Thursday, June 27, 2013

Law & Lawyers are they one and the same?

Ontarians had faced months in limbo without a true government waiting for the Provincial Liberals to sort out their game after the sudden departure of Dalton McGuinty. Kathleen Wynne climbed to the top of the heap, was chosen leader and installed as the Premier of Ontario. A new face, a new attitude, at least that was the promise. In reality nothing has changed and it is the same non-caring Liberal government that Dalton McGuinty dumped.

Prior to being selected as Liberal leader and Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne held the post of Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing holds the reigns on legislation and laws that keep our various local communities operating within boundaries of ethics and equality. At least that is the theory, yet St. Catharines Ontario has provided an example of the complete opposite.

In St. Catharines provincial laws as well as municipal by-laws have been breached intentionally by a developer. Details had been previously published on Mayorgate in A neighbourhood pays as a developer profits. Many of us, regardless from what city or for that matter even country, would not be surprised that a developer would be concerned more for his profit margin rather than laws and regulations. Though in this situation it is not the developer alone who has breached law, he had done so with the complete knowledge, even participation of the city government, its mayor and council.

Premier Wynne had all the details sent to her on April 5th 2013 with a request that the provincial government take action. Linda Jeffrey, the new Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing was also contacted on April 5th 2013 with full details. On April 16th 2013 Premier Wynne responded, she said “As this issue falls within her area of responsibility, I have asked that she or a member of her staff provide you with a response.” The “she” that Premier Wynne refers to is Linda Jeffrey.

Minister Linda Jeffrey finally responded on June 5th 2013 and her response condescending in its content. It appears this Liberal government has little care for the responsibilities it is entrusted with by the people of Ontario. Minister Linda Jeffrey says that municipalities are “responsible and accountable order of government,” but does not state who they are accountable to. Minister Jeffrey also states that it is “generally” the responsibility of the municipalities to decide on planning applications. This case cannot be classified under the title as general in any fashion. Information was provided of serious breaches by the municipal government, now is the time to demand the accountability, though such action would be a foreign concept to Premier Wynne or to her Minister Linda Jeffrey.

Whilst Minister Linda Jeffrey and Premier Wynne play musical chairs with responsibility, the situation in St. Catharines had taken a new and disturbing twist. On April 29th 2013, the City of St. Catharines held a regular council meeting, and a Public Meeting regarding the applications made by Sam Demita owner of Sun Collision. The whole proceeding was recorded and televised, there is also an audio recording of the full meeting providing absolute proof of what had happened.

As with any Public Meeting before Council, opponents of the proposal before Council are permitted to make presentations. There were four presentations made in opposition to the proposal. Prior to the Public Meeting, each and every member of the City of St. Catharines Council was notified in writing regarding the intentional breach of the provincial Planning Act, Zoning By-Law and EPA (Environmental Protection Area) By-Laws by Sam Demita. Two councillors, Jennie Stevens and Jeff Burch, have had direct personal involvement with issues regarding this situation since 2009. St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan made himself personally involved with the issues, even with details of the Ministry of Environment investigation, from 2010.

Once opposing presentations were completed head of Planning and Development, James Riddell made his statements explaining how the city was in favour of the proposals to be voted on. Mr. Riddell ignored the fact that Sam Demita had intentionally breached the Provincial Planning Act for some four years, with the full knowledge of the city, Mayor Brian McMullan and both Councillors, Jennie Stevens and Jeff Burch. Mr. Riddell ignored the fact that Zoning By-Laws had been intentionally breached by Sam Demita for over four years with full knowledge of City staff and those elected to manage the affairs of the city. James Riddell did comment on the fact that the City of St. Catharines does not have a Site Alteration By-Law, and that is true. Yet Mr. Riddell ignored the fact that this land has an EPA designation, it is Environmentally Protected Area, and any alteration of such land would require proper application for permit.

In the hands of James Riddell head of Planning and Development, Sam Demita was a model citizen regardless of the multitude of laws he mangled for years. Still the attitudes of Mr. Riddell were less shocking or surprising considering the role of the City has played in this situation since 2009. Following Mr. Riddell it was Sam Demita's representative Solicitor John Willey to present the case to members of Council so as to get a vote in favour of his client.

Regardless of where we are sitting, be it in North America or any point East or West, one thing is common to us all. Lawyers or solicitors only act in the best interest of their clients, and that is not always in the best interest of anything else. That said solicitors have an unspoken rule, never be caught in an intentional lie. After all there are certain ethical issues when proven to have intentionally lied. These wizards of the spoken word are capable of weaving the truth into a new reality, one that is only in the best interest of their client. Solicitor John Willey, representing Sam Demita was no such weaver.

Solicitor John Willey made two clear and separate statements. As Sam Demita's solicitor John Willey was fully aware of all the details of Ministry of Environment investigations and documents on record. Mr. Willey in fact had quoted from an MOE report at the Open House, conducted February 23rd 2013. He would also be fully conversant with the Planning Act, Zoning By-Laws and the Environmental Protection Area regulations. In the best interest of his client, John Willey ignored the clear and absolute fact that Sam Demita broke all of these laws with full intent and purpose.

That was not enough for solicitor John Willey. As Sam Demita's representative he made a presentation to City Council to persuade a vote in favour of his client.

Solicitor John Willey LIED! He introduces himself to Council as I am John Willey. I am council for the applicant,” the applicant being Sam Demita owner/operator of Sun Collision. Sam Demita's council goes on to say “the first speaker correctly reported to you that the Environmental Rights Commissioner was alerted, that's true he did, but what he didn't tell you was they investigated and found no fault by Sun Collision and no breaches, no environmental concerns whatsoever by Sun Collision, in fact they gave a pretty glowing report.”

The Environmental Rights Commissioner that John Willey refers to is the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario who received an application for investigation under the Environmental Bill of Rights. He examines the information and if the evidence provided supports a need for an investigation he then requests the Ministry of Environment to conduct the investigation. The ECO does not conduct environmental investigations but he does present all final reports to the Provincial Legislature in his annual report.

In this case the ECO requested an investigation and the MOE conducted one. Here solicitor John Willey lied when he said, “they investigated and found no fault by Sun Collision and no breaches, no environmental concerns whatsoever by Sun Collision.” Sam Demita owner of Sun Collision was found in breach of Ontario Regulation #347 of the Environmental Protection Act, which prohibits the burial of hazardous waste material. Demita had buried asphalt, tires and concrete with re-bar in his fill. Photographs of mounds of asphalt on the property were provided to both the ECO and MOE, and this asphalt was buried by Sam Demita.

Ministry of the Environment official report dated March 3rd 2010 with file #ENV1180AC-2009-100-a relating to EBRO File Number #09EBR004.1, stated that Sun Collision was instructed to remove the hazardous waste found during the investigation. A second MOE report dated February 16th 2011 with file #ENV1180AC-2011-2 confirms that “on May 4 2010, a Provincial Officers Order was served on Sun Collision, and the property owner, that compelled the company to undertake the further assessment required as a result of the EBR investigation. The property owner requested a review of the Order and a Director's Order was issued on May 17 2010.”

Both of these reports by the MOE were provided to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and presented in his annual report to the Legislature of Ontario. Solicitor John Willey may wish to lie about the facts, yet he cannot remove them from record. Sun Collision was found at fault! Sun Collision was found in breach of the EPA and Ontario's Regulation #347! It was because of environmental concerns that Sun Collision was issued an order to remove the hazardous waste material. Solicitor John Willey lied to the City of St. Catharines Council in his presentation.

Still this was not enough for John Willey. He made a second statement that was a lie. John Willey went on to say, “Um, the first speaker also said that the, there was a complaint to the excuse me, Ministry of Environment. That is true. Um, the owner of Sun Collision is gone through a lot of investigation and expense because of these allegations. The MOE is pretty quick to respond, and pretty thorough in what it requires in response to a complaint. They did indeed do an investigation. Contrary to what you were told they did not say that the vehicles had to be moved, couldn't be parked there. In fact the MOE has issued no orders, whatsoever. No cautions, there's nothing on record for an infraction. Another lie by solicitor John Willey acting as council for Sam Demita in his presentation to City Council.

Jayne Harten, Issues Manager and Strategic Advisor, Office of the Assistant Deputy Minister Operations Division of the Ministry of the Environment responded by email on behalf of Ass. Dep. Minister Kevin French, July 16th 2012. In this email Jayne Harten stated, “Ministry staff spoke to the property owner of Sun Collision, Mr. Sam Demita, during their site visit on January 5 2011 and followed up with a written letter dated January 13, 2011, requesting that damaged vehicles be parked away from the fence line as a preventative measure. This request was outlined in the EBR decision summary which was sent to you in February 2011. A copy was also provided to Sun Collision.”

In the official MOE report dated February 16th 2011 ref #ENV1180AC-2011-2, EBRO file #10EBR004.1, it states, “As a preventative 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...” This report was signed by Ass. Dep. Minister Kevin French and a copy provided to Peter Lapp, Director of Operations at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. As Ms. Harten confirmed in writing, a copy of this report was also provided to Sam Demita.

As John Wiley stood before the City Council and lied, Mayor Brian McMullan sat directly behind him. In addition to Mayor McMullan the Director of Planning and Development Services James Riddell was not only present, but had also made a presentation. Both Mr. Riddell and Mayor Brian McMullan knew that Sam Demita had intentionally breached the Planning Act for over three years. In addition both knew that solicitor John Willey had lied when he said, “they did not say that the vehicles have to be moved.” Evidence of this comes from a letter dated June 13th 2012 from Lisa Feldman, Director of Investigations and Enforcement Branch of the Ministry of Environment. Lisa Feldman states, “about damaged vehicles parked by the fence on the Sun Collision property... the Ministry will convey your concerns to the City of St. Catharines with respect to the site planning process.”

Mayor Brian McMullan had full knowledge of the situation at Sun Collision, and personal involvement from early 2010. Both councillors Jennie Stevens and Jeff Burch have had direct personal involvement with the issues at Sun Collision. Director of Planning and Development James Riddell had full knowledge of the facts surrounding the issues and breaches of law by Sam Demita owner of Sun Collision. All of these elected and un-elected officials of the City of St. Catharines knew that solicitor John Willey lied, yet they permitted that lie to be carried to a vote. WHY?

Solicitor John Willey also made this statement; “There was a suggestion that there used to be a pipe by one of the speakers that allowed drainage through, that pipe is in fact still it's still there. It's still doing the same job that it did before, unfortunately allowing water down the hill into the ravine, it still exits, through the pipe and to the park.”

In this case solicitor John Willey would be correct in saying “there used to be a pipe,” yet he is not correct in fact he is once again deceiving to claim, “it's still there. It's doing the same job that it did before.”

By early 2009 illegal dumping had been continuing into the ravine for over a year. In April of 2009, Mathew Williamson Compliance & Enforcement Officer from the Niagara Escarpment Commission visited the site. A letter dated April 20th 2009 from Mathew Williamson expressed concerns that “the fill material being deposited without approvals from the respective agency(s).” But it was a letter from Mr. Williamson dated April 3rd 2009 that should concern solicitor John Willey. In this letter from Mathew Williamson of the NEC, it states, “An inspection of the area was completed on April 1 2009, which confirmed subject dumping of filling activities, including that materials include aggregate and that the drainage culvert extending under the railway track is at the potential of being obstructed by filling activities.”

Those first photographs taken at the site of the illegal dumping depict what Mathew Williamson from the NEC witnessed. The drainage culvert at the far eastern perimeter of the dumping becoming obstructed with fill material. Photographs taken in March 2009 approximately a month later show that the drainage culvert had almost completely disappeared. Mathew Williamson had sent a copy of his letter to the “City of St. Catharines Building Division.” City staff were fully aware of all that was happening at the site for over four years and that has been proven beyond doubt over and over again.

Maybe solicitor John Willey can explain what pipe was he referring to? It is clear that the drainage culvert at the eastern end of the illegally dumped fill has disappeared under the fill and it is not able to do “the same job that it did before.”

Word wizards are trained to bend, manipulate, distort and most often ignore the truth, all in the best interest of their clients. Solicitor John Willey proved he is less of a word wizard and simply lied. Maybe John Willey would like to challenge all the evidence provided, and that would be eagerly accepted by Mayorgate.

Yet it is not only solicitor John Willey who has a great deal to answer. The City of St. Catharines, its elected and un-elected officials have even a greater deal to answer for. Current Planner of Record on the amendments Jessica Button before joining the City was a planner at the Niagara Conservation Authority. She is fully aware that the fill was illegal, and there is more evidence to come from the conservation authority on that issue, and Jessica Button has remained silent. John Riddell, her boss, completely ignored all the laws that Sam Demita broke and John Willey lied about it in his presentation. Councillor Greg Washuta excused himself from voting quoting conflict of interest. Greg Washuta is employed by the Ministry of Environment and would find it hard to convince anyone he does not know the facts and that solicitor John Willey lied. Yet Greg Washuta has remained silent. It is time for clear and public questions with a demand for answers.

The City of St. Catharines remains unwilling to provide simple answers to clarify another situation on the Sun Collision site. At present a rather substantial renovation is being undertaken to an old building. Jessica Button City Planner of record had stated that it was a new roof, at least that was what she claimed to have on her records. Examining the photos of the work being done it is clear that far more than a new roof is being replaced. A simple question of whether a permit exists was asked of Jessica Button on June 17th, Button and another individual searched the computer files but could not find a record of a permit. In the end Jessica Button requested a copy of the photos and said that “there have been serious issues with this property.”

Indeed there have been serious issues with this property and Jessica Button would be very aware of those issues. Prior to joining the Planning & Development Services at the City of St. Catharines, Jessica Button was Planner at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and fully aware of the laws relating to Environmental Protected Areas. She would be aware of the intentional breaches of these EPA regulations by Sam Demita. In an email response dated June 20th Jessica Button proved that the City was not willing to be open on this issue, and Button refused to say when the permit was issued. Why? On the 17th of June a search of the computer files for Sun Collision proved no record of a permit, yet on the 20th of June Jessica Button states a permit exists but refuses to clarify when it was applied for or when it was issued. This information would not be considered a breach of confidentiality and in the end be required if the OMB calls for a public hearing.

Only questions without apparent answers hang in the air relating to how was it possible for Sam Demita to do as he pleases regardless of the laws put in place. Senior City officials had been fully aware of breaches of law here in addition to elected representatives of Council. Both the local 'newspapers' had their burly representatives present at the April 29th Council Meeting. The Standard reporter Jeff Bolichowski sat with his laptop open and even tweeted reports, yet none of the information regarding breaches of the Planning Act or Zoning By-Laws reached his article the following day. Niagara this Week had its reporter sit with his laptop open as well though this freely delivered newspaper avoided publishing any report regarding the Council meeting at all. The people of the City of St. Catharines have never been permitted to know the truth or facts relating to the situation at Sun Collision.

Canadians have been shaken with the events of Laval, Quebec yet the act of “making something sound, unsound” is not a rarity in human nature. It is time to unravel the facts behind these issues and not sweep them under a proverbial rug. There are answers demanded and consequences for actions taken. In the end our laws can only provide and safeguard equality if they are equally enforced to all. 

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