All’s fair in law and war

Councillor Doug Judson is claiming victory after Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, where council voted to accept the Integrity Commissioner’s report, but declined the recommended sanction of an admission of lapse of judgement and a public apology.

But the 5-1 decision may not have been made freely. Although Judson did have legitimate support from some councillors, each one was sitting under the cloud of a legal threat against the Town, and by extension, against every taxpayer.

A letter sent from Judson’s legal representative to every member of council on October 13 read:

“If Council adopts the Commissioner’s finding that my client breached the Code or attempts to impose any sanctions against him, my firm has instructions to immediately commence a legal proceeding in the Divisional Court against the Town and the Commissioner to quash the decision.

“If legal action becomes necessary, we will seek the Respondent’s costs on a full or substantial indemnity basis. In addition, both the Town and the Commissioner will require independent legal representation at the expense of the municipality. The Town will also be required – under contract and the Municipal Act, 2001 – to indemnify the Commissioner for the costs of any successive appeals he chooses to make (which he does not require Council approval to pursue).”

Councillors said they had not seen the report at the time the letter was sent.

Perhaps legal threats are an accepted practice in the legal profession. But in a council chamber? The judge of whether they approve of that kind of behaviour will ultimately be the voters. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure if our elected officials voted according to how they truly felt regarding Judson’s actions; it seems likely that he stifled debate in the chamber with legal threats.

“We caution you that the comments of members of Council during the meeting of October 25, 2021 will become Council’s reasons and are subject to review. Any commentary or actions during the meeting which amount to political reprisal, editorial comments, or personal attacks on my client will be relied on in a subsequent application for judicial review.”

Mayor June Caul was pressured under legal threat to remove herself entirely from the debate and vote, under an assumption of bias against Judson, based on a legal suit between the two – one that Judson himself instigated. “She wants to sanction me, regardless of the costs to taxpayers her participation will create,” Judson alleged in a public statement, which has since been edited. That assumption of intent tells us far more about Judson than Mayor Caul.

Judson seems to feel the letter had the intended impact. A lawyer colleague from Dryden, Karen Seeley, tweeted: “I hear you’re a mean lawyer that sends mean letters to councillors before they even got to see the report.” To which Judson replied, “I mean, I guess it worked though?” which was liked by Ms. Seeley.

He tweeted to another Twitter follower, “I think the letter was effective.”

Although Judson has claimed the vote as a win, it appears not all Councillors endorsed the resolution out of support for Judson.

“Particularly enjoyed the concession by one member of council that they wouldn’t vote to order me to apologize…because they didn’t think I would apologize. They would be correct,” Judson tweeted. 

Many who see his social media posts could posit that Judson sometimes employs a mocking tone of his detractors. A scan through the Commissioners report shows screenshots of concept mugs, each featuring a criticism against him, with his commentary including “Snuggle up with your very own steaming hot cup of white tears on a cold winter day. Caution: it’s very fragile.” It’s this divisive behaviour which likely inspired the original complaint — not an attack on Judson’s reconciliation efforts, as Judson seems to believe. Although his words were likely intended to be provocative, and they are largely protected by free speech, the fact that a complaint was lodged at all, suggests some felt his behaviour was inappropriate.

Council chose not to sanction Judson, and hopefully avoided legal action from him in the process. They each voted according to their own compass.

Sanctions can’t force an apology, any more than they can encourage civil decorum in a person who doesn’t appear to believe it necessary. Residents will be free to follow their own compass next fall, however, as they choose whether what has transpired over the past few weeks — and will play out over the coming months in civil court — represents the governance they want for our town.

Megan Walchuk
mwalchuk@fortfrances.com

Note: This editorial is in reference to the article Council dismisses sanctions against Judson

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