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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