Every election we get supporters reaching out asking for information on candidates and what the issues are. This municipal election has been the same, but this is also the first time since the beginning of our campaign that we are living through an municipal election in Niagara Falls. For that reason we thought it would be important to give some background on what the issues are at the municipal level, what we have previously asked for from the City and would like to see from the City of Niagara Falls and its Council moving forward.
The history of our relationship with the previous Niagara Falls City Council was one of conflict. We’ve banged on pots and pans outside of Council meetings to disrupt Council, we’ve been kicked out of Council meetings and been forcibly removed and we’ve put pressure on individual members of that Council for their support of animal captivity and their attempts to silence our demonstrations.
That history is told in old media stories, old site posts, and through hundreds of pages of documents obtained under Freedom of Information. It would be exhausting to cover all of it, so for the sake of efficiency this post will focus on the main points of contention between animal advocates and Niagara Falls City Council. Our hope is that with this information people will be armed to ask the right questions and be able to gauge the sincerity of the candidates – regardless of whether or not they vote. If people have any other questions, concerns or want more information don’t hesitate to reach out to email@example.com
2011 was the first year of this campaign and with a full demonstration schedule also came a heavy Niagara Regional Police presence, Niagara Falls By Law Officers and the Niagara Falls City Clerk Dean Iorfida were familiar faces at demonstrations. During this year City Clerk Dean Iorfida, Niagara Falls By Law Officers and Niagara Regional Police Officers threatened demonstrators with fines or arrests for a myriad of offenses – the “Safe Streets” Act, blocking traffic under the Highway Traffic Act and the Niagara Falls “importuning By Law” were the most common. No arrests ever actually happened though, and at the end of the season Marineland Canada, the Niagara Regional Police, the Mayor of Niagara Falls Jim Diodati, Niagara Falls City Clerk Dean Iorfida, and By Law Officers sat down in closed door meetings in order to “deal with this protestor problem.” Out of those meetings came the idea for a land lease of publicly owned property at the drive in entrance to Marineland Canada – the spot where Marineland Animal Defense held demonstrations and offered leaflets to motorists as they drove into the facility. Although this land lease had been discussed for weeks prior, advocates were given a week to sign on to talk to its opposition at Council, and ultimately the land lease passed with only two City Councillors speaking out against it – Janice Wing and then City Councillor Wayne Gates. Both noted that the land lease had nothing to do with supposed concerns over public safety OR intentions on the part of Marineland Canada to “beautify the property” – but instead it was a move by the City to support the removal of demonstrators from a Niagara Falls tourist attraction.
After this land lease demonstrators simply moved from the drive in entrance down to the sight line walk in entrance to the facility. We purchased megaphones, got louder and made it harder to ignore us. At this point Marineland built off of their original land lease plan and prepared for attempts to a) enter a similar lease at the exit of the facility with the Region of Niagara (this never transpired) b) attempt to gain a 500 FT “buffer” around their entire property by way of an injunction (they were denied this in court in August 2013) c) to enter into another lease in the area where demonstrators had moved down to (this was the August 2013 land lease). Again, the same voices opposed the lease while other City Councillors simply parroted false claims made by representatives from Marineland Canada – best exemplified by Councillor Vince Kerrio echoing the claim made by lawyers from Marineland Canada that demonstrators “spit on and yell at children.” This second lease was a “buffer” around the City funded Marineland WeGo stop with public land on either side of the stop being leased to Marineland.
This second land lease came only weeks after a Superior Court judged had ruled that offering Marineland Canada a buffer around its property was not warranted and would restrict Charter Rights (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly). Also, importantly, the terms of the new lease would also impact how demonstrations would be carried out as demonstrators had the “right of passage” and “right of occupancy” on this land removed. If demonstrators walked in a straight line along Marineland’s property on public property they would be trespassing in two locations and subject to a court order which specifically forbids trespass. Demonstrators now have to cross a busy corner on Portage Rd. out front of Marineland Canada with the assistance of Niagara Regional Police Officers so as not to trespass on land leased to Marineland which a Superior Court would not grant – and of which a Superior Court Judges orders would also now be subject too. The Niagara Regional Police have echoed our concern about public safety at that corner – both for demonstrators and officers – and we have asked that at the very least the “right of passage” be granted back to demonstrators so that hundreds of people are not forced to cross Portage Rd in this way.
Throughout all of these land leases we have asked for the City of Niagara Falls to a) no longer hold closed door meetings with Marineland Canada b) provide meeting notes for the public of previous closed door meetings with Marineland Canada c) cancel both land leases and agree to not enter into any other attempts to help Marineland Canada criminalize demonstrations d) at the very least restore “right of passage” to both leases so that demonstrators do not inadvertently trespass and so they are not forced to cross Portage Rd. at a busy corner.
The last time we made this ask to Niagara Fall City Clerk Dean Iorfida on July 16 2013, he claimed that we subject families to “vitrol” and that the City of Niagara Falls would not honour these requests, “as long as you were committed to handing out your literature/brochures.” Iorfida also claimed that these meetings were not subject to the Municipal Act as they were called by Marineland and the “Mayor’s Office,”
The meeting on June 18, 2013 was a meeting called by the Mayor’s Office at the request of Marineland. It was not a meeting of Council and the Council, as a whole, were not invited to the meeting, therefore, it does not meet the requirements under the Act to be advertised or minutes of the proceedings to be recorded.
These asks remain the same of all candidates who wish to form the next Niagara Falls City Council. We want meeting notes from closed meetings, we want an agreement to end this practice of closed door meetings, and we want a cancellation of both land leases which were clearly discussed, planned and executed through means of which the public still does not have access to. There are wealth of examples below in the section “Influence on Council” to trace this process of how the Land Leases came to be.
Enforcement of By Laws
Alongside closed door meetings and attempts to aid Marineland Canada in their aims to silence demonstrators – Niagara Falls City Council – namely City Clerk Dean Iorfida and Niagara Falls By Law Staff have been intensely interested in dreaming up new ways to attempt to criminalize demonstration and extremely disinterested in enforcing by laws on Marineland Canada and facility owner John Holer. Niagara Falls City By Law Officer Franco Piscitelli best exemplifies this in an email obtained via FOIA in where he claims to the Niagara Regional Police that “importuning by laws” could be further “ammunition” for the City to use against demonstrators.
During the 2011 season facility owner John Holer repeatedly posted a large sign “Protestors Ahead – Do Not Stop” along Portage Rd. The sign was constantly placed on public property and Niagara Falls City By Law refused to enforce signage by laws. The situation escalated to the sign being attached to a city owned Hydro/Telephone poll – an obvious offence of the City by signage by law and an offense on a public utility (which could damage the structural integrity of the poll). Throughout, all attempts were made to provide Mr. Holer with ample opportunity and time to remove the sign – generally until after the demonstrations would end. The sign would see limited use after the 2011 season as the City had instead decided to enter into land leases of that area we demonstrated on – however, to our knowledge Mr. Holer still has the sign in his possession and never faced and fine of penalty for repeatedly and obviously flaunting this by law.
Later on and prior to the 2013 season Marineland Canada erected a full length fence along the entire 1+km of their front property. Although calls were made to City By Law about whether or not the fence followed City By Laws the By Law Office was completely indifferent. This is while FOIA documents obtained by Marineland Animal Defense show the Niagara Regional Police questioning the placement of the fence and whether or not portions of the fence are not actually on public property.
In the 2013 season Marineland Animal Defense also called into question the location of the main Marineland sign on Portage Rd. and its closeness to public property (the garden area around it actually extends on to public property). To date, nothing has been done by the City of Niagara Falls or the By Law Office to acknowledge this.
We continue to ask the City of Niagara Falls to enforce their own City By Laws against Marineland Canada and John Holer (including claims surrounding the discharging of a firearm in residential areas). The Fence erected in 2013, the main Marineland sign, and the previous sign are all issues which are outstanding and issues we will continue to ask all candidates and future candidates to address.
The Green Oaks Eviction
Previous Council has refused to acknowledge the fact that the City of Niagara Falls had the ability to intervene in that eviction – with City Clerk Dean Iorfida going as far to claim that the eviction “never happened.” We will continue to ask that the City of Niagara Falls acknowledge that evicted happened and also provide any and all information related to closed door meetings regarding Green Oaks and any and all emails from public office available under FOIA.
Influence on Council
Influence of Marineland Canada and the Tourist Industry in Niagara Falls as a whole is uncontroversial in the region. However, documents obtained under FOIA illustrate a troubling pattern of City Councillors being the ones providing the City and the Niagara Regional Police with direction to criminalize protests and initiating plans for land lease in order to restrict demonstrators rights. The idea to enforce “importuning” by laws came first from Councillor Wayne Thomson – long time friend of Marineland owner John Holer – and meetings to initiate land leases were both triggered by Wayne Thomson and brought forward and supported in Council by Wayne Thomson.
Below are just some of the examples that trace the development of Marineland’s influence on Council through Councillor Thomson since 2011.
Dean Iorfida to Sgt. Geoffrey Skaftfield August 3, 2011 – “Councillor Thomson asked me to forward a copy of what is known as the City’s “Importuning” By-law.”
Dean Iorfida to Wayne Thomson, Franco Piscitelli, NRP Sgt. Skaftfeld, Mayor Jim Diodati, Ken Beaman, August 20, 2011 – Should be read in full – highlights include “Bottom line: the protestors were well within their Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly rights. There were no bylaw violations or Highway Traffic Act violations while we were on-site…Mr. Holer has to accept that the protestors are a likely fact of his operation.”
Teresa Fabbro to Dean Iorfida August 26, 2011 – Subject: John Holer called “WT (Wayne Thomson) told him to call you…he wants a contact name & numbers from you in case he gets protestors in front of Marineland? Is he talking about by-law guys?”
Dean Iorfida September 2, 2011 – “Bylaw staff are well on top of the Marineland protests and have been communicating, including this morning, with Councillor Thomson, whom Mr. Holer has on speed dial. [bolded for emphasis] … Bylaw got involved after Councillor Thomson recalled the existence of a 1970’s bylaw we have on the books called the Importuning Bylaw…”
Dean Iorfida to Carey Campbell. Cathy Crabbe September 9, 2011 – “Councillor Thomson contacted me yesterday. Mr. Holer would like another meeting with the Mayor and the Police on the protestor issues.”
Cathy Crabbe to NRP, Dean Iorfida, Franco Piscitelli and Jim Diodati October 6, 2011 – “Councillor Wayne Thomson, on behalf of John Holer, Owner, Marineland has requested a meeting with staff and the NRP regarding the ongoing protestor issue at Marineland.”
Exchange Between Cathy Crabbe and Dean Iorfida March 8 – 13, 2012 – Should be read in full – highlights include “Dean: Need a little direction please. Wayne T called this morning to book an appt for John Holer with Jim to discuss his “protestor” issue again before the season starts. John wants to discuss a suggestion that come out of the meeting held last fall (?) where their might be a possibility for Marineland leasing some of the City’s land at the entrance thereby making them responsible for the property and who (not the protestors), can stand in the area.”
Dean to Cathy “The more I think about it the more more I think there shouldn’t be any staff at the initial meeting. Knowing how Wayne operates and Mr. Holer’s past, staff will be forced into doing the legwork on matters the private property owner should be doing i.e. legal surveys, financial offer for the land, written proposal, etc.
Cathy Crabbe to Dean Iorfida, Jim Diodati, Ken Todd March 19 2012 – “Further to a request from John Holer to Councillor Thomson a meeting, scheduled for March 28, has been arranged for them to meet with the Mayor and City Clerk to discuss a suggestion that came out of the meeting last fall where the might be a possibility of Marineland leasing some of the City’s land at the entrance to their property. This would be the area where the “protestors” gather when picketing the Marineland attraction. It was thought at that time if Marineland controlled the property through a leasing arraignment, they would have the right to have protestors removed from their property.”
Dean Iorfida to Georgina Allan Niagara Regional Police – “To attempt to justify this lease, we need to demonstrate that there are safety concerns.”
All of these emails show a clear record that Councillor Wayne Thomson pressured the City, By Law Officers and the Niagara Regional Police to criminalize demonstrators. When City staff pushed back, the compromise was developing plans for land leases which would have the same effect through different means. Although activists were given just days to prepare at Council to oppose these leases – they had been in development for months prior (as far back as Fall 2011) and the City itself was intent on finding justifications for the lease only after it had already been agreed upon in private. When Marineland was offered limited injunctive relief in August 2013 Councillor Wayne Thomson forwarded a copy of that order to Mayor Jim Diodati with the subject line in upper case “GOOD NEWS.”
We think it is a reasonable demand to expect City Councillors to not act this way towards demonstrators, or for the City to bow to this kind of pressure and accept land leases. We expect the next Council to operate on different terms.
These are the substantive and current issues that surround animal captivity at Marineland and this is an up to date and full record of the asks we have made to the City of Niagara Falls. Throughout our campaign the City of Niagara Falls including the Mayor’s Office have maintained that they are transparent and neutral – however, we believe that their actions suggest otherwise (and we’ve also got hundreds of FOIA emails to back up our claim). The land leases were clearly constructed to silence demonstrators, the City intentionally focused on dreaming up ways to enforce by laws against demonstrators instead of enforcing obvious infractions on the part of Marineland and the City has also gone to great lengths to ignore the eviction of Green Oaks residents which ended in the suicide of resident Paula Millard. Clearly these are issues that will haunt the City of Niagara Falls and which advocates will continue to expect the City to correct.
In closing, we hope this offers a snapshot of the relationship between our campaign and the City of Niagara Falls. Contrary to what some may think, we do not operate a “voting bloc” in the area – and don’t want to tell people how to vote, who to vote for, or even suggest that they should or that these issues will be corrected through voting. Niagara Falls has a long history of prioritizing the needs of the tourist industry in that area and we don’t expect that to change any time soon. However, we don’t have short memories and we will continue to our campaign with full knowledge that at some point those who have aided Marineland on City Council will have to be accountable for their actions.
For anyone running for Niagara Falls City Council, or Regional Council, we will make all of our FOIA documents available upon request. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of the FOIA documents linked herein are publicly available through that process.
EDIT: Below are the responses so far from Candidates. We emailed this out to all candidates running with a publicly listed email address. As more responses come in we will continue to update this space.
Tony Caruso Oct 7, 2014 – Hello, I am the only candidate that publicly spoke up against the land lease and stated I will bring in a motion to take back our lands. I hope to see your group more involved in this election. Regards, Tony.
Tia DeAgazio Oct 8, 2014 – Thank you. FYI, I have joined Clarke Bitter’s facebook group to put a motion forth to ban the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes. Regards, Tia DeAgazio.
Lori Lococo Oct 8, 2014 – Thank You. (Posted link to article on all her social media).
Tim Tredwell Oct 8, 2014 – My name is Tim Tredwell. I am running for Niagara falls city council. I am unhappy with the whole mess. particularly the city becoming a pawn of one interest group over the charter rights of everyone. (freedom of assembly, freedom of speech). If elected to city council, I will actively try my best to reverse these bad decisions. I believe in fair and equal treatment for all! On October 27th. Get out the vote..thank you.