Saturday, August 24, 2013

Society's Checks & Balances, are they real?

This is not an easy question to answer. Freedom without any boundaries would only result in anarchy. Laws, legislation and rules are needed to guide society on a path which will sustain equality for all. Yet administering the varying rules is not an easy task and impartial adjudication an absolute necessity. Still for some reason society decides that watchdog bodies are most often comprised of those the watchdog is needed over.

Professional watchdogs administer an array of rules of conduct or codes within their own profession. Doctors diagnose issues over doctors, lawyers cross examine lawyers, police investigate police, and so on. Are these groups really impartial? In whose best interest do they really serve? After all the Criminal Code is not placed in the hands of those who break the law, to equally and fairly determine what consequences should be applied or when.

So although a cynic may find little faith in the reality of these professional watchdogs and their claims of adhering to a code, one group seems to be beyond reach of even the pseudo watchdog. Our elected members of government appear to often skirt away ethics and integrity with little to no consequence for their actions.

Our Ontario Ombudsman has no authority over Provincial Members of Parliament nor does he have any over municipal government. In fact as an example of a truly impartial body, he has no greater authority other than to release moral recommendations, regardless of the professional body he investigates. The Parliamentary Legislative Integrity Commissioner will not entertain complaints from the public, and the Auditor General equally impotent. In the end what are we really left with?

In St. Catharines, Ontario an elected City Councillor has intentionally misled fellow council members and the public. The City of St. Catharines has a published Code of Conduct for Elected Officials available on the web. This 'code' makes it clear that a written complaint outlining the alleged breach, if considered by the City to be a breach, will be passed on to an Integrity Commissioner or the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman for investigation. Mind you it is the City, no one specifically is named, who decides if the complaint really is worth investigating.

The ludicrous insanity does not stop at the front door. If the complaint indeed passes such impartial decision making it then is brought to Council who decide whether an Integrity Commissioner is selected or the Ombudsman to do the investigation. As this is government the time lapse period between the day when the written complaint is provided to the City Clerk to this mid-point is anyone's guess. Sadly it is not like a pizza delivery, 30 minutes or it's free.

Once it is in the hands of the investigator a blanket of total secrecy is dropped over the whole process. Upon completion of the investigation any recommendations and decisions are provided to Council. Now it is the City Council that decides whether or not the recommendations are actually to be applied. Council has 90 days to make this decision. There is nothing in the 15 page document made publicly available by the City of St. Catharines that outlines possible penalties, if any, if the investigation indeed proves the allegations to be real.

A test case had been prepared and delivered to the City Clerk for the City of St. Catharines. The written complaint details the breaches of 'the code' by Councillor Jeff Burch. In this case Councillor Burch had willfully and intentionally mislead fellow members of council and the public. The notion of public interest was discarded by Councillor Jeff Burch, laws and policies stained beyond recognition by dishonesty. City of St. Catharines established its Code of Conduct for the claimed purpose that it “enhances public trust.” Now it is the opportunity for the City to prove their claim.

This 'code' by the City of St. Catharines appears to be set up in a fashion where it basically guarantees that nothing will eventuate even if an investigation is carried out and the alleged offences proven. Its formula designed in such a manner that it is up to City Council to decide if any recommendations by an Integrity Commissioner or Ombudsman are even accepted or acted on. Councillor Jeff Burch's own fellow councillors would decide if any action will be taken against him!

In this specific case, each of the City of St. Catharines Councillors were fully aware of the facts and that lawyer John Willey, on behalf of his client Sam Demita, owner and operator of Sun Collision, had lied to them. Each of the members of council were aware of the official government documentation made available to them prior to the public meeting. When Councillor Jeff Burch stood upon to publicly present his deception, each of his fellow councillors knew that Burch was being dishonest before them. Can this be Councillor Jeff Burch's defense then? After all if his fellow councillors knew that he was being publicly dishonest and misleading, then he could not be misleading them. Was he, Jeff Burch, only intending to mislead the public then and not council?

Can this be a cynic's observation or simply a frightening truth? There are a number of these official bodies that administer a flood of various 'codes'. The Law Society of Upper Canada adheres to the mantra 'in the best interest of his or her client,' which is not always in the best interest of the law. Ontario's Press Council will tell one that a newspaper has the right to choose what to print, yet censorship is exactly that. Try and climb that wall of semantics. Doctors are governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, only as in the case of Dr. Valerie Jaeger of Niagara, the College stated that she was a public official and the rules governing her as a doctor didn't apply, even though she was a practising family physician at the same time.

So where will this request for an investigation of Councillor Jeff Burch go? The evidence proving that Councillor Burch had been dishonest and intentionally misleading of fellow councillors and the public is clear. Jeff Burch cannot claim that he was serving “the public interest by upholding both the letter and the spirit of the laws and policies established by the Ontario Legislature, and St. Catharines City Council.”

Here is an opportunity for a government in Canada to prove that a 'code' was meant for something more than breaking. Yet in the end it is up to Councillor Jeff Burch's fellow council members to decide if anything is done, even if an investigation is carried out. Can such a situation provide public confidence or enhance public trust in our elected officials?

Democracy is served well when the people are provided the information and facts openly. When the right to question any situation is made available, then equality thrives. Corruption in Laval, Quebec or of the Senate by Senators was made public by the media to ensure that further corrupt acts were not possible, and the truth was open. In St. Catharines both The Standard and Niagara this Week have proven that censorship of fact is their chosen road. In the end censorship and deceit become the breeding grounds for corruption.

In the final analysis little is expected as a result of this filed request for investigation of Councillor Jeff Burch under the Code of Conduct. As head of council Mayor Brian McMullan was present on April 29th, 2013, and was fully aware of Councillor Burch's intentional deceit. Now it will be up to council to decide how far this will be taken.

Is democracy's only measuring stick the right to choose where we put our mark on a ballot paper? Can we as the people who had chosen our representatives in government be satisfied or silent as they breach ethics, dignity and honesty, and then decide themselves if they face any consequences? Only public outcry can bring forth a weapon strong enough to ensure the protection of equality in our society. The elected fear only the glare of publicity as a mythical vampire fears the sun's light.

The test case is now in play, and as patients waiting in a hospital emergency room we will have to wait for the results.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cone of Silence Receives a Crack

Censorship in a democracy is generally considered as unthinkable. When governments are caught lying and hiding facts from the public, we hear demands for investigation and consequence. In Ontario the sitting Liberal government shakes at the mere mention of emails and their disappearing act. But what do we do as people when it is the mainstream media that is proven to intentionally censor the facts? Can we ideally sit by and allow this to happen without voicing our disgust? Are we to permit a publisher of a newspaper or its reporter and editor to decide what we have a right to know?

This has happened in St. Catharines, Ontario, not in China or some dictatorship in South America. Publishers, editors and reporters of the main newspaper The Standard and the community newspaper Niagara this Week took it upon themselves to decide what the people of St. Catharines will be permitted to know. A cone of silence, (excuse me Maxwell Smart for borrowing your term) has been placed over one individual in the community who is willing to fight for his community. It has been their decision to exclude the people of St. Catharines from knowing information and fact in order to protect members of local government, and others. Serious questions of abuse of power and possible corruption hang in the air, and local media has become the saving umbrella for trusted public officials, sheltering them from consequence.

On August 18th 2013, at high noon the first crack in the cone of silence was permitted. It was radio host of 'The Region' Andy Petrowski on CKTB Newstalk Radio who interviewed Alexander Davidoff. Listen to the questions posed and the information provided through the interview and ask yourself is censorship to be permitted in a democracy. Thank you to the management, producers and to Andy Petrowski for their courage.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Deceit & Censorship Breed Corruption

Our democratic society is built on a foundation of equality and freedom protected by the laws of the land. As members of a democratic society we have the right to expect equality of justice, freedom of speech and the protection of our basic human rights. Laws and legislation are drawn to guide society to ensure and protect those rights and freedoms. History has shown how devastating life is when those rights and freedoms are removed. Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia and Mao Tse Tung's China are but a few examples of a human landscape where freedom was replaced by fear. Although freedom is the cornerstone of democracy rules are required as a framework for society, otherwise anarchy would bring about destruction.

In St. Catharines, Ontario the most basic expectations of democracy have come face to face with corruption. Canada has been a shining light that has drawn many people to escape tyranny for a better life. They left behind the fist of fear that silences the freedom of speech and censors all media, where law and its practitioners are simply puppets of corruption. Now our most basic ideals of democracy are being tested.

Rules of Professional Conduct as published by The Law Society of Upper Canada under section 1.03 Standards of the Legal Profession, sub-section (a) states; “a lawyer has a duty to carry on the practice of law and discharge all responsibilities to clients, tribunals, the public, and other legal practitioners honourably and with integrity.” Tribunals are described as meaning, “courts, boards, arbitrators, mediators, administrative agencies, and bodies that resolve disputes, regardless of their function or the informality of their procedures.” These rules also clarify what professional misconduct constitutes, “it means conduct in a lawyer's professional capacity that tends to bring discredit upon the legal profession including (f) stating or implying an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official.”

Here a lawyer, with full intent and purpose lied in his presentation to a municipal city Council. The mayor and two city councillors, with full personal knowledge of the facts, permitted the lie and became part of the lie. Highly paid public servants employed by the city government avoided to divulge the facts for council members and with full intent and purpose omitted information. Finally, the local press refused to report the information made public at the council meeting, intentionally censoring information from the people of St. Catharines. All of this happened in Canada, not in a land ruled by terror or tyranny.

Lawyer John Willey alleged publicly that information of investigations had been made public but not the results. John Willey then, in his official capacity as council for his client Sam Demita, lied about the results. He in fact through his allegations accused another individual of lying by omission. John Willey slandered another individual in an attempt to promote his client.

The Law Society of Upper Canada in its Rules of Professional Conduct states under Dishonesty, Fraud etc. Point (5) “A lawyer shall not (a) knowingly assist in or encourage any dishonesty, fraud, crime, or illegal conduct.” To further clarify this point it states in (5.0.1) “A lawyer shall not act or do anything omit to do anything in circumstances where he or she ought to know that, by acting, doing the thing or omitting to do the thing, he or she is being used by a client, by a person associated with a client or by any other person to facilitate dishonesty, fraud, crime or illegal conduct.”

All the information relating to the lawyer John Willey and his public lies had been forwarded to The Law Society of Upper Canada. The Society has responded with a standard letter advising and confirming receipt of information. But it was not only lawyer John Willey who decided to destroy the most basic ideals of our democracy. Mayor Brian McMullan and two city councillors Jennie Stevens and Jeff Burch were not only fully aware of the situation since 2008 and onward but had direct personal involvement. Councillor Jeff Burch in what appeared a staged questioning of lawyer John Willey at the April 29th Council meeting said, “Councillor Stevens and I have been out many, many times including the mayor, sat in people's kitchens and walked through the neighbourhood, so everyone should first recognise that as you mentioned, ah, city staff, councillors, and the mayor put a lot of time into looking into the complaints...”

Councillor Jeff Burch had been correct in a fashion. Fellow Merritton Ward Councillor Jennie Stevens left the now infamous telephone answering machine message confirming to one of the victims of the flooding that Mayor McMullan had fixed a lawful by-law fine so he would not have to pay for it. Councillor Jeff Burch had given an ominous warning to a victim of the flooding when he told the individual, “...that they know people in high places with the City of St. Catharines and this could be difficult.” (Directly from a handwritten statement of one of the victims.) Mayor Brian McMullan had called this individual exploding in anger as to why he gave a copy of the answering message to anyone.

Personal and direct involvement of the mayor and two councillors had been documented and made public, still the 'sound being made unsound' went deeper at this level of government. Another City Councillor, Dawn Dodge commented on allegations and not the findings being made public. Councillor Dodge would have to of known of the Ministry of the Environment investigation where lawyer John Willey's client Sam Demita was found in breach of the EPA regulation which prohibits the burial of hazardous waste material. Councillor Dodge somehow preferred to ignore this fact.

It was not only the two Merritton Ward Councillors and the Mayor who had knowledge of the facts, each and every councillor was sent an email advising them of the facts surrounding this property and owner. This email was sent prior to the April 29th Council meeting. Councillor Matt Harris had copies of documents provided directly to him prior to the public meeting. Each and every councillor was aware of the intentional breaches of law by Sam Demita for over four years. Each and every councillor knew that lawyer John Willey had stood before them and lied to gain their vote. Each of the listed councillors swears an oath of office and is elected to represent the people of their city and not special interest. Not one of the listed councillors (Jeff Burch, Jennie Stevens, Matthew Harris, Joseph Kushner, Peter Secord, Greg Washuta, Mathew Siscoe, Mark Elliot, Dawn Dodge, Bill Phillips, Len Stack, and Bruce Williamson), has a right to claim that they acted in the best interest of the people who elected them by ignoring the very laws each and everyone has to abide by.

Councillor Jeff Burch went on in his questioning of lawyer John Willey, he said “, there was one accusation I believe only one that you didn't answer. I believe at the time this ravine was filled in there wasn't proper paperwork done and it wasn't done properly, could you explain that.” Lawyer John Willey responded correctly that the City of St. Catharines does not have a grading permit requirement. Councillor Burch continued, “So in your own view or in the view of your client there was no asking for forgiveness rather than permission, all of the required proper paperwork, all of the permissions, all of the stuff properly gone through.”

With this Councillor Jeff Burch quite intentionally opened another opportunity for lawyer John Willey to lie to his fellow councillors. John Willey responded, “That's our position, we'll certainly acknowledge that moving forward for this storage it is necessary to apply to make this application so that is the one item that does require the very request we are making.”

Both Councillor Jeff Burch and lawyer John Willey knew this was a lie made publicly to mislead all who listened. Councillor Jeff Burch facilitated that lie with full intent and purpose as he knew the truth. All of the listed councillors knew that this was a lie. As councillors each knew that Sam Demita was in breach of the by-laws for several years intentionally. Grading permits are not required in the City of St. Catharines that is true and correct. Yet all of this land is designated Environmental Protection Area under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Authority Act administered through the Niagara Conservation Authority at the Regional Municipality of Niagara. Under the EPA no development is permitted, under EPA no outdoor storage is permitted, and under the EPA any fill to be dumped or deposited would require permits and full documentation of every load. No automotive related business is permitted on this land, city zoning by-laws breached, the Planning Act breached, and EPA laws breached; all since late 2007. Councillor Jeff Burch became a partner in the lies by lawyer John Willey.

Most official bodies are subject to some form of accountability for their conduct. Lawyers are subject to the Rules and Professional Conduct as already examined. Doctors adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, police have rules and standards, which when breached consequences may be severe. Even large corporations such as Bell are scrutinised by a 'watchdog' organisation in the form of the CCTS. City of St. Catharines has a written Code of Conduct for Elected Officials, Local Boards and Advisory Committees.

This written Code of Conduct claims to reinforce “the City of St. Catharines Accountability and Transparency Policy and other relevant legislation within which all members of Council, local boards and advisory committees must operate.” Supposedly this written Code of Conduct ensures “that those members share a common integrity base and through adherence to its principles, the Code of Conduct serves to enhance public trust.”

There are five key principles listed that exemplify the essence of the Code of Conduct. Number four (4) states, “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 other members or the public.”

As a member of St. Catharines City Council, Councillor Jeff Burch found little use for integrity and principle on April 29th 2013. He himself proved with his own words the direct personal involvement of both councillors, and the mayor in the situation surrounding lawyer John Willey's client Sam Demita, owner/operator of Sun Collision.

Councillor Jeff Burch prior to standing and asking his questions of lawyer John Willey listened to Willey's lie. Jeff Burch knew without hesitation that the statements uttered by lawyer John Willey were meant to deceive and mislead. Those lies centred around official provincial documents and legislation, and Councillor Burch had full access to all the material. He knew of the MOE investigation and the fact that Sam Demita was found in breach of Ontario Regulation #347, he knew of the MOE request to have the damaged vehicles moved from the fence line. As a councillor in his second term Jeff Burch is fully aware of zoning by-laws and of planning regulations.

As all the members of council received an email prior to the council meeting of April 29th providing access to official documentation proving intentional breaches, Councillor Jeff Burch was fully aware of the facts. Jeff Burch was also fully aware that these lands are under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Authority Act as Environmentally Protected Area, and therefore under provincial legislation. The EPA lands require specific permits even if local municipal zoning does not. A senior officer from the Niagara Escarpment Commission confirmed in writing in April of 2009 that no permits were filed for the dumping or filling of the ravine by John Willey's client. Councillor Jeff Burch had access to a copy of this NEC letter.

Click here for the full Conservation Ontario Development, Interference & Alteration Regulations PDF.

Still with all the knowledge of the facts, with access to official documents, and with direct personal involvement, Councillor Jeff Burch became a tool of deception. Point five (5) of the key principles of the Code of Conduct for Elected Officials states, “members are expected to serve the public interest by upholding both the letter and the spirit of the laws and policies established by the Federal Parliament, Ontario's Legislature, and St. Catharines City Council.”

Councillor Jeff Burch stood before his fellow council members with the intent to deceive and mislead. He obliterated the basic principles of the 'Code of Conduct' and his actions cannot be permitted to pass without action and a demand for serious consequences.

As people elect councillors to represent them at municipal government there is still a demand for some level of dignity and honesty. Councillor Jeff Burch proved that the truth was irrelevant to him and became a partner in the deceit by lawyer John Willey. Each and every councillor was made aware of the facts, and each one sitting as municipal government representatives would be aware of the laws, and each became part of the lie. Mayor Brian McMullan as head of council, was not only personally involved, as head of council facilitated the climate for the public lie to continue.

In Laval, Quebec ordinary people had had enough and had demanded a 'clean-up'. It is easy in today's society to be jaded and believe that such actions are carried on regularly, and they may be. Yet when uncovered there has to be a demand for consequences. Stability of democracy itself demands it. In St. Catharines, Ontario the people of the city had been intentionally censored from knowing the truth by the very press that they should be able to trust.

Two representatives, one each from The Standard, the main local newspaper published under the Sun Media banner, and one from Niagara this Week, a Metroland community newspaper were attending the council meeting. Jeff Bolichowski from The Standard had even made comments on his Twitter account regarding the issues raised. Another reporter from The Standard, Don Fraser 'favourited' it. Yet Bolichowski omitted all the information from his article in the newspaper. He had information and copies of documents sent to him to confirm details, still Bolichowski decided to censor the facts from the people of St. Catharines.

The Standard has certainly shown bias in its 'reporting' of issues that relate to the City of St. Catharines. Reporter Marlene Bergsma had in fact lied in an article published in relation to the mayor, in effect protecting the mayor. Jeff Bolichowski did not lie about the April 29th Council meeting he simply decided what the people of the city should be permitted to know. Jeff Bolichowski made himself the self-proclaimed censorship board of news and facts. Can intended omission of facts be taken as a lie? In official or legal proceeding it is certainly the case.

Niagara this Week had Scott Rosts present at the council meeting. Scott Rosts is the city reporter & city editor, and in this case no article appeared in Niagara this Week at all. Through May to July of 2012 there was a situation where a resident had filed an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board in relation to a development in Port Dalhousie. The Standard had Marlene Bergsma write an article dated May 1st 2012, and Niagara this Week had Mike Zettel do an article dated July 26th 2012. At the time the resident filing the appeal cited issues regarding how the development would affect a public park.

On April 29th 2013 intentional breaches of law and implication of city involvement had been raised, and a statement that an appeal to the OMB was being made. Jeff Bolichowski saw nothing worth reporting on, nor did Scott Rosts. Even after alarming documents were sent to both newspapers raising even greater questions regarding this situation, both newspapers ignored them.

Censorship exists in countries such as China, Cuba, Russia and others where the people are not permitted to have the truth or facts by governments who thrive on total control of power. It is difficult to accept that such censorship would or could exist in a democratic society.

Since the April 29th public council meeting an appeal was filed with the OMB, and a response was received from the OMB dated July 23rd. A copy of the official OMB response was sent to Jeff Bolichowski of The Standard, and a copy was sent to Niagara this Week. No response and no comment has come from either 'newspaper' or reporter Jeff Bolichowski.

It is a fallacy to believe that rights and freedoms are a guarantee in a democratic society. When media decides to impose voluntary and clear censorship of news and facts from the people who are affected by a situation, then democracy faces its biggest threat. Reporters have risked their lives around the world to bring news to the people. In this case Jeff Bolichowski and the publishers of The Standard and Niagara this Week decided what the people of the City of St. Catharines are permitted to know. Residents in the Merritton area of St. Catharines had their lives turned upside down by this development yet the local press had determined they should not know any of the unfolding facts.

Can such a situation be allowed to continue? Every attempt is being made to bring public attention to this deplorable state of affairs. Certainly the Ontario Municipal Board cannot be ignored regardless of the depth of censorship imposed. In addition the Law Society is examining facts brought to their attention, and although many of the so called 'watchdog' organisations appear to be toothless, it will be interesting to see the outcome of this specific complaint.

Laval, Quebec had no choice in the end but to expose the corruption and bring those who sought the public's trust to face the consequences of their actions. Is St. Catharines, Ontario not a dot in the landscape of Canada? A nation where laws and legislation guide society to equality for all. Or is St. Catharines a city where the ideals that sustain a nation are simply bought and sold? There is a great deal more to this story before it reaches the end.

On August 7th City Councillor Mat Siscoe was quoted in an article by Scott Rosts in Niagara this Week commenting on municipal government. Rosts wrote, “He said this is the level of government that relates most to citizens on some of the issues in their community.” Councillor Siscoe further added, “These are the people you call when you have issues in your neighbourhood that you need addressed.” (City Councillor encourages public input on governance, NTW Aug.7.13.)

Councillor Mat Siscoe prefers to ignore the hypocrisy, the corruption of law and ethics by Council of the City of St. Catharines of which he is a member. Municipal government is the one level of government that people both relate most to and on where their input can be heard. When corruption rots the foundation then the very basis of our democracy is at peril.

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