Corruption, Saunderson and the CBC

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J'accuse!It’s a seven-year old story about the abuse of power, of corruption, of personal ambition thwarted, of an insatiable sense of entitlement, a craving for attention, and a clique of ruthless people determined to exact vengeance for a perceived slight. And it’s still being told today.

It began in 2011 after the former council refused to build Brian Saunderson’s proposed $35 million “Taj Mahal” rec centre with public money and give it to the YMCA. Instead, an alternate staff plan was approved: two new, state-of-the-art rec facilities were erected at a fraction of the cost, and kept in public ownership. That annoyed Sanderson  began a seven-year vendetta against everyone involved. Street protests were organized with Saunderson as their loudly vocal spokesperson. Deborah Doherty’s partner paraded in front of a town hall with a sign demanding officials “inpeach” council (Doherty is now on council).

And in 2014, several election platforms were built on stories produced by one reporter at the CBC.

CBC reporter Dave Seglins, is back in town, sniffing around for another story that will no doubt again discredit those associated with that 2011 decision, plus others who have been targets of various council motions and actions this term (the airport, the sale of Collus, the judicial inquiry, for example).

In between is our sordid tale about revenge, and a determined smear campaign using taxpayer-funded resources. Corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Who stands to gain by any of this? Look to the council table.

The story that Seglins is writing will rehash what he published in 2013; pieces that discredited incumbent politicians, residents and town staff without anything even resembling evidence of any wrongdoing. (more on that, below).

The question you need to ask yourself is when reading this is: Cui Bono? Whose good? Who benefits from these stories and the harassment? Whose campaigns will wave them about in the municipal election and without a hint of the hypocrisy, decry this “corruption”?

Seglins has approached at least five people here in the past week, alleging he has “court documents” about some of them. These include Mayor Sandra Cooper, former MP Paul Bonwick, former Deputy Mayor Rick Lloyd, former Collus utility CEO Ed Houghton, and myself. There may be others who have not contacted me about it. 

All but Cooper are all private citizens, not politicians or public servants today. To date none of these people have told me they have seen the alleged documents, nor been contacted by the police for any wrongdoing or investigation, nor served documents for court appearances. Their lawyers, I’m told, have not seen them, either. Are we going to get another story based solely on unfounded allegation and innuendo? 

In Canadian justice, an accused has the right to know the name and see the face of the accuser. Not, apparently, in the CBC: anonymous attackers can discredit and smear their opponents from the shadows. 

Where is the accountability?

Steve Berman (left)
Steve Berman (left) and reptile.

Seglins and Steve Berman – an unemployed local council candidate in the last and this election – drove to Bonwick’s house outside of town last week. The family inside became concerned because  the van parked in front of the house for so long while its occupants took photographs of the Bonwick house. Bonwick  was accosted on his driveway with demands he answer questions. He called the police about harassment, and his lawyer contacted the CBC about Seglins’ behaviour.

In the evening of Wed., June 6, a van parked on the boulevard outside my house with two people in it. It sat there for around 15 minutes. At 8:55 p.m., my dog alerted me there was someone on the front porch. When I opened the door, a dirty, smeared and marked business card for Seglins fell to the ground.

Seglins and Berman were in the van. Seglins got out and came onto my porch, dressed shabbily in shorts, a short-sleeved Hawaiian-style shirt and a scruffy ball cap. He looked more like someone hanging around in front of a coffee shop panhandling than a CBC reporter. I refused to speak to him and told him to leave my property (with suitable invective). He  barked questions at me. I again told him to get off my property, and he finally left.*

(The CBC has admitted Seglins secretly and without my consent recorded this conversation on my property, then shared it with others, but considers his tactics “reasonable.” I suggest a better word is “deceptive.”)

On Monday, June 11, Seglins took pictures of Mayor Cooper as she chatted on the sidewalk with a resident. According to her, when she walked to her car, he followed, taking more pictures. There he fired questions at her about her brother. The mayor told him to address his questions to the police and stop harassing her. She fled back inside town hall and reported the incident to the OPP.

Seglins taking pictures of the mayorHe returned Monday night to take pictures of her in the council chamber, making it very obvious by standing in front of the lectern. Sure looks to me like a transparent attempt to intimidate the mayor in front of council dominated by Saunderson and his Block. Is this respect towards the mayor or her office? Who benefits from this?

The events Seglins is investigating are six-seven years old: they aren’t news. A police investigation at that time has found no wrongdoing (see below). I expect his latest story will contain similar allegations and innuendo. Who but Saunderson and his friends stand to gain by this?

This is not the first time Seglins’ stories have helped local political aspirations. In 2013, Seglins came to town (on an “anonymous” tip) to interview four people: Cooper, Lloyd and myself agreed; the fourth, Councillor Kevin Lloyd – no relation – declined. Seglins made allegations of a police investigation into our behaviour without providing any proof, any evidence, or corroboration from police. None of us had even heard of these allegations prior to the interviews, had not been contacted by police (nor have been, since) and were never charged with anything. He titled his piece “corruption in Collingwood.” **

Seglins also had the story aired on CBC’s Ontario Morning and the only person interviewed for it was Steve Berman – who was not named, interviewed, or involved in the events at any time and was not privy to any police information (nor is he now). Yet, inexplicably, Saunderson’s friend was given air time to comment on this story. 

Although the OPP did conduct an investigation in 2013, they have steadfastly refused to name anyone under investigation or even to identify what they were investigating or why. In more than five years, no one has been charged. None of the four people Seglins identified have even been interviewed by the police – probably because no one he named was guilty of anything. 

Saunderson, Berman and some others running for council used this story to solidify their own campaigns in the 2014 municipal election. Saunderson got elected deputy mayor. 

The emotional stress and pain caused to those people and to their families and friends whom Seglins implicated – without any proof – in corruption was enormous. In the five years since he came here to do that story, Seglins has never done a followup to indicate that no one was interviewed or charged, let alone found guilty of any wrongdoing. It seems we will be put through another conspiracy-based assault concocted, I expect, by the same group of people.

Again, I remind you: Cui Bono? Who has benefited from these stories and the harassment? Whose election campaign used them and will use them again?

That 2013 police investigation is still technically open – although police have since admitted to some that they have found nothing wrong and are not pursuing it further.*** If Seglins has, as he alleges, documents relating to an open investigation, is he not interfering with police by making them public? If they actually exist, that is. No one I’ve spoken to has actually seen them.

Seglins also gave Berman considerable positive coverage in spring 2013 over a non-issue that local media didn’t even cover. Berman complained to the OPP that a local wit had mentioned his name in a satirical YouTube video (a popular meme at the time). He took offence that it poked fun at him, although several others were also named in it, myself included, who never complained. There had been several previous versions of the same video posted online, some lambasting local politicians, town staff and other named individuals. No one except Berman received CBC coverage or was even mentioned. However, despite his 15 minutes of fame, it didn’t help get the thin-skinned  Berman elected in 2014.

In February, 2018, Saunderson made a surprise motion at the council table to call for a judicial inquiry over the sale of 50% of the local electrical utility by the town in 2012 (more history and histrionics, not news, and an enormous waste of taxpayers’ money). This will cost taxpayers at least $2 million and could cost more than $6 million. Who but Saunderson and his friends stand to gain by this?

Town staff, including the clerk and CAO, plus the mayor, several other council members, and the local media were unaware of Saunderson’s motion in advance and caught off-guard by its introduction. In fact, it required a waiving of the procedural bylaw by council in order to even be tabled. Yet Seglins was in Collingwood to do a story about it even before the meeting started (the photograph taken for the story shows he was with Saunderson several hours before the motion was tabled). Seglins was clearly informed about the motion beforehand – he didn’t get it from a Ouija board.

Seglins denies he is Saunderson’s friend, but this story alone would make me question that claim. Who got interviewed, got a photograph in the story before it broke? To whose insatiable craving to be in the spotlight did the story cater? Who but Saunderson would benefit?  ****

So bereft of local scandal and wrongdoing is he that Seglins had to reach back six or seven years.  Yet CBC has not once covered the the deceptive and secretive process behind the Collus sale to an out-of-province, for-profit corporation – if anything screams corruption, surely four years of secret meetings and backroom deals involving sole-sourced lawyers and buddy consultants should. Who but Saunderson and his friends stand to gain by CBC’s inexplicable silence on this major story?

Berman is a close personal friend of Saunderson as attested to on his own blog. Seglins is seen riding around town with Berman. Seglins apparently gets inside information from Saunderson about his judicial inquiry even before the mayor learns about it. Seglins admitted to Bonwick’s lawyer that he is also a friend with Stephen Christie, Saunderson’s boss. Seglins, Christie and Saunderson all belong to the same local ski club. Saunderson recently launched his mayoral campaign. And soon a new Seglins story will air that Saunderson will no doubt use to further punish those who participated in the 2011 decision that slighted his personal ambitions.

Although the dots seem to connect for me, CBC denies they are related. Once more I remind you to ask yourself: Cui Bono?

CBC defended Seglins when I complained, claiming (apparently without irony) ” his interest… is in one thing – doing public-service journalism.” But in my view, to behave as Seglins has done violates every rule I was taught – not just about journalistic integrity and ethics, but about civil behaviour and being an adult.  Where is the public benefit?

No CBC employee should ever write something that even suggests bias for any candidate in any election even tangentially. Using taxpayer-paid resources to further the political goals of anyone or any group is not the function of the CBC. Yet CBC defended Seglins, writing – again apparently without irony – “…we approach our jobs with a noble ambition; providing Canadians with information and context that allows them to participate actively in their community.”

Well, I worked in the media for a couple of decades, too, even as a local correspondent for CBC. I would be embarrassed to be a journalist today if Seglins is a representative of that profession. In my eyes, with this sort of journalism, CBC has fallen to the level of Fox News. And that “noble ambition” looks awfully like it’s being done to benefit a small group of people with vested interests in the upcoming election.*****

But to behave as Saunderson does – that is doubly concerning because he wants to be mayor. Is this the sort of gravitas we expect from a mayor? Do we really want an egotistical, vindictive, schoolyard bully setting policy, raising taxes, passing bylaws and running this town? Or would we rather have someone we consider trustworthy and ethical, with a history of working collaboratively with others?

Collingwood deserves better.

~~~~~
* Actually, I told him to fuck off. The CBC seemed indignant over my choice of words, but since I had already had experience with Seglins and been warned about his current presence, I thought it best to phrase myself so there would be no mistaking my sentiments.

** You’ll often read the comment (or something similar) that “none of these allegations have been proven in court” in these stories. That’s just a “get-out-of-jail-free” way of making it look like the media isn’t biased. But that would only be true if the media did a follow-up story that indicated none of the people named were charged with anything and police found no wrongdoing.

*** My sources suggest that the OPP have not closed the investigation and publicly stated it did not find anything is because of political pressure from some former Queen’s Park politician(s). Closing the investigation would allow those accused by Seglins to file FOI requests and identify who filed the complaint; this would not only embarrass the complainant(s), but would start a cascade of lawsuits against them over defamation, public mischief and libel. And likely against the CBC and Seglins, as well. Lawyers have attempted to get the OPP to close it, to state who was under investigation and release the information about the findings, without success.

**** Saunderson’s Block minions voted unanimously for it, despite the obviously underhanded, sneaky way it was introduced. But that’s not unexpected from them: they vote as they’re told. Besides, who among them has shown any morality or ethics this term?

***** I worked in the media before the internet changed everything. I realize that modern media management is all about competition for audience attention in a competitive, fractured market dominated by social media. Having a scandalmonger who doesn’t care about his reputation or the credibility of the media he works for can be a benefit when numbers fall. He can create the sort of innuendo-based, titillating (if not quite factual) stories that attract social media attention and boost – at least temporarily – the audience. That’s a sad reality of today’s world.

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