An angry group of residents were ordered out of Innisfil’s council chambers last week after they demanded to know why the town has joined with Big Bay Point Resort developer Kimvar to seek $3.6 million in legal costs from opponents to the mega-marina.
The residents, at least one of which shouted “shame, shame”, were ousted by Mayor Brian Jackson for being unruly.
The ruckus started when councillors refused to second Coun. Dan Davidson’s motion to have town staff prepare a report outlining why the municipality is seeking costs from the Innisfil District Association, Environmental Defence and golf course owners Nextnine.
Those groups opposed the resort, which was supported by Innisfil and Simcoe County, at the Ontario Municipal Board, and lost.
Resident, Stuart Marwick, who repeatedly heckled Jackson and Council, said the town is punishing residents for fighting the 600-acre mega resort.
“When people choose to protest about it, they shut down any discussion of it in council,” Marwick said, shortly after being escorted from the council chamber by a police officer.
“That’s not democracy. In China, when you protest against the government and they shoot you, they then come to the family with a bill for the bullet. And that’s what we were just getting here tonight — it’s a $3.6 million bill. The whole thing is a farce. This council should be thrown out.”
Since Davidson, who represents the Big Bay Point area, could not get a ‘seconder’ for his motion, there was no discussion.
Jackson issued a press release the next day saying the town is seeking its $750,000 portion in OMB costs in the interests of Innisfil taxpayers.
However, Town of Innisfil minutes show a 2005 bylaw calls on Kimvar Enterprises Inc. to be “responsible for all Town costs associated with this defence”. The bylaw also called on Kimvar to give the town $200,000 prior to an OMB hearing to guarantee funds for a defence.
Jackson’s press release said the town will be represented at the Oct. 14 OMB cost recovery hearing to defend the public consultation process it used to approve the resort.
Members of the IDA ratepayers group accused the town of suing its own residents by seeking legal costs.
But Jackson’s press release opposed that view.
“The role the Town intends to play at the upcoming hearing should not be misconstrued as a suit against its residents.”
Environmental Defence released its own press release the day after the meeting, calling Innisfil’s position an “unprecedented campaign to extract OMB costs from its own residents”.
“I expect a Town Council to refuse to release information about a bizarre claim for millions of dollars against its own residents on an episode of the Dukes of Hazzard, but not in Ontario,” said a press release quoting Dr. Rick Smith.
During council’s open forum, Smith chastised council for getting involved in a case that includes claims for a “bug jacket, a bag of ice, a piece of Chocolate Explosion cake and literally thousands of dollars for croissant, sliced fruit and bagels and cream cheese.”
Big Bay Point resident and IDA member Maria Baier-Reinio told council the request for legal costs is highly unusual.
“They are sought in less than 1 per cent of all cases heard by the OMB and when they have been awarded they are in the area of $2,000 to $5,000,” she said. “It is reprehensible for a municipal government to sue its own taxpayers for costs.”
Baier-Reinio said she doesn’t believe Innisfil’s residents would “support this aggressive action”.
She added council is showing residents that if they oppose development at the OMB their own municipality may punish them financially.
The resort’s lawyer Jeff Davies, who represents parent company Geranium Corp., told council the residents “don’t have justification to accuse you of bad governance.
“It’s your job to take into consideration all aspects of the public interest, which may not always be popular, but your job is to do the right thing.”
Davidson, who represents the Big Bay Point area, was shocked he couldn’t get support for his motion from one of his fellow council members to publicly discuss the matter.
“Usually, out of courtesy, a motion would be seconded,” Davidson said. “I was told prior to the Council meeting, they were told not to do it. By who, I do not know.”
Coun. Lynn Dollin has a slightly different recollection of what transpired before the start of the meeting.
“There was no gag order put on Council,” Dollin says. “We all had the opportunity to second the motion, but we didn’t.”
Dollin says while she’s supportive of individual councillors bringing forth motions for public discussion, in this instance “it’s difficult to discuss ongoing legal issues in the open forum.”
However, she’s critical of the OMB for “leaving this door open” to seek legal costs against residents’ groups for opposing a development.
“Why would the OMB do that?” she wonders. “I would suggest it’s odd.”