HEROD: NPCA’s absurd stance on secret legal costs

Keeping track of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority soap opera can be exhausting.

Mind you, there are episodes that elicit mirth in a smirking, roll-your-eyes kind of way.

Take, for instance, the manner in which NPCA has tried to turn a high-profile loss in court into a redemptive victory.

By the time it finished twisting the judgment into its favour, the authority had turned itself into the world’s largest pretzel.

But I’m not here to revisit the decision and the scolding remarks made by Judge James Ramsay in relation to the defamation case NPCA brought against local activist Ed Smith.

Feel free to check out the written ruling on The Standard’s website and come to your own conclusion about whether the powers-that-be at NPCA acted abysmally.

However, I do want to bring attention to one facet of the conservation authority’s response to the decision.

There was considerable public criticism levied against NPCA for suing Smith in the first place. It was overkill and a misuse of public funds, critics charged. Indeed, in his ruling, Ramsay also suggested the authority was taking a sledgehammer to a fly.

In light of all this, it seemed more than reasonable to ask the authority how much it spent on this failed legal battle.

When such an inquiry was made, NPCA spokesperson Krystie Caputo said the agency’s “court costs are protected by attorney-client privilege and Freedom of Information safeguards. I cannot be more specific than that as this is the framework of our justice system.”

I don’t know the inner workings of NPCA, but it’s probably safe to say Caputo didn’t come up with this view on her own. Rather, deep thinkers at the authority got together to strategize about how to handle the negative fallout from the decision and provided Caputo with that gem to deliver.

Solicitor-client privilege? Huh?

Seriously, what exactly is at risk here?

What full, free and frank communication between the two parties exchanged under the cloak of confidentiality — the point of the privilege — would be exposed by revealing the final legal bill?

Answer: none.

Presumably, the only thing at risk is NPCA’s self-declared reputation for spending dollars wisely.

Not surprisingly, doubt is being expressed about the authority’s stance on secrecy.

Coun. Joe Kushner asked at St. Catharines city council Monday night what his city’s position would be under similar circumstances.

City solicitor Heather Salter responded thusly:

“The case law and the IPC (information privacy commissioner) orders have indicated that the details of legal invoices, the accounts, the dates, the work that was done — that sort of thing — are entitled to be refused as being solicitor/client privileged.

“However, the total amount paid, without that sort of information attached to it, is not privileged. So, generally, it has been ordered to be released.”

A slightly more expansive explanation than the one given by the NPCA spokesperson, huh?

In charitable moments, I can fathom why the conservation authority feels besieged these days. Whatever good work it does on a day-to-day basis has been overshadowed the past few years by a steady stream of condemnations over its actions and policies. NPCA’s leaders and directors believe, rightly or wrongly, that a lot of the heat it’s taking is politically motivated.

But these leaders and directors are hardly innocents in the creation of the current toxic atmosphere. Some of its actions and staffing decisions have been controversial. And, if I may steal a phrase from puffed-up board member Tony Quirk, they have been Trump-like in their aggressive reaction to criticism and are themselves proud practitioners of the political black arts.

Still, any smidgen of grudgingly given sympathy for the authority’s plight quickly disappears and widespread scorn returns when, in tone-deaf fashion, it stonewalls attempts to find out how much it spent on a losing legal battle.

Since Ramsay’s ruling was released, NPCA has been weirdly defiant, almost cocky, in its continued assertions that it did the right thing in trying to legally extract $100,000 in damages from a local activist who, in its view, was too loose with some of his allegations.

I’m not sure the authority’s assertions have a lot of support. Certainly, the presiding judge thought otherwise.

But if the NPCA board really believes it was fighting the good fight, why the reluctance to reveal the cost of its legal battle? It would have been money well spent, right?

Answer: it knows it screwed up.


RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *