Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Oh Lord, the Old Goose and Gander Thing

In our democratic society we elect our leaders and all the various levels of government. As the general public we expect a certain amount of humility in theses individuals after all they ask to be chosen by us in service of the people. Maybe now is a good time to end the fantasy before it gets out of hand. True we do elect all the politicians on all levels of government but the humility thing, well it is simply a utopian version of politics.

Then if a utopian version of politics is out of the realm of possibilities, what then? Remember that in old England the sovereign bestowed the title of Lord Mayor to a city mayor. If that's not a fast jolt to an ego what is, especially as municipal politics is at the bottom step of the stairway to heaven.

So what if we jump over to the animal kingdom and to a proverb dating back to 1670, 'what is good for the goose is good for the gander'. It would not matter in what language this proverb is translated its meaning is never lost. Basically it is saying that what is good for one then it is good for, or equally good for another.

Sadly the breaks on reality need to screech to a halt here again. We started talking about politics and elected office so if the implication that an ancient proverb may apply then a reality check is definitely needed. If respect and honour of office do not seem to apply and the ideals of equality left to historical reference, or worse, proverbs, then what is left?

In order to provide at least the appearance of consequential responsibility for their actions our politicos had developed an array of varying Codes of Conduct. Each of these codes set out boundaries within which elected officials are expected to conduct their business of politics and ethical governance. Once one of these characters steps outside and breaks the strings that supposedly bind actions to ethics then a public enquiry is launched. The inquisitor in Ontario has the formidable title of Integrity Commissioner. Yes the title has a resonating sound of grandeur, though reality sadly can taint the whole performance.

Recent months had found the Niagara Region under the shroud of one of these inquisitors, his target predominately one regional councillor. Although John Mascarin, a lawyer from a Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis LLP, had come first to the City of St. Catharines as an Integrity Commissioner, he agreed to fill the same duties for Niagara Region till a permanent individual was chosen. Mascarin not only looked at three complaints filed against Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski, but also two other councillors. In addition to conducting these investigations his mandate included the revamping of the Code of Conduct for Members of Regional Council.

Councillor Petrowski is no virgin as far as investigations by an integrity commissioner is concerned, nor is he new to facing a political storm locally. He is loud and brash, often stands against the old boys club style of politics. At the same time his personal views are less palatable to many and he does not feel shy in expressing them which had found him in the sights of more than one integrity commissioner. Not only has he found himself facing a number of complaints regarding his conduct, the Councillor had become a target for the local newspaper The Standard, and particularly reporter Grant LaFleche.

Here comes the whole goose and the gander thing. Petrowski is a staunch supporter of US President Donald Trump and in a tweet he linked to a website run by a Brother Nathaniel. He did not check out this website and its contents or anything relating to this Brother Nathaniel, he simply saw a headline he liked and linked to it. Nathaniel Kapner, himself a Jew, operates a website titled, 'Real Jew News' and because of his personal views is labelled as anti-semitic.

Grant LaFleche who 'follows' Petrowski's twitter account took this to Harold Nash, President of B'nai Israel in St. Catharines. Nash knew nothing of this till Grant LaFleche brought it to his attention; once Nash became aware of the tweet his comments against the councillor were filled with accusations of anti-semitism demanding Petrowski be censured.

This was not enough for Grant LaFleche, after Harold Nash and B'nai Israel he sought out comment from St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik. Once again, as with Nash, Mayor Sendzik knew nothing of the tweet on Councillor Petrowski's twitter account till LaFleche raised it. Sendzik's attacks labelled the Councillor as anti-semitic and called for his resignation. To complete his trifecta LaFleche contacted Regional Chair Alan Caslin, who was also unaware of the tweet.

No matter how much Councillor Petrowski would apologise or explain that he had not been aware what was the content on the website he linked to, the label of anti-semitic was stitched on. Grant LaFleche and The Standard successfully created a story where none existed. Regional Council devoted a whole session of public condemnation of Petrowski. A gang of non-politicians from the public raised their voices to speak out against the Councillor and denounce his anti-semitism, such as Jeff Burch, Executive Director of Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. Jeff Burch, once a St. Catharines Councillor and failed candidate in an attempt to become mayor, was quoted as having extreme disappointment with Petrowski's behaviour including posting “what are clearly anti-semitic remarks on his social media account.” This was a quote Maryanne Firth of The Standard published on November 25th 2016, 'Caslin raps Petrowski over latest tweet'.

To label anything a lie immediately makes some individuals jump up and down bang the drum of honesty. So may we call this a misrepresentation of the truth? Petrowski in fact, which is witnessed by direct copy reprinted by The Standard, had only made 'remarks' to Donald Trump and Obama in his tweet. He had no remarks made towards or at the Jewish community as a whole or anyone individual Jewish person living or dead. Still it was The Standard and Maryanne Firth will say that she did not say that, but only quoted Jeff Burch.

The circus went on from November 24th 2016 with the news story created by Grant LaFleche through to December 15th 2016, with a total of six articles and editorials. In addition to this barrage, Niagara this Week joined in and culminated with an editorial in December which boggled the mind on how editorials can twist the truth. Even the Canadian Jewish News published an article on the subject December 5th 2016.

Welland Mayor Frank Campion at NPCA Board meeting
Now fast forward to June 2017 and a YouTube video on a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Board (NPCA) meeting, posted on Facebook by Niagara Falls Councillor Carolynn Ioannoni. In this video you can watch the Mayor of Niagara Falls and the Mayor of Welland, also both Regional Councillors, raise their hands in a Nazi salute. Both Mayor of Niagara Falls Jim Diodati and Welland Mayor Frank Campion raise their hands in what they claimed later was a joke.  The video is of a January 18th 2017 NPCA Board meeting and it is a record of the official business of the board, not a social gathering. This video came to public attention in June, both Mayors Jim Diodati and Frank Campion made public apologies with that claim, that they only did it as mocking fellow Councillor Douglas Joyner on how he raises his hand to get attention.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati at NPCA Board meeting
Grant LaFleche and The Standard jump forward on June 12th 2017 with an article titled 'Mayors' Nazi salute to be removed from NPCA video'. LaFleche writes, “If nothing else, Diodati said the incident shows how mindful elected officials must be about what they say or do. Even if they don't intend to say something hurtful, they sometimes can do so without realizing it at the moment.” LaFleche's article finishes with a joint statement made by Mayor Jim Diodati and Mayor Frank Campion.

Mayor of West Lincoln Douglas Joyner raising his hand first at NPCA Board meeting

Unfortunately, our actions were gestures meant in light and a silly imitation of another councillor's unique handraising style. They were not meant as anti-semitic. Our actions in no way represent our genuine views and values. We have both apologized to those who felt offended. We feel strongly that we would never want our actions to be taken out of context or misinterpreted. This weekend, we reached out to members of the Jewish community to share our sentiments as well. We both say that we certainly feel this to be a learning experience and appreciate the comments of the community, but want to be clear that we don't want the intentions of our action to be misconstrued.”

Mayors Jim Diodati and Frank Campion issued their statement of apology, LaFleche tags it at the end of his article with a few words of wisdom and humility from Diodati before the apology, and that's it. Three days later LaFleche writes another article, although the focus of that is separate to the anti-semitic Nazi salute.

So here it is the old goose and gander thing stripped bare wanting explanation. It's important to understand this old proverb is not some joke, it is the foundation of democracy. Nothing is more vital in a true democracy than equality. It should not matter what one's economic situation is, nor should gender, race or religion be a consideration when application of our laws or our governing procedures be applied. Then if Petrowski is the goose, what about the gander here?

This is where the proverb and all that we supposedly as Canadians value falls dramatically apart. Serious questions demand to be answered by Grant LaFleche and The Standard, after all the world of journalism claims to bring all the truth without bias. Still it's not the ethics of a journalist and his newspaper alone that should explain themselves.

A Nazi salute is quite possibly the most detested physical act in today's society. Throw a birdie finger today and even an 80 year old grandma will be likely to throw one right back at you, especially if you are on the road. Not with a Nazi salute, and to have two mayors, professional politicians paid with public money claim it was a joke, that it was done in jest during an official board meeting, is simply unacceptable. It is important to note that the video was of the January 18th 2017 meeting and was only made public June 12th; Diodati and Campion only apologised in June and only when publicly caught.

When Petrowski pressed the button on his infamous tweet, Clark Kent of The Standard's newsroom, LaFleche, grabbed his cape and plucked it out of the air. He held it tight and flew to Harold Nash, President of B'nai Israel of St. Catharines. Clark – sorry, Grant - then made a stop at the door of Walter Sendzik, Mayor of St. Catharines and even knocked on the door of the Regional Chair, Alan Caslin. Yet with the two gander, Diodati and Campion, the caped crusader of Niagara's journalism for some reason sought out no real comment other than from Perry Schlanger, a member of the public. Mr. Schlanger is a regular cast member in City Council's gallery of extras. During The Standard's frenzy on the Petrowski tweet it was reported that Perry Schlanger, along with Haley Bateman and Jeff Burch, made pleas as 'concerned citizens' for action to be taken against the Councillor. A Nazi hand salute brought this response form Schlanger as quoted by LaFleche: “I am willing to accept their mea culpa.” Maybe the question to Mr. Schlanger should be this, does he see a tweet with no reference to an individual Jew or the Jewish community worse than the hand salute during official business by two mayors, who only apologise five months later, when caught? This is the Austin Powers moment with the finger on chin and the “hmm.”

Harold Nash, President B'nai Israel St. Catharines, after being woken up by LaFleche went into attack mode demanding censure of the Councillor after his tweet. Harold made no comment in relation to the hand salute, so an email was sent to him providing an opportunity to stand against all forms of anti-semitism. Harold Nash has refused to respond, he has made no comment on the hand salute, not even an attempted eloquent “mea culpa.” Now with Nash's silence questions begin to buzz and they are not pleasant. 

It is not only Nash of B'nai Isreal who raises question through silence.  Judy Haiven wrote a long letter of opinion which The Standard published June 27th 2017. The letter by Judy Haiven, titled, 'Many Jews support BDS Movement' and was written on behalf of the steering committee of the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, (

Haiven's letter is in support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. The first paragraph provides a brief description of what Independent Jewish Voices Canada is about, then paragraph two slams into this, “We, too, condemn St. Catharines regional counc. Andy Petrowski clearly anti-semitic... tweets. We agree with Synagogue B'Nai Israel and the multicultural councils calls for regional council to censure him.”

Judy Haiven writing from Halifax apparently is fully knowledgeable of local Niagara politics. Paragraph three of Haiven's letter states, “At IJV Canada we know a great deal about anti-Semitism” and later, “IJV abhors anti-Semitism.” So since Haiven makes one think that she is aware of the situation in Niagara it is difficult to understand why she and the Independent Jewish Voices Canada remained silent about the Nazi hand salute. After all IJV knows so much about anti-semitism and abhors it so. An opportunity was provided for both Judy Haiven and the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada to comment. No response has come from either of the two emails sent.

Can it be fair to ask what prompted Judy Haiven to make the attack on Councillor Petrowski in a letter where 98% of its content was to support the BDS Movement? Why has the IJV Canada and Haiven stayed silent on the Nazi hand salute by Diodati and Campion? Why has Harold Nash and B'nai Israel St. Catharines stayed silent? Asking such questions of Jeff Burch and his Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre would be a waste of time.

Amongst all the silenced Jewish voices the plot thickens and questions scream out for answers. Is it possible that the abhorrence of anti-semitism has taken a back seat to politics? After all even the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) who wrote a whole expose on the innocuous tweet has stayed silent on a Nazi hand salute.

It has been said that the Nazi hand salute is most likely the most detestable physical action in modern society. There are no possible excuses which take away the connotation of anti-semitism and an absolute disrespect for millions of victims of the Holocaust. In February of 2011, a Canadian tourist standing outside the German parliament raised his hand in a Nazi salute whilst his girlfriend photographed him, was immediately arrested, memory card taken from the camera, and was lucky not to be jailed.

In May 2016 a Scottish man was arrested after posting a video on YouTube of his girlfriend's pet dog, a Pug, doing the Nazi salute with its paw. In March 2013 a Greek footballer was banned for life from playing for his national team – he even claimed he did not know or understand the meaning of the gesture. A British businessman found himself arrested at the Cologne airport for his raised hand in 2008.

B'nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs have remained silent on this incident with Diodati and Campion. Why? Seeking clarification, an email was sent to NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata. Sandy Annunziata did not respond but on his behalf Mayorgate received an email from Michael Reles, Communciations Specialist at the NPCA. Michael Reles said in his response, “The section of the video was removed at the request of our partners in the Jewish community.” Wait a moment, how can any individual or group have the power to force the editing or doctoring of any government records? The same Michael Reles refused to respond when asked who specifically were the “partners in the Jewish community.” Why the secrecy? What has Michael Reles or Sandy Annunziata got to hide?

Well then, which of the big three Jewish organisations is the 'silent' partner with the NPCA and Chair Sandy Annunziata, or is it all of the above? Regional Chair Alan Caslin said after the overwhelming vote by Regional Council to condemn the BDS Movement that it “was based on information provided by those organisations.” Alan Caslin was referring to B'nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs as “those organisations.” The Motion brought before Regional Council, which garnished both publicity and accusations against MPP Cindy Forster and the NDP, was by NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata. Can it be that the big three made a silent deal with NPCA Chair Sandy Annunziata so as to not drop nasty publicity on his board? Now watch for the anti-semitic label to be stitched onto Mayorgate.

On May 18th 2017, during the titillating presentation of his findings by Integrity Commissioner John Mascarin, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik wanted to know what had happened to a Motion from December 8th 2016. Minutes from the meeting reveal that a Motion was moved by Councillor Augustyn and seconded by Sendzik. This Motion requested council to deny Councillor Petrowski from serving on Committees, Subcommittees, Agency Boards and Commission meetings until he aplogises in writing at a Council meeting for his tweet that was found to be offensive by the community. Finally this Motion was referred to the Integrity Commissioner and yet in May of 2017, John Mascarin had said that he had not seen it. An email was sent to the Regional Clerk asking for some clarification on this issue. It took several days but a response came from the Deputy Regional Clerk, Natasha Devos, to her reply she attached a copy of a letter dated June 20th 2017 from former interim Integrity Commissioner John Mascarin. Mr. Mascarin states, “My view on the aforementioned minute item may now be moot given the decision made by Regional Council on June 8, 2017.”

Mayor Sendzik had made a great deal of noise about the tweet from the time that LaFleche contacted him. Seeking some understanding Mayor Sendzik was asked whether the Nazi salute was less serious an act compared to a tweet. Sendzik's first response opened with, “I will say there is a big difference between what Councillor Petrowski has repeatedly done to offend many people in our community and what occurred at a meeting of the NPCA.” He ignored the question asked and attacked the Councillor on past actions. Sendzik also defended the two mayors on the grounds that they were only mocking another fellow councillor and had done so many times. He said that both had apologised “for offenses that were mistaken as a Nazi salute.”

It is extremely hard to mistake a physical gesture with the arm stretched straight out from the body, the hand flat and pointing out as anything but a Nazi salute. Individuals do not do this kind of gesture to hail a cab, or waive to a friend or seek attention of any kind, at least not the kind they would want. A second email was sent to Mayor Sendzik and his response confirmed the need to examine another consequence of the actions by Diodati and Campion.

In his second response Mayor Sendzik said, “Its actions like these displayed at the board that lead to bullying and harassment if left unchecked in today's society.” Whether it's the Ministry of Labour, the Human Rights Code, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or any municipality, none permit or condone bullying or harassment. The law stamps down on a bully regardless if he is in cyberspace or on the ground. Mayor Sendzik confirmed in his first email that Mayor Diodati and Mayor Campion had been mocking a fellow Councillor, a co-worker, for a long time. Yet no one found reason to mention this. The Standard and Grant LaFleche said nothing, and since Mayor Walter Sendzik had known about this and clearly found it distasteful, why did he remain silent? It was only through an email exchange with Mayorgate that he made this clear. As far as Diodati and Campion are concerned they made no apologies on this issue even when caught.

So not only has the Nazi hand salute found itself waived on through with no consequence, evidence of workplace harassment has simply been ignored. To add further to this impressive list of transgressions is the openly admitted fact by NPCA Chair Annunziata that government records, in the form of the video had been edited. Michael Reles of the NPCA claims in his email that the video is not an official government record, that the only official record of the board meeting are the Minutes. Webster's describes official as, “by, from or with the proper authority, authorized or authoritative.” Examining the seventeen pages of the 58th Annual General Meeting Minutes there is no mention of any kind of hand raising. The video is made by the NPCA for the NPCA with their authority and only with their authority. Now 'silent' partners have been able to wield outside pressure to doctor that government record. How is this possible? A better question is what happens when there is an investigation or inquiry and the evidence had been intentionally altered and destroyed?

Grant LaFleche wrote a second article titled 'NPCA on slippery slope by editing video, says Brock prof', June 15th 2017. Brock University Political Science Professor David Siegel was also contacted by Mayorgate for comment on something other than a slippery slope. Professor David Siegel said that he was “...not a lawyer, so [he doesn't] have any expertise about the rules of evidence.  However, it seems logical that the best evidence would be a complete unedited recording of an event.  Any deviation from that would raise questions about what was edited out and why was it edited?”  

Chair Annunziata had erased the section of video which proved the Nazi salute, it was an official government record, so now what happens in an investigation or inquiry? Was this because he made a silent deal with the Jewish organisations or did Annunziata have his own reasons? Doctoring records is wrong no matter who you are, as former Premier McGuinty found out clearly. For the NPCA and its Chair Annunziata, the 'what if' is in fact a reality - an investigation request had been filed with the Region. John Mascarin, interim Integrity Commissioner, had responded to the investigation request stating that it was out of his jurisdiction because the NPCA is a separate corporate body with its own Code of Conduct. He had advised the investigation request be filed with the NPCA, which it will be, and it will be an interesting exercise considering Chair Annunziata's actions to date.

In the end the goose paid a very heavy price. Those regular cast members in the extras gallery of councils, the social warriors: Jeff Burch, Haley Bateman, Perry Schlanger, had faded behind the curtain of duplicity it appears. Grant LaFleche proved the case on the issue of faux news, and The Standard is after all the standard. Councillor Petrowski still faces jabs; on July 7th 2017, The Standard published the article 'Regional council can't agree on code of conduct' by Bill Sawchuk, who writes: “The social media activity of St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski over an anti-semitic video the councillor posted on Twitter in December, Petrowski – who removed the tweet in question – denied he intended any attack on the Jewish Community.”

Bill Sawchuk is the Standard's journalist who in May sat through the court hearing of a Motion by Petrowski and Fred Bracken totally ignorant of court procedures. Bill tweeted, took notes and reported the he said/she said version, and Bill missed a great deal. He missed the fact that the lawyer for the Region intentionally kept information from the judge. He missed the question of intentional and willful obstruction of justice. He also missed how a judge makes a ruling towards one party to an action but then ignores the other party's identical breach. Bill Sawchuk also has not made a sound on the Nazi hand salute and that is a curiosity. Even an old proverb seems to have faltered in Niagara.