Doug Millroy: I don’t think city council is finished tinkering

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I don’t think city council is finished tinkering with its proposed new Animal Care and Control Bylaw.

Councillors Steve Butland and Susan Myers. led the charge to grandfather Spruce Haven Nature Park (zoo) into the bylaw, which would have banned zoos from within the city, and their motion passed in a 6-4 vote.

But when it came to light that a wolf had recently escaped from the zoo Butland and Myers, fearing for the public’s safety, offered a motion to reconsider, which fell in a 6-6 vote.

Staff will now present council with a redraft of the Animal Care and Control Bylaw, which will include the grandfathering of Spruce Haven.

And there is the rub.

If all councillors stick to their guns, we could end up with another 6-6 vote which would see the bylaw killed.

Along with Councillors Butland and Myers, Paul Christian, Judy Hupponen, Matthew Shoemaker and Rick Niro voted in favour of the reconsideration motion.

Councillors Frank Fata, Sandra Hollingsworth, Lou Turco, March Bruni, Joe Krmpotich and Ozzie Grandinetti voted against.

So where do we go if we end up with another 6-6 vote?

I would think the only way to go would be to redo the bylaw, again, eliminating any mention of the banning or grandfathering of zoos.

This should see the bylaw passed with its original intent.

The zoo situation could then be tackled separately, if council wished to wade into the issue again, which I am sure some of  those on the side of the animals would want to do but others wouldn’t..

Personally I find it hard to see any change in the thinking of those voting on either side.

Christian, Hupponen, Shoemaker and Niro voted with some thought to the conditions in which the animals at Spruce Haven live, small pens in which they can only pace back and forth or in circles, a life no one with a heart should want for them.

Butland and Myers voted the way they did because of safety concerns.

On the other side, those supporting Spruce Haven, Hollingsworth, Turco, Bruni, Fata, Krmpotich and Grandinetti never seemed to give a thought to the animals in their comments in council and it showed in their vote.

So, as awful as that might seem to those who love animals, it appears Spruce Haven is destined to survive.

Much was made of the fact that the operators of the zoo have a licence from the MNR to keep wild animals, but I don’t see that as being the same as allowing them to operate a zoo.

Surely it is the prerogative of a city to determine whether such an operation is permitted within its borders.

I SAID IN LAST WEEK’S column that I thought it was a copout for Mayor Christian Provenzano to declare a conflict in council’s discussion of Spruce Haven on the basis one of the parties was a former client.

I said I thought the term “former” should take away any thought of conflict, asking how long a client would have to be former to no longer cause a conflict, two years, five years, 10 years?

It turns out that when it comes to lawyers it is pretty well forever.

In such cases they don’t declare a conflict because of a pecuniary interest as is required under provincial statute; they declare it because of restrictions placed on them by the Law Society of Ontario.

I received the following from Lorna Rudoph, a retired lawyer who is a volunteer organizer with the Sault Association of Ratepayers:

“I thought I  would give you a heads up on your comment about the mayor declaring a conflict on the Spruce Haven matter. As a lawyer for more years than I sometimes want to contemplate, I can tell you that every lawyer I knew kept a former client list.

“The stringency of the law society conflict rules was such that I as a family lawyer could not act against a former client if I acted for them on anything, including a divorce  and they even were on their third divorce having used another lawyer for their second and present divorce.

“In the family law area it was not uncommon for some people to simply get advice from a lawyer they did not want acting for their spouse, and then go on their merry way and hire another lawyer.  “They would therefore be a former client but we were restrained by the law society conflict laws from acting against them.

“I understand where the mayor is coming from and I think he had no other option but to declare his conflict and remove himself from the fray.”

As a result of Rudolph’s message, I contacted the mayor with the following:

“It has been pointed out to me that your declaring a conflict in regard to Spruce Haven is more because of law society conflict rules than those under the provincial act. I am planning to do an explanatory piece on that and would appreciate a comment from you along those lines. I must admit I didn’t even consider the law society having a role in this when I brought it up on Saultonline. And I don’t think it should have a role. As you are our mayor, we would like you free to speak out unless it is a case where you do have a direct pecuniary interest.”

The mayor replied:

“I understand your position.  I struggled with this issue because I did personally want to express my own opinions and participate in the decision.  I found it very difficult to watch and would have preferred to be in my chair but in the circumstances, I would have clearly breached one of my law society obligations.

“I obviously cannot speak about clients, present or former, or files that I have opened on a client’s behalf. Doing so would be a breach of my professional obligations. I can say that had I participated in the debate, expressed my opinions and voted the way I wanted to vote on the matter, I would have breached a prescribed duty. You may not be of the opinion that I am bound by my rules of professional conduct but I am.

“I have had very few conflicts since I was elected three years ago. It is unfortunate that one arose that related to what is, from my perspective, a very important matter. Notwithstanding, I have been a lawyer for near 15 years now and I have never acted contrary to my professional obligations.  I believe that it is important to follow rules of conduct (whether they be municipal or professional) that I have committed to follow, particularly when it is challenging to do so.”

Personally I think the law society is being overly restrictive, but I can understand the problem it would face in attempting to set up exceptions or exemptions. Going blanket relieves all doubt.

Anyway, I thought you should know the reasoning behind the mayor’s declaration of conflict. It was certainly one that never occurred to me.

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. The animals are sitting back and saying “ are these idiots at city hall still talking about us ? “ Only in the Soo

  2. There is also the issue of a decision being made by Council, and argument being raised afterwards as to whether a conflict potentially existed and should have been declared. The claim could allege the decision made by Council was tainted/improper. If the decision was not favourable to one of the parties, they may have raised such a claim.

    The mayor made the right call. Tough call, but it appears the correct one.

  3. The city is falling apart and council will dedicate tons of time to this ongoing debate. Make a decision and stick with it.

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