Last week, the Times reported that local M.P.P., and provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, had referred a complaint to Elections Ontario (inaccurately reported as Elections Canada), accusing the two groups opposed to the proposed prison in Kemptville of breaking the rather ironically titled Protecting Elections and Defending Democracy Act. He accused CAPP and JOG of contravening the legislation which forbids all political or issue-based advertising for 12 months before an election. The Act, which the Ford government passed in June, after a previous attempt at a similar act was declared unconstitutional by the Ontario Superior Court, which found the act violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court found that the act violated the right to free expression and was not justified.
The Ford government, with Steve Clark in the Cabinet, simply reintroduced basically the same Bill using the Notwithstanding Clause, which allows them to override the provisions of the Charter. Minister Clark then used the new legislation to accuse CAPP and JOG of breaking the new law. Elections Ontario threw out his complaint, fortunately, as it might have set a precedent for using the same legislation against any “issue-based” group which criticised government policies or actions.
The two local groups opposing the prison plan were not the only groups to be brought under the strictures of the Act. The Peaceful Parks Coalition was also targetted when they loudly condemned the government’s introduction of another piece of legislation which, the group claimed, “is an insidious attack on the environmental assessment act, strips powers away from citizens and municipalities, weakens protection regulations for clean water and introduces a new unethical wildlife policy that has no scientific merit and not supported by wildlife experts”.
This use of legislation to silence community and civic-minded citizens by using threats of legal action has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, a virtual press conference was called by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which was attended by representatives from the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison and the Peaceful Parks Coalition. Speaking on behalf of CAPP, Colleen Lynas gave a brief background to the campaign to oppose the prison which has been imposed on North Grenville. She then detailed the attempted intimidation by Steve Clark:
“On October 6, 2021, CAPP and JOG received an email from Elections Ontario advising us that Minister Clark had filed a complaint with them alleging that our activities constituted unregistered third-party political advertising. In that email, we were further advised that, after investigation, it was determined our activities did not meet the definition of political advertising and that the complaint had been closed. In follow-up, we requested a copy of Minister Clark’s complaint.
From that document, we learned that Minister Clark had filed the complaint on September 15, 2021. His complaint identified the following activities:
- An outdoor rally for local residents organized by CAPP and JOG that was held on September 14, 2021, on the eve of his complaint. He highlighted our invitation for people to bring their own signs and that “No Prison” lawn signs would also be available.
- The distribution of a flyer through a Canada Post mail-out to residents and businesses in Kemptville and the surrounding area to inform people about what we considered to be the key issues concerning the proposed prison. The flyers were delivered in early June 2021.
- A GoFundMe campaign launched by CAPP in March 2021, which we used to cover the cost of the flyers.
- The presence of “No Prison” lawn signs throughout the community.”
In a joint statement on behalf of CAPP following the rejection of Clark’s complaint by Elections Ontario, Colleen Lynas and Victor Lachance of CAPP, said: “We are pleased by the outcome of the Elections Ontario investigation, but are concerned that a member of the provincial legislature and a minister of the Crown, would use his position of power to take such a heavy-handed approach against his own constituents. From our perspective, it feels as if Minister Clark was trying to silence us”.
The Times has made a number of attempts at contacting Steve Clark to get his side of this unpleasant story – so far, without success.