Supreme Court releases Lordon Report; town lawyer says it’s not confidential

Supreme Court of Canada, photo from Wikipedia

The Supreme Court of Canada has released a copy of the Lordon Report to The New Wark Times and Sackville’s lawyer has abandoned claims that the report is confidential and cannot be published.

The 55-page report is in Supreme Court files as part of a case in which Louis Béliveau sought to appeal his dismissal from the Sackville Heritage Board. The case has now been withdrawn after Béliveau and the town reached a settlement earlier this month.

The Supreme Court also sent a requested document in which town lawyer George Cooper certifies there’s nothing in the files that is confidential and there are no limitations on public access:

…there is no sealing order or confidentiality order in effect in the file from a lower court or the Court and no document filed includes information that is subject to a sealing or confidentiality order or that is classified as confidential by legislation; there is no ban, under an order or legislation, on the publication of evidence or the names or identity of a party or witness; and there is no information under legislation, that is subject to limitations on public access.” (To read Cooper’s certificate click here.)

After obtaining advice from a lawyer who specializes in media law, I’ve decided to publish the Lordon Report as released by the Supreme Court. The $47,000 report describes what went on behind closed doors as the Heritage Board, the mayor, town councillors and municipal staff dealt with issues arising from the many controversies around demolition of the Sackville United Church in September 2015.

The town hired Moncton lawyer Kathleen Lordon in July 2015 to conduct an investigation after members of the Heritage Board sent a letter to Town Council complaining about “blatant interference” in Board decisions. The members noted that two previous letters to the mayor and council had gone unanswered. (To read the June 14, 2015 letter obtained from court files, click here.)

Highlights from Lordon Report

(Note: page numbers are those at top right-hand corner of each page)

1. The application from J.N. Lafford Realty Inc. to demolish the Sackville United Church was received by the Heritage Board in mid-August 2014. It was clearly a sensitive and controversial topic from the beginning. On September 9, 2014, the mayor, councillors and members of the Heritage Board met behind closed doors with the town’s lawyer to hear advice on legal matters, including interpreting the town’s heritage bylaw. Heritage Board members were offended by comments made by Mayor Bob Berry near the end of the meeting about getting on with the job of dealing with the Lafford application without undue delay. At page 143, Lordon analyzes the mayor’s comments, suggesting they got things off to a rocky start between the Heritage Board and Town Council. She writes that the incident “points to the heightened sensitivity and pressure Board members felt in dealing with the Lafford application.” A private e-mail from board member Jerry Hicks, found in court documents, comments much more strongly on the mayor’s remarks. (To read that e-mail, click here.)

2. At page 155, Lordon mentions an allegation from the Laffords’ lawyer, Timothy MacDonald, that board members were also members of SPLASH, the Sackville citizens’ group trying to save the church. (That allegation was relayed to the Heritage Board when Mayor Bob Berry forwarded MacDonald’s letter to it on November 14, 2014, and added a few comments of his own.) Lordon finds no evidence that any members belonged to SPLASH, but she disagrees with how they interpreted conflict of interest rules and writes that members of SPLASH and their lawyer should not have been allowed to make presentations to the board. Lordon says little about the mayor’s letter, which warned board members “that there are limits to the protection you have while acting in your role as Heritage Board members. For example, if Mr. MacDonald’s allegations are true, i.e. that certain Board members deliberately and knowingly acted while in a conflict of interest and deliberately frustrated the process to avoid the issuance of a demolition permit when obligated to do so, there may be the possibility of personal liability for your actions.” (To read Mayor Berry’s letter, click here.)

3. The Lordon Report has much to say about a proposed plan to salvage artifacts from the church before demolition. John Lafford agreed to such a plan in a letter dated December 30, 2014. (To read that letter, click here.) Lordon clearly sympathizes with board members who wanted such a plan, adding that the heritage bylaw required one. Her account of the March 17, 2015 meeting of the Heritage Board begins near the bottom of page 130, stretching on for five pages and recounting how David Stewart — one of three new board members appointed on March 9, 2015, just a few days before the meeting — moved a motion to issue a demolition permit with no salvage plan. Councillor Ron Corbett chaired the meeting, but could not control it. Chaos ensued, and afterward no one knew for sure what had happened. (Lordon herself tried to piece things together with the help of an audio recording.) On March 19, 2015, Heritage Officer Kate Bredin signed a demolition permit with salvage conditions attached. On April 20, without telling other board members, Chair Ron Corbett issued a revised permit with no conditions, backdating it to March 19. This set the stage for a conflagration on April 21, 2015 when the Heritage Board next met and hostilities erupted. (See pages 135-141) Board member Louis Béliveau ordered town manager Jamie Burke to leave; Burke took other municipal staff with him, including Kate Bredin, and after that, CAO Phil Handrahan ordered staff not to attend Heritage Board meetings — a situation that lasted for the next four months.

4. Lordon’s report recommends several changes that the town has since implemented, including amending the heritage bylaw, improving board procedures, and drafting a code of conduct. The report singles out only one person for punishment. At page 160, Lordon begins her discussion of Louis Béliveau’s testimony before the municipal appeal board where SPLASH was seeking to overturn the demolition permit the Heritage Board had issued. Lordon concludes that Béliveau’s decision to testify amounted to misconduct and that Town Council should do something about it. (Page 163) Council reacted by suspending Béliveau and then firing him from the board in January 2016, touching off a series of court cases with bulging files of photocopied documents that shed light on the tumultuous events before the church fell. One of the more poignant of those documents is an e-mail dated April 28, 2015 to his fellow board members from Eugene Goodrich. “As someone who cared very much about the church as an invaluable part of Sackville’s architectural heritage, voting to support the motion of March 17 was the most distasteful and distressing thing I have had to do in recent memory,” he wrote. For her part, Lordon herself praised board members for their diligence and dedication. On page 152 she writes: “It is difficult to criticize the process employed by the Board in dealing with this [demolition] permit…There is no evidence that their motives were improper at any time during their deliberations. Some have said that members…were motivated by their desire to save the Church instead of being focused on the job before them, the demolition application. Nevertheless members insist and the evidence supports the fact that they were always trying to ensure that they employed proper process in dealing with this application. The evidence indicates clearly that they were not prepared for the role of decision-maker in such an application. Their efforts were nonetheless, exhaustive and well-intentioned.”

To read the complete Lordon Report, click here.

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5 Responses to Supreme Court releases Lordon Report; town lawyer says it’s not confidential

  1. Rima Azar says:

    Many thanks to the New Wark Times for this article. It is like a sunshine of truth.

    In a comment to an earlier article entitled “Town finally settles with Louis Béliveau avoiding possible Supreme Court fight”, I wrote the following: “…Thus, according to me, for the sake of HEALING AND PERHAPS REPAIR, the Town of Sackville owes Louis Béliveau PUBLIC APOLOGIES for its “misconduct”.

    I will add now: It is not only Louis Béliveau who deserves apologies but also ALL the Heritage board members for their devoted time AND courage in pointing to problems in order to try to fix them.

    The false permit or, the following not top secret report, may be ridiculously trivial, when we think of the world’s more critical problems such as imminent risks of war, for instance… However, if we stop for a second to reflect, this whole story is not that different from the world’s bigger problems: It is also about a very basic value in human relationships called respect.

    Genuine respect would have perhaps avoided this costly legal battle (in terms of time, energy, money, and stress) BUT… the good news here is that it is never too late for (more) respect. It is what makes us better human beings day after day. Yes, mutual respect is the foundation of peace, love, and progress in life. So why don’t we ALL renew together this forgotten yet badly needed value?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharon Hicks says:

    Kudos to Bruce Wark for making this happen – to bring this report to the people, for all to read. Good Job !!

    Like

  3. Geoff Martin says:

    Great reporting Bruce; you’re showing people how it’s done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marika says:

    Am I the only one left wondering why the Town tried so hard to hide this report?

    Like

  5. Rima Azar says:

    Dear Marika:
    This is a good question.
    If I recall well, I think you have raised a good one too in the past (earlier article): How much has this legal saga cost our town’s tax payers (not just the report per se)?

    Like

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