Mayor apologizes for releasing confidential document without authorization

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

Town of Fort Frances Mayor June Caul issued a public apology for releasing a confidential legal opinion to a local resident, during Monday night’s council meeting. The apology was made at the unanimous request of council, following an in-camera discussion.

The confidential legal opinion, prepared by Gowling WLG (Canada) on the Crossroute sustainable forest license, was provided to the Times anonymously and was the subject of a story published in the Oct. 27 edition.

Along with the public apology, council also voted that training be provided to the mayor and council on protecting the confidentiality of the corporation.

“I definitely misstepped in the way I handled the situation,” Caul said in her statement. “I should have asked council to give me permission to share the report from the lawyers and for this, I humbly apologize.”

The in-camera item which sparked the apology was “a correspondence from the general public raising personal matters about an identifiable individual was discussed.” Mayor Caul recused herself from the item and was not present in the room during the discussion.

The correspondence was a letter from Peter Howie, local barrister and solicitor. Although the letter was not attached to council’s public agenda, Howie released it via social media and to media outlets on January 7.

In his letter, Howie claimed he obtained, through a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act request, all emails Caul sent to and received from local resident David Kircher. Howie also stated he had requested all email sent from all council members to the Fort Frances Times, which showed no evidence of the legal opinion being sent to the Times by the mayor or any member of council.

In his letter, Howie said that Caul provided Kircher with the confidential legal opinion. He also asked council to refer the matter to the police for investigating the offence of breach of trust by a public officer.

Kircher has been publicly vocal about investigating the sustainable forest license that was held by Resolute Forest Products when they owned the Fort Frances mill. The sustainable forest license is now under the management of the Boundary Waters Forest Management Corporation.

In her apology, Caul stated that she had received many emails and phone calls from local residents voicing concerns about the transfer of Resolute’s forest license and audit. In 2019, a law firm was sequestered to find answers for the questions council also had regarding these types of concerns, she added.

“I met with the resident to listen to his concerns regarding this issue. In an attempt to assist in helping this contact to understand that council, staff and consultants had been working diligently toward finding answers to the questions we had ourselves,” Caul said. “I shared the letter from the legal team we had hired to show this resident that we had received this draft that told us that they had found as much as was available on the Ministry website.”

Caul also said she wanted to be clear that she had no part in leaking the document to the Times. 

However, Coun. Douglas Judson said even if the opinion had not ended up in the media, the mayor leaked it and misrepresented that to council.

“It’s all there in black and white,” Judson said. “She made comments which were published in the media and then comments that were made in an open session of council, which suggested that someone else was responsible when she knew that she was responsible. And to me that is very troubling.”

Howie is representing Judson in an unrelated lawsuit against Caul. The case is still before the court.