Windsor Blocks Media Access

Header-image-Shalapata-2By Ian Shalapata

(WINDSOR, ON) – The investigation continues. The probing of alleged irregularities is still on-going and now involves a number of outside agencies.

In February, a complaint was made to Windsor Police alleging various frauds concerning the running of the October 2014 municipal election. The election documents are still under lock and key and off limits to the public. One former candidate made a request for access but was told that the police still have authority over the materials.

The City Administration has circled the wagons, but I believe Windsor CAO Helga Reidel is working under a misconception.

“We are in compliance with the Municipal Elections Act. We have complied with the act all along and we continue to comply with it,” she told the media. “We’ve had a number of inquiries. And we have provided the information.”

Not quite.

During the time leading up to the police investigation, there were many instances of citizens being prevented from accessing information that every citizen has a right to request and receive.

Public records

88 (5)Despite anything in the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, documents and materials filed with or prepared by the clerk or any other election official under this Act are public records and, until their destruction, may be inspected by any person at the clerk’s office at a time when the office is open. 1996, c. 32, Sched., s. 88 (5).

Exception

(6)However, a person is not entitled to inspect the contents of a ballot box unless authorized to do so by a court order. 1996, c. 32, Sched., s. 88 (6).

Extracts and copies

(7)A person inspecting documents under this section is entitled to make extracts from them and, on payment of the fee established by the clerk, to make copies of them. 1996, c. 32, Sched., s. 88 (7).

When I was first notified of the issues with the election, a colleague and I went to City Hall to request to see some documents. We were told by Deputy City Clerk Steve Vlachodimos that we could not see them. On an audio recording, Vlachodimos said that only the Manager of Elections, Chuck Scarpelli, could give us the materials we requested.

I knew that The Square was persona non grata at City Hall, but I didn’t realize that employees would go out of their way to prevent us from researching a news story. I asked him to put his statement in writing. He said, “No. I am not going to put that in writing.”

I then advised him that his obstructing us was a violation of the Municipal Election Act.

“Chuck will call you when he gets back,” Vlachodimos said repeatedly. He also complained that an appointment hadn’t been made and we went away empty handed.

The excuse of Scarpelli being out of the office became a problematic issue as he was away on vacation multiple times after the election. Funnelling all requests that should be handled by the Clerk’s Office through a single person, and then for that person to be out of the office for extended periods, violates the spirit of the legislation and resulted in the prevention of access to the records.

There was also an issue with viewing the ballot boxes used during the election.

The City of Mississauga was contacted regarding some of the election procedures used in that municipality. During the conversation, an invitation was extended to inspect their ballot boxes. We could not, obviously, look inside the boxes, but there was no problem to look at the boxes.

When the same request was made here, City Clerk Valerie Critchley, in a written response, said, “The ballot boxes will not be made available for your inspection as to do so would compromise the security of the ballot boxes and of the election.”

This is an unusual response considering the open invitation from Mississauga. Additionally, as a scrutineer during the election, how could I verify that my signature was still present across the seals?

I also went to City Hall, on two further occasions, to review some documents and to take extracts by way of photographs. On these two instances, I was prevented from viewing the documents because of the presence of my camera. On the second visit I was escorted from City Hall after the police were called.

Both Critchley and Vlachodimos acknowledged my previous use of the camera in order to take extracts of documents. Considering there is no provision in any act precluding me from doing so, they had little choice but to acquiesce.

The facts, as Drew Dilkens likes to discuss, seem to point to a concerted effort to obstruct, delay, impede, and circumvent the MEA.

Windsor CAO Helga Reidel indicates that transparency and accountability are components of her employees’ job descriptions.

“In this particular case our staff has been publicly accused and we accept that because we’re civil servants and part of our job is transparency and accountability,” she told the local media. No wonder Councilor Bill Marra had reservations when she was first appointed to the position of CAO.

“When you start appointing positions at that senior level, you run the risk of politicizing the civil service,” Marra told the Windsor Star late in 2009. “It really runs the risk of not addressing issues of accountability in an open and transparent process, a process that can be defended.”

Even Drew Dilkens got into the act. However, his comments seem to condone withholding access to documents despite legislation dictating otherwise.

“I think we’re doing a good job with openness,” he told Craig Pearson. “And when people think that we’re not being transparent, I think there are very often strong and valid reasons — legal reasons — why we have to make decisions … through an administrative process.”

Is it any wonder Reidel and Dilkens would prefer to redirect the conversation toward the identities of the complainants instead of acknowledging the actions of their employees?

About the Author

Ian Shalapata
Ian writes for and provides imagery to Square Media Group as well as accepting freelance photographic assignments. In addition, he has contributed to media organizations, sporting groups, and individuals across North America including the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Chatham-Kent Sports Network, the Golf Association of Michigan, League 1 Ontario, as well as numerous colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. Email Ian Shalapata