A New “White Savagery” Assault on Ontario’s Restored Forests: SLAPP lawsuits and “Award of Costs”
Dr. John Bacher
Dr. Bacher addresses the Simcoe County council in support of Stop Work Order, Beeton Woods clear cut.
In 19th century Ontario when forests were reduced to ashes to make cheap soap creating as a result deserts that threatened to bury the province in sand, forest burners used fairly crude tactics against their opponents. The one figure who attempted to stand up to these assaults, the Mohawk Iroquois Confederacy Chief George Johnson, had three assassination attempts on his life for enforcing the Six Nation’s forest protection laws.
Johnson was beaten and left to dead by his assailants, one time surviving only because a bullet intended to kill him, got stuck in a heavy waist coat for a patrol on a chilly autumn night. A friend, the anthropologist Horatio Hale, called this evil assault “white savagery.”
Johnson certainly knew how to use what his fellow Confederacy elders called “the good mind” against his opponents. Helped by the literary and musical talents of his family, which included his English born wife, Emily and performance daughter artist Pauline, he lured the intellectual elite of Ontario to his home Chiefswood.
At Chiefswood helped by the magnificence of the towering trees protected by the Mohawks, Johnson explained to his guests that forests were too valuable to be burnt up for play. Eventually public opinion changed resulting in the tripling of forest cover in Ontario under the direction of its Chief Forester, Edmund Zavitz.
What is astonishing today is that we see a new assault on the restored forest Johnson conceived and Zavitz planted. This is a new form of what Hale termed. “white savagery”. It involves more refined and subtle methods than the past gunfire and beatings.
Rather than attempt as in the corrupt Gilded Age to silence conservationists through crude shootings, the preferred method of intimidation today has become the “cost award” and “SLAPP” suit (Strategic lawsuit against public participation). What is sought however, is the same: to try to intimidate people who love forests to get out of the way of their destruction.
Within the week we have seen two attempts by environmentalists to rescue forests restored through Zavitz’s forest conservation efforts from development corporations be the targets of a renewed savagery against their defenders. Both of these forests were created as a result of Zavitz’s forest conservation efforts.
The David Dunlap Forest planted between 1938 and 1980 helped rescue Toronto from flooding on the Don River and the march of sand from the once treeless Oak Ridges Moraine. Forests in the Simcoe County Township of New Tecumseh in the village of Beeton were created for their role in protecting drinking water. The Premier of Ontario, E. C. Drury, who bolstered Zavitz’s conservation efforts, praised Beeton for increasing its “water supply by judicious reforestation.”
Mary Lou Jorgensen Bacher at Mohawk Chief George Johnson’s home, “Chiefswood”
The Richmond Hill Naturalists attempted to save about half (43 acres) of the David Dunlap Forest from proposed residential development. After losing a re-zoning decision at the OMB, which subsequently caused close to fifty acres of forests to be clear cut, it was hit by the granting of a $100,000 award of costs requested by the developer, Metrus. AWARE Simcoe is now struggling to protect 30 acres of a Beeton forest from a development company that is pretending to be an agricultural operation. Although the forest is still intact, Simcoe County granted a “Special Permit”, which exempts the forest from provisions against tree cutting in its tree by-law. It is seeking court injunction to revoke the “Special Permit” and for this reason has been hit by a request for up to +$63,000 in court costs.
What is most bizarre about this new round of “white savagery” against forest defenders is a common attempt by developers and their minions to deny that environmental protection groups represent the public interest. Lawyer for Simcoe County Marshall Green articulated this view in his court submission against AWARE Simcoe. He takes the view that it is nothing than a “corporate lobby group.” In this regards Green echoes the OMB’s condemnation of the Richmond Hill Naturalists, which also challenged their status as public interest defenders. This was expressed in a ruling before the cost award granted by OMB hearing officer, Joseph Sniezek in a preliminary procedure before the merits of the re-zoning of the Dunlap Forest was considered. This was based on a previous OMB decision, Zellers versus Leamington. The OMB ruled that efforts to save 43 acres of forests from residential development by a long established environmental group, had the same corporate self-interested status as a discount chain store struggling to delay the establishment of a new shopping mall.
In condemning the Richmond Hill Naturalists, hearing officer Sniezek claimed that they had no substantive evidence. This is based on his belief that in the zoning decision he adjudicated he was bound to not depart from an earlier official plan amendment heard by OMB Vice-Chair, Karlene J. Hussey.
In her decision however, Hussey clearly indicated that she believed that efforts to protect forests were a legitimate matter for the subsequent zoning hearing. In response to an effort by the Mississaugas of the New Credit to obtain a delay in the official plan hearing, she ruled that they should “participate in the public process associated with the zoning by-law amendment necessary to implement the development.” In response to the Richmond Hill Naturalists concerns over the loss of “key hydrological features, including seepage areas and springs”, Hussey likewise directed them to the zoning process. Most significantly she ruled that the view of the Naturalists’ expert witness in Aboriculture, Jack Radecki that the threatened for should be kept in its “entirety” was a legitimate matter for the zoning process to consider.
At this time southern Ontario’s restored forests are facing numerous threats in addition to the savagery of the cost award and SLAPP suit. While swamps, wet forests are for now protected by provincial policy, it is undergoing a review. (Both the Dunlap and Beeton forests are dry and therefore vulnerable to development.) This strong protection for swamp forests could be weakened by proposals for what is termed bio-diversity offsetting.
Danny Beaton a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan spoke about the looming threats to our region’s forests at meeting in Newmarket. Here Beaton pleaded, “Without Mother Earth, we cannot survive. We all need fresh water, fresh food, fresh air. People have forgotten to think of the Earth as their mother. This is what life is based on. ..The Earth is losing because we aren’t working together. When these proposals come forward to destroy habitat with new development, we need to put our energy together to find solutions. We can mobilize scientists and bring teachers and doctors and elders and farmers together.”
John Bacher PhD is an environmental writer, researcher and consultant, JohnBacherPhD.ca. He works with the Sierra Club of Canada on Greenbelt issues. Danny Beaton is a Mohawk elder who protects Mother Earth, DannyBeaton.ca. Originally published on DemocracyWatchSimcoe.ca with photo by Dr. Bacher.
Simcoe County council will be discussing whether your politicians want to press for court awards against AWARE Simcoe on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, at 9 am in Midhurst administration centre (agenda, Google map)