Monday, August 14, 2006

No Fire Without Smoke

A story that received brief national exposure back in January is that of Donald Page, an Eastern Ontario man who was sued by his own township reeve and council. Page had complained that the Montague township fire department had been slow in responding to a fire scene at which he was a witness. Page asserted that the firefighters seemed to lack the expertise to enter the burning home to rescue the occupant. When full-time firefighters arrived from nearby Smiths Falls, they entered the house, but the owner could not be saved.

After Page had written letters to several third parties describing his concerns, the council launched their defamation suit. The story so far is really well covered in this Macleans magazine piece. Some Blogging Tories also covered this chilling attempt to stifle free speech and democracy in Canada at the time.

The Doggerel Party's rural affairs correspondent now reports on the subsequent events. The lawsuit was dismissed. After some machinations, and a particularly tense council meeting, the township council decided to let the matter drop. Montague township is on the hook for most of Donald Page's costs, and their own - a total in the region of $50,000. Not much, perhaps, but in a township of only 1,000 homes, a significant amount of money.

By a staggering coincidence, approximately $50 is the increase in property tax bills seen by Montague residents this year. This is how the residents get to pay for their Council's misadventure in ego.

That the lawsuit would be thrown out based on the Constitution should have been obvious. In addition, there is in public circulation a photograph taken at the scene that shows the Montague fire truck in front of the property. There is snow on the roof of the house and only a thin plume of smoke. Firefighters maintain that the house was 'engulfed in flame' when they arrived. The lawsuit-happy councillors have not yet explained how a house can be both engulfed in flame and have snow on the roof.

Reeve Gary Doyle has been on Montague council for 18 years, and reeve for 10. Montague is a small township with no really significant settlements within its boundaries. Apathy, and the 'who you know' dynamic ensures that it takes a lot to rock the political status quo in a place like this. However, after a case that shook Canada's democratic foundations, it will be interesting to see if the upcoming municipal election might deliver a further lesson to Montague councillors, who are clearly in need of such an education.