What Do Amherstburg And LaSalle Have In Common?

Commentary by Linda Saxon

In yesterday’s Windsor Star, Columnist Anne Jarvis promoted the benefits of regional government and proposed, “How about one regional police force, cutting administration costs and providing all special services, from tactical team to canine unit, within minutes.”

Jarvis didn’t mention any studies that show there were no benefits from amalgamation nor the Auditor General’s Report documenting the cost savings to OPP policed communities.

Jarvis critiqued “politicians like LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya, who snarled recently, “What do we have in common with the City of Windsor? We share a border. That’s about it.”

What Do Amherstburg And LaSalle Have In Common? Besides sharing a border, both Amherstburg and LaSalle Police Services Boards were sued by one of their own police officers.

Ian Russell was a defendant in Praskey v. Toronto Police Services Board, retired from Toronto Police in 1995, then resigned from the Ontario Parole Board to become Chief of LaSalle Police Service in April, 1997.

Russell was a defendant in Renaud vs. LaSalle Police Services Board; he retired in 2000 amid controversy.

In Saxon vs. Wilfred Fryer and Amherstburg Police Services Board, the local news reported that Fryer was named as chief and that the motion was rescinded.

Policing options are contentious in any community and debate is sometimes clouded by the perpetuation of myths, fear mongering and misinformation.

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Background To Questions About Leaked Information

Commentary by Linda Saxon

In September 2015, news media reported that in camera information had been leaked to the public during the fire department changeover.

Julie Kotsis, Windsor Star, reported, “Amherstburg CAO John Miceli is clamping down on an ongoing problem with confidential town council information being leaked or hacked.”

In a recent post, I wrote about the decision that Officially, it was hearsay, in response to my Freedom of Information Request for “reports and minutes of closed meetings pertaining to the fire department changeover that were released to members of the public.”

The following is a more detailed account of questions I raised concurrently through emails in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

In an October 1 email to John Miceli, CAO, I requested, pursuant to the freedom of information legislation, a copy of the town’s notification to the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario of the breach of confidential council information.

On October 8, Mr. Miceli’s response directed me to a forwarded email from Ms. Parker that stated the Privacy Breach Protocol was followed and it was determined that notification to the IPC was not warranted in this matter. Mr. Miceli further stated, “If you have any other questions please do not hesitate to contact me.”

On October 14, I emailed my further questions to Mr. Miceli regarding this or any other breach of information:

  • did council order an investigation?
  • was an independent investigation undertaken?
  • did you or admin conduct an investigation?
  • was a solicitor consulted for direction?
  • how many times was the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario notified of a privacy breach?

Almost six weeks later, in a November 23 email, I reminded Mr. Miceli I would like my questions to be answered and, as an aside, I advised the CAO that I could not locate the town’s by-law designating anyone as the town’s Freedom of Information Coordinator on the town’s website.

Members of council were copied and I requested this be placed on council’s agenda.

On November 24, Mr. Miceli emailed me the following:

“Further to your questions I can provide you with the following answers:

1)     Council did order an investigation
2)     AN independent investigation was not undertaken in this regard.
3)     Administration conducted a review an introduced measures to mitigate future leaks.
4)     NO solicitor was consulted
5)     Please see Ms. Parker’s previous response dated October 1, 2015.

Ms. Paula Parker is designated by the Town’s through By-law 2011-84. I have attached a copy for your records. By copy of this email I will ask the clerk to place your correspondence on the public attention.”

(note: the by-law was not posted to the town’s website; it was at the external archived county of essex site and none of the grammatical errors are mine)

Since Paula Parker’s information addressed my initial question about one particular incident, in a November 27 follow up email to Mr. Miceli, I reiterated my question “regarding this or any other breach of information” how many times was the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario notified of a privacy breach?

On November 27, Paula Parker emailed me the following:‪ ‬

“‪With respect to question #5.  The response provided on October 8 may speak to the individual circumstance in question at that time, however in all instances of alleged breach of information this answer still applies.  See below:‬

‪In accordance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), which governs municipal government organizations, the Privacy Breach Protocol was followed in determining whether these breaches of information would require Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) notification.  The following information was taken into consideration.‬

‪The definition of personal information, as per the Act, is:‬

‪“personal information” means recorded information about an identifiable individual, including,‬

‪(a) information relating to the race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation or marital or family status of the individual,‬

‪(b) information relating to the education or the medical, psychiatric, psychological, criminal or employment history of the individual or information relating to financial transactions in which the individual has been involved,‬

‪(c) any identifying number, symbol or other particular assigned to the individual,‬

‪(d) the address, telephone number, fingerprints or blood type of the individual,‬

‪(e) the personal opinions or views of the individual except if they relate to another individual,‬

‪(f) correspondence sent to an institution by the individual that is implicitly or explicitly of a private or confidential nature, and replies to that correspondence that would reveal the contents of the original correspondence,‬

‪(g) the views or opinions of another individual about the individual, and‬

‪(h) the individual’s name if it appears with other personal information relating to the individual or where the disclosure of the name would reveal other personal information about the individual;‬

‪Under this definition of personal information, it was determined that the above such information was not released in these breaches of information.  Therefore notification to the IPC was not warranted in these matters.‬”

No one ever did inform me of council’s action/inaction regarding my correspondence.

Officially, it was hearsay

Commentary by Linda Saxon

I previously posted about Another Freedom of Information Appeal Against The Town of Amherstburg Won following Amherstburg Deputy Clerk, Tammy Fowkes’ not processing my FOI request until I submitted the ‘appropriate documentation.’

In October 2015, I requested “reports and minutes of closed meetings pertaining to the fire department changeover that were released to members of the public.”

Paula Parker, Municipal Clerk, on December 17, 2015 advised, “I hereby confirm that there are no records that respond to this request. To my knowledge the alleged release of information was hearsay and not specific records.” (emphasis by P. Parker)

Another Freedom of Information Appeal Against The Town of Amherstburg Won

Commentary by Linda Saxon

In an October 31 post, Pettiness Prevails At Amherstburg Town Hall, I mentioned that Tammy Fowkes, Amherstburg Deputy Clerk, returned my FOI request, stating, “Unfortunately we cannot process your request until we have received the appropriate documentation. I have included the official form in your return package. I have also enclosed your $5.00 cheque to be returned with the official form.”

I also quoted sections from the MFIPPA (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56) that set out what a requester shall do when making a request.

The only stipulation is that a request be made in writing; nowhere does it specify that the town’s request form is the only ‘appropriate’ document.

Accordingly, I appealed the decision on the grounds of ‘deemed refusal’ and the town is now required to issue a decision in response to my request.

Is council aware of how FOI requests are handled? Is stifling requests for information a goal this council wanted to achieve? Are FOI requests even mandatory?

The town has posted an Info Sheet – Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) on its website which includes, “Does a requester always have to submit a written FOI request to obtain information? No. Municipalities decide on their procedures locally. In practice, in many cases, municipalities choose to provide information in the absence of a formal FOI request.”

Since the town’s website is difficult to navigate, as I’ve pointed out since 2002, I could not locate the by-law designating anyone as the town’s Freedom of Information Coordinator; CAO Miceli emailed it to me when he finally responded to questions I submitted six weeks ago.

Maybe this council needs to review the Town’s By-law 2011-84 wherein council delegates its powers and authorities to the Town Clerk to act as head of the municipality for the purposes of administering the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and for decisions made there under.

Pettiness Prevails At Amherstburg Town Hall

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Recalling last year’s campaign promises of increased accountability and transparency, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the town on October 14 for information pertaining to the most recent leaked information about Amherstburg’s fire chief.

On October 26, Tammy Fowkes, Amherstburg Deputy Clerk, returned my request stating, “Unfortunately we cannot process your request until we have received the appropriate documentation. I have included the official form in your return package. I have also enclosed your $5.00 cheque to be returned with the official form.”

According to the access procedure of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56, section 17 states:

A person seeking access to a record shall,

(a) make a request in writing to the institution that the person believes has custody or control of the record;

(b) provide sufficient detail to enable an experienced employee of the institution, upon a reasonable effort, to identify the record; and

(c) at the time of making the request, pay the fee prescribed by the regulations for that purpose.  1996, c. 1, Sched. K, s. 14.”

While a request can be made simply in a letter, I submitted an official request form available at the Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario website which the town has very slightly modified and deemed ‘appropriate.’

My past inquiries were met with resistance and insolence and, despite a regime change, it appears that pettiness prevails.

Accessibility Concerns Misunderstood

Commentary by Linda Saxon

In a letter to the editor, River Town Times, April 8, I expressed my concerns regarding town council’s pre-approval of grants to four community organizations: the Park House Museum, North American Black Historical Museum, Amherstburg Community Services and the House of Shalom Youth Centre.

It would appear, in a letter the RTT published this week from Kathy DiBartolomeo, Amherstburg Community Services, that my concerns were misunderstood.

To reiterate, council is using taxpayer dollars to grant these requests, despite a well-publicized 46 million dollar debt and promises of fiscal responsibility to control and/or reduce it.

Ms. DiBartolomeo believes that my “concern over the town’s website and accessibility to information and the importance of all of the agencies and organizations that receive community grants are two different issues.”

I disagree. Council has not found money over the past twelve years to ensure the town’s website and its documents are universally accessible, but community organizations have received approximately $360,000.00 in grant funding in that time frame.

Policy F10-Grants to Community Groups, enacted May 25, 2005 and amended September 22, 2008 is another outdated municipal policy that needs to be updated.

Council should include accessibility criteria as a requirement when evaluating grant requests from organizations. Additionally, council needs to enact a municipal policy that no public funds will ever be used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

Because of a lack of an accessibility requirement, shamefully, council has committed taxpayers’ dollars to four organizations that maintain websites with accessibility issues.

Town council approves $27,500 in community grants

Ron Giofu reported in the River Town Times that “Elected officials voted unanimously Monday night to pre-approve the grants as part of the 2015 budget, noting the value the agencies and organizations that requested the money give to the community.”

Councillor Jason Lavigne was quoted as saying, “I’m going to fund these groups no matter what.”

Firstly, it’s the taxpayers that are funding these groups, thanks to council’s decision, which I disagree with. I’d rather personally decide what, if any, organizations receive my donations. Accordingly, the organizations could extend their fundraising activities to seek more donations from those supporting individuals and/or corporations instead of requesting taxpayer funding.

Secondly, given Amherstburg’s much publicized debt crisis, council knew it would be faced with tough decisions during last fall’s municipal election campaign when we heard numerous promises of fiscal responsibility.

Councillor Leo Meloche was also in favour of keeping the groups funded, suggesting that town vehicles that need replacing be stretched out for another year.

Has accessibility also taken a back seat yet again? Council has not found money over the past twelve years to ensure the town’s website and its documents are universally accessible, nor has it demonstrated a strong commitment to a more inclusive community.

Council concluded these agencies and organizations are of value to the community, but council should include accessibility criteria in its evaluation of monetary requests.

Last fall I asked the candidates if they would commit to a municipal policy that no public funds will ever be used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. A range of opinions was expressed by those who chose to answer, but the most impressive response was candidate Joshua Rene’s, who said, “I am frankly surprised that this question still has to be asked.”

I still strongly believe a policy is needed so council can consider the impact of its decisions on everyone, including persons with disabilities.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

New Amherstburg Police Services Board Tight-Lipped About Legal Fees

In a previous post, I set out a chronology of my ignored request to the previous Amherstburg Police Services Board for the legal cost to the board/taxpayer for the Board’s defence of an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Application for age discrimination by Sgt. J. Saxon; he was denied life insurance, short and long term disability benefits when he reached 60, contrary to the Code and despite there being no cost.

The Amherstburg Police Services Board considered my request at its March 17, 2015 meeting and decided that “legal costs relative to specific matters are privileged information. The only information available to the public is overall legal costs.”

To quote the fictional Blackadder, “utter crap!”

The Amherstburg Police Services Board, as of the 2014 municipal election, consists of:

  • Pauline Gemmell, Chair, unsuccessful muncipal candidate
  • Frank Cleminson, unsuccessful muncipal candidate
  • Robert Rozankovic, unsuccessful muncipal candidate
  • Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, successful municipal candidate
  • Councillor Jason Lavigne, successful municipal candidate

What happened to accountability and transparency?

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Passionate About Policing

Commentary by Linda Saxon

The idea of regional policing, amalgamated services and/or OPP policing has surfaced many times, but official costings were not always obtained so that a true comparison of ‘apples to apples’ could have been made.

In the meantime, for decades, Amherstburg taxpayers have paid a hefty price for a top heavy ‘local police service’ while elected officials disregarded the opportunity to reduce debt, provide increased accessibility or amenities with an estimated annual savings of a million dollars with an OPP option.

Historically, there has been an emphasis on the ‘local‘ officers by politicians and Chief Tim Berthiaume, who boasted that over 50 per cent of the officers are native to Amherstburg, including himself – a fact that has very little, if anything, to do with qualifications or efficient and effective policing.

Are the less than 50 per cent not native to Amherstburg less valued?

The River Town Times reports that A petition is being circulated to keep the police force local: “Meloche said her encounters with local police officers have been “very friendly” and “whenever you call them, they are there.” She said she didn’t want to see a situation where out-of-town officers are rotated into Amherstburg and not have an understanding of the community.”

Out of towners would be expected to provide professional policing services; wouldn’t suggesting otherwise be just as illogical as touting local employees as the best and only option despite the high cost?

In another RTT article, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo mentioned that Chief Tim Berthiaume as well as the Amherstburg Police Association could be utilized to gather input and analysis of the bids. Would anyone be surprised if either the Chief or the Association found fault with any proposal but the local option?

I disagree with DiCarlo, who said the police budget is “cut and dry” and that the current force is a “lean” one. Compare any OPP detachment to the local department and the difference in cost is due to the hierarchical structure and costing method.

The community needs to decide if it’s worth paying the cost to keep it local for tradition sake or if it’s time to admit that tax savings are needed, not tax increases.

Some would argue the safest community in all of canada designation is due to the Amherstburg Police efforts. I disagree; firstly, the statement is not factual and secondly, the caveat is that the statistics are only as good as those that were submitted; for example, if crime/incidents were not investigated, and therefore not submitted, they would not be included in the statistics.

Regardless, community input is needed and an objective decision has to be made. I, for one, can not support a local option that, in my opinion, handcuffs ratepayers and influences any decision because of unrealistic severance packages.

I have been a vocal critic of the Amherstburg Police for a long time; some of the reasons can be found at bullying in policing.

See also Discriminatory Language in Amherstburg Police Service Contract.

Amherstburg Police Services Board Ignored Question About Legal Fees

The October 21, 2014 Amherstburg Police Services Board Minutes, attached to the December 15, 2014 Council Agenda, do not include my October 4 request to the Board to place my correspondence on its meeting agenda.

I followed up on Sutton’s September 17 letter and requested, “the date(s) of scheduled negotiation meetings and also to request if a decision has been made to hire a consultant and if so, if there was a competitive process and if there was, i’d like an electronic copy of the notice/advertisement for a consultant.

i would also like to know the legal cost to the board/taxpayer with regard to the human rights tribunal of ontario discrimination application by j. saxon.”

I emailed again on October 28, “as you will note from the email below of october 5, i requested my correspondence be placed on the board’s agenda for the next meeting.

i understand the board held a meeting on october 21 and therefore i’m writing to request what the board’s action was regarding my requests.”

No response was received; no surprise and no accountability?

Instead of ratepayers receiving correspondence from staff advising of outcomes, like in the good old days before we became an amalgamated metropolis, citizens are forced to search information via inaccessible web sites and lengthy 300+ page documents with no links to individual reports.

Enough already! Essex County can do it, why can’t Amherstburg?

Commentary by Linda Saxon

shopamherstburg.ca has accessibility issues

The shopamherstburg.ca site has accessibility issues that need to be addressed, which makes me wonder – was accessibility included in any RFP?

There is no accessibility statement on the site, nor does the company that designed the site have any accessibility related information on its site.

One can ‘search’ to find a business but unfortunately, there is also no information regarding accessibility of individual businesses, something people need to know – both residents and tourists.

For example, there are two dollar stores in town, but the Dollar Tree is the only one i visit because of its push button doors and wide uncluttered aisles.

I expect the building department to adhere to its ‘minimum requirements’ position, but I would remind everyone that the Ontario Human Rights Code supersedes all legislation in Ontario.

If businesses want to attract more customers, they need to be more accessible; otherwise, I shop out of town.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Equal Access Movement 20 Years Old

Two occasions cause me to reflect on my campaign to improve accessibility in my community.

Last week the AODA Alliance gathered at Queen’s Park to celebrate the November 29, 1994 birth of Ontario’s tireless grassroots movement for a fully accessible Ontario and December 3 is the International Day for People with Disabilities.

Prior to the ODA 2001, I endured a decade long battle with the Town of Amherstburg to obtain equal access to the town’s historic Carnegie library. Funding opportunities were lost because the town prioritized other amenities even when the grants specified accessibility came first.

Finally, as a result of my human rights settlement in 2004, an elevator was installed at the library. I was not invited, but the council of the day held a ribbon cutting ceremony and unveiled a plaque crediting council.

A second human rights complaint, merged with the library complaint, resulted in the creation of two accessible parking spaces in the rear parking lot of General Amherst High School.

I recently filed another complaint when I encountered difficulty entering a physiotherapy clinic in a building owned by a corporation. Following a September 2013 Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario Hearing, a February 20, 2014 decision was issued against two Respondents: the landord, 1762668 Ontario Inc., owned by Rene and Anne Rota, and the tenant Anna Maria Fiorito Physiotherapy.

The Tribunal ordered both respondents to pay monetary compensation and install an automatic door with a 4 inch diameter push button. Additionally, the landlord was ordered to retain a consultant with expertise in human rights, disability and access who will provide training to Mr. Rota, and any managers, on the landlord’s obligations under the Code with respect to accommodating disability, and the landlord must provide to the applicant by June 1, 2014, a copy of a letter from the consultant verifying that the training is completed.

The adjudicator noted, “It is obvious that the landlord does not appreciate its obligations under the Code with respect to making its facilities accessible to people with disabilities.”

Mr. Rota did not comply with the training requirement by June 1, nor did he respond to my July 21, 2014 letter reminding him of his obligation.

Any discussion regarding the removal of barriers should include the lack of redress for the non-compliance of an HRTO Order without imposing any additional bureaucracy and/or expense to the victim of discrimination.

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Procedural By-law Status Unknown

Commentary by Linda Saxon

This was written in response to Anthony Leardi’s comments in his RTT Guest Column November 5, 2014.

I do not believe the issue is the Mayor’s postponement of meetings since the council approved procedural by-law clause provides him with the authority to do so; that is not a loophole.

And yes, ‘everyone still gets a pay cheque’ because of his or her salaried positions, elected or otherwise, regardless of how many meetings were held or cancelled.

As for the lawyer being called, council was free to accept or reject his advice.

Since the clerk did not adhere to the mandatory clause to call a meeting according to both the Municipal Act and the procedural by-law, the issue is why council allowed the non-compliance and what, if any, action it took as a result.

A new procedural by-law was to have been approved back in August but due to a lengthy meeting, there was a motion to defer the report and by-law to September 8, although it was not included on that agenda.

There was no notice to the public regarding the draft Procedural By-law because apparently there is no requirement for notice.

Regardless, I submitted my comprehensive review to members of council on September 7.

On October 7, I requested the status on my procedural by-law submission that no one had responded to.

On October 20, I submitted my review to the clerk, who acknowledged that it would be added to the next scheduled meeting, which I assumed was November 3 as a result of the petition.

The 2008 Procedural By-law has not changed in six years, so why the current council would approve a new one defies logic.

Hopefully, the new council will examine job descriptions, areas of responsibility, codes of conduct and actually be transparent and accountable.

Amherstburg Police Patrol Zones Changed After Amalgamation

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Following amalgamation, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services’ decision regarding the ‘new’ policing proposal was, “From the standpoint of staffing, deployment and supervision, the proposal overall appears sound, and if the proposal is implemented as presented, it should allow for adequate and effective policing in the Town of Amherstburg.”

Three patrol zones were proposed with 24 hour a day policing and a maximum strength per 12 hour shift of six officers: 3 in Zone 1, 1 in each of Zones 2 and 3. Another officer would support all three zones as may be required.

The minimum strength per 12 hour shift was to be one officer per zone with a minimum strength of four officers until 4:00 a.m.

By 2010, as noted on page 8 of the Amherstburg Police Service Annual Report, “The Town is divided into 2 patrol zones ensuring that all areas receive an ongoing police presence.”

In a December 9, 2011 commentary, Amherstburg Police Chief Berthiaume Tight-lipped About Deployment, I asked, how will we know if we’re getting the service that was proposed if there is no accountability?

The question is just as relevant today; the only way to determine the best policing option for our community is to undertake a full comparison and obtain an OPP costing. Council’s decision should not be a subjective one based on speculation or fears, but an objective one based on facts and figures.

Five of the seven essex county municipalities are policed by the OPP as are 324 of the 444 Ontario municipalities; what have we got to lose?

No Commitment To Remove OPP Clause In Police Contract – Followup

Commentary by Linda Saxon

Current Amherstburg Police Services Board member and council candidate Pauline Gemmell’s responses to questions about the OPP clause in the police contract were set out in a previous post.

The Employment Standards Act does not apply to police officers.