's Regulation #347 burying hazardous waste material. All of this occurred from 2008 through to 2012, one would think this was a full dance card. Yet this story does not end here, fast forward to February 2013 and a new disturbing twist is added, with an official City of St. Catharines invitation to an Open House!

The Planning and Development Services Department is hosting an Open House about a proposed Official Plan (The Garden City Plan) Amendment and Zoning By-Law Amendment for lands located at 88 Merritt Street.” This proud announcement was delivered to homes in the affected area with Jessica Button, Planner of the Planning and Development Services Department for contact. Proposed for discussion at the Open House were two amendments for the 'subject lands' which are designated Mixed Use and Natural Area by the City's existing Official Plan, and a more critical point that the lands are zoned as Environmental Protection Area. Ms. Jessica Button did not plan to be thrown into the deep end of such a cesspool and she was out of her depth.

Regardless of what city, town or village one lives in zoning by-laws are simple, one simply has to abide by them. If any individual contravenes the zoning by-laws, whether a commercial enterprise or a private individual, that individual faces penalties, fines and an order to restore the area back to its original state. Then one can apply for permits and seek amendments and so on. Simple laws that all in the city have to obey. WRONG!

Sam Demita decided to fill a natural ravine running approximately 190 feet in length, 80-90 feet in width and at depths of 25-30 feet, without any permits. This land was zoned as Environmental Protection Area which made little difference to Demita's decision process. City of St. Catharines Mayor, Mayor Brian McMullan was fully aware of the situation. In fact Mayor Brian McMullan visited the site and defended Sam Demita in the local press. These were Mayor Brian McMullan's words in The Standard, April 29th 2010: “Sun Collision met all the requirements of its council approved site plan agreement when it moved onto the Merritt St. property.” Niagara this Week on May 12th 2010 wrote: “At Sun Collision, however, McMullan and company didn't find any serious problems, but he has told the staff to monitor the situation.”

The original Site Servicing and Grading Plan submitted to the City was signed by M. Wilson on April 20th 2009, even though engineer M. Wilson was fully aware of the situation with the local residents. This plan was also signed by Mayor Brian McMullan who would of been aware of the serious problems and the zoning. It is difficult to fathom how the city could with full intent and purpose permit Sam Demita to break the law so openly. Mayor Brian McMullan would be fully aware of the requirements to amend zoning regulations prior to any intended work. Mayor McMullan would also be aware of the seriousness of such a breach. Both City Engineering and Planning & Development would be fully aware of zoning by-laws and their enforcement. Finally members of the Committee of Adjustment had to physically visit the site whilst the dumping was in progress, yet they too permitted Demita to break the law.

As the Niagara this Week reporter wrote “McMullan and company,” the 'company' also included two of the Merritton Ward Councillors. Both councillors had numerous calls from local residents when the flooding hit homes, and neither councillor had anything to say to either of the reporters in 2010. Merritton Councillor Jeff Burch had been contacted by Mark Leeson who had some of the worst damage to his home. Mr. Leeson had even lost his household insurance due to these problems and made attempts to get help from his elected city councillors. Councillor Jeff Burch had this to say to Mr. Leeson as per a signed statement made by Mark Leeson on July 22nd 2009 and provided to both the ECO and MOE. “Jeff then told me that they know people in high places with the City of St. Catharines and this could be difficult.”

What was the intention behind this statement made by Councillor Jeff Burch? Was this a threat, or was it a warning? Councillor Burch did not contact Mr. Leeson after this phone conversation again. Merritton Ward Councillor Jennie Stevens went a little further than fellow councillor Jeff Burch. Councillor Jennie Stevens left a telephone answering machine message for Mark Leeson, in that message Jennie Stevens confirmed that Mayor McMullan had fixed a by-law fine for Mr. Leeson so he did not have to pay for it. She also spoke of the drainage ditch being dug in an attempt to alleviate the flooding, this was in May 2010.

By-law fines once issued cannot be forgiven, forgotten, nor can they be 'fixed'. It is breach of the Municipal Act and more. Still Councillor Jennie Stevens was proud enough that Mayor Brian McMullan had done exactly that and left a telephone answering machine message to prove it. But then laws seem to be of little importance here. Sam Demita was able to dump and fill a ravine without permits or any amendments to zoning by-laws. Mayor Brian McMullan was aware of it, City staff at two departments were aware of it, two elected councillors Jeff Burch and Jennie Stevens were aware of it, and even both of the local newspapers were aware of the facts and refused to report the facts in their articles. Both Niagara this Week and The Standard were made aware of Demita's breach of Ontario Regulation #347, of the illegal dumping without permits and of the zoning by-laws. Yet both newspapers ignored all the facts in their articles.

During the Open House of February 26th 2013 two very important issues became clear, other than the fact that Sam Demita's lawyer had lost control on several occasions. First of all, Sam Demita showed complete disregard even contempt for the environmental laws put in place to safeguard the community. His lawyer tried to argue the dangers of waste asphalt, and as any lawyer who argues on behalf of his client rather than on behalf of the truth, found himself forced to back down. In response to a statement that burying hazardous waste was illegal and potentially detrimental Demita said, “...what hazardous waste, I don't understand, you guys cost me a fortune, they found nothing.” Demita went on to say “I went with O'Hara, I dug 17 feet to just prove a point, and you know what happened I found two stinking tires with rims, which were thirty years old, the ministry, the ministry (here he took out his brown leather wallet waving it around the conference table) they find pieces like this too, so basically the ministry, you know why because that gentleman, he know who that is.” At the end here he turned and glared at me.

In the Niagara this Week article of May 12th 2010, reporter Alex Somerville wrote, “Demita showed off the land, which had been a focus point for the community, where there were 16 holes dug up, about 10 feet deep...” Was this outburst by Sam Demita at the Open House on February 26th, simply anger which he could not control, or was it something else?

The second point even more alarming as it proves that the City of St. Catharines has been fully aware of breaches of its by-laws and has permitted them to continue. In fact the City of St. Catharines now has put into place an attempted mechanism to cover up intentional breaches of the law.

One of the proposed amendments states “... permit a very limited amount of outdoor storage in the northwest corner of the site, as an exception to the Mixed Use policies.” At the Open House the individual who was there to explain the plans which have been proposed on behalf of Sam Demita had this to say. “Outside storage is one term used in the zoning by-law it's really the staging area for Sun Collision, Sun Collision needs some place to put the vehicles before they're taken in to the shop to be repaired to be sent on their way, right now they could put these automobiles that need repairing in the front yard, they could do that, but I think that's not appropriate.”

No city regardless of its size, or the size of a business man's wallet (Demita was not waving his brown one around at this time), can permit the intentional and wilful breach of its by-laws. Demita's representative made the point clear that Sam Demita had in fact done so for several years. As the questions were asked of Steven (the architectural representative) where were the vehicles placed at this point in time, Demita burst out with “I put them anywhere right now.”

The Ministry of Environment instructed Sam Demita in three separate communications to move the damaged vehicles with their report of February 2011. Assistant Deputy Minister Kevin French confirmed that fact in writing. Director of Investigations and Enforcement Lisa Feldman stated in her written report that the City of St. Catharines had been contacted on the issue regarding possible planning questions in 2012. Mayor Brian McMullan, City of St. Catharines Engineering and Planning and Development Services, City of St. Catharines Merritton Ward Councillors Jeff Burch and Jennie Stevens, have all been aware of the breaches of law by Sam Demita.

In the proposed amendments number 2 states “Amend the zoning by-law from Environmental Protection Area to Commercial Residential, with limited permissions for outdoor storage...” Sam Demita began to dump into the ravine in late 2007, Mayor Brian McMullan, Councillors Jeff Burch and Jennie Stevens, City Departments of Engineering, Planning and Development had all become fully aware of the situation by 2009! The 'rot' is deep and many questions need answered.

If we as members of our community do not stand up for the values we teach our children and fight for our own communities then under no circumstance can we rely on anyone else to do so. The City of St. Catharines City Solicitor, Planning and Development Department, and each of the twelve City of St. Catharines Councillors have been made aware in writing that an application to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) is being filed on this mater.

Sam Demita's lawyer at the Open House said “It is unfortunate we cannot take legal action against ... the complaints ....” Was this meant as some kind of warning or threat, one could argue it was possibly a simple loss of control by a 'legal eagle'. Regardless, there are serious questions to be answered here and they will be! 

Send comments to: