Conservation authority points finger at activist for judge’s costly ruling
The Standard 9 Jan 2018 - ALLAN BENNER
Although Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority continues to stand by its decision to sue a member of the public, the organization’s former chairman says he has learned his lesson.
And, adds St. Catharines regional Coun. Bruce Timms, representatives of the organization need thicker skin.
In his ruling on Friday, Justice James Ramsay — who dismissed NPCA’s defamation lawsuit against environmental activist Ed Smith in November — ordered NPCA and its former CAO and current Niagara Region CAO Carmen D’Angelo pay the retired Air Force major $131,076 in legal costs. Ramsay also pointed out in his ruling that the order was in part to act as a deterrent to prevent government from turning to the courts in the future to silence public debate.
Niagara-on-the-Lake-businessman William Montgomery was also ordered to pay Smith $48,172 in costs.
After numerous attempts to contact NPCA management and current board chair Sandy Annunziata regarding the judge’s decision to award court costs to Smith, the organization posted a notice on its website — npca.ca — late Monday afternoon saying it “stands by its decision to defend its employees and the organization itself.”
The statement says NPCA’s lawyers asked Smith three times to retract and correct the “most offensive” parts of a document he distributed about the organization in 2016, but Smith refused to do so.
“This was never about silencing an individual asking questions; it was about correcting defamatory statements made against an NPCA employee, and the organization as a whole,” the NPCA statement says.
The organization also says it is “grateful to the court for finally correcting the record by confirming that Mr. Smith’s claims were false.”
“The legislation for this type of lawsuit sets a very high presumption in favour of a cost order, which is why NPCA was ordered to pay Mr. Smith’s fees. Had Mr. Smith’s original document been corrected, there would have been no case, and therefore no associated costs.”
Timms says the intent of the lawsuit was to clarify inaccurate information included in Smith’s report, and “the judge did clarify a bunch for us.” Nevertheless, he says it’s “unfortunate that the facts couldn’t have been clarified in a better way.”
“Lesson learned, and as a politician I have to have thick skin and deal with inaccuracies in a political forum,” Timms says.
He says Ramsay in his ruling pointed out that “there are political ways to solve and clarify these issues and suing a citizen for defamation is not the way to do it.”
“Lesson learned, I get it.”
Timms says he will urge board members that any future complaints and inaccuracies be dealt with at public forums.
NPCA board member and Welland Mayor Frank Campion says he was opposed to the lawsuit against Smith from the start.
“The whole affair in my view was a disaster from conception to conclusion,” he says.
Campion says the statement posted on the organization’s website doesn’t reflect his opinion.
“It doesn’t bring me any comfort and I don’t think it brings any comfort to the taxpayer that they spent that money to sue.”
The $131,000 awarded to Smith doesn’t include NPCA’s own legal costs related to the lawsuit, which have yet to be publicly released.
Timms says the NPCA board will be meeting next week “and we have to deal with all of those issues.”
“It’s unfortunate, but we all learned something from it.”
After decades as a politician, Tim ms says he has pretty thick skin already. “But every once in a while it gets a little thin and that’s what happened here.”
Last Modified: January 28, 2018 11:56 AM