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Two letters from soldiers

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We’ve received a lot of letters recently. Often, people carbon-copy us into emails that they send to our mayor and our councillors. Here are two letters from soldiers (they gave us permission to post the letters, without identifying information), one serving in Afghanistan, the other a high school friend of Peter’s who works for the Canadian Forces and teaches cadets in Bowmanville (part of our municipality).

“Peter,

I know we haven’t talked in a long time, but catching the news about what your family is going through, I had to send you a message to tell you how I feel about the situation.

I feel ashamed. To think that something like this can happen in Canada…

In addition to my full time job, I go out to Bowmanville to teach teens things like seamanship skills, and citizenship. Occasionally, we give them lessons about WWII around Remembrance Day, and the Battle of Atlantic Sunday, including the evils of fascism and tyranny. It’s sad to see that despite our best lessons, these evil seeds are taking root in this rather nice community.

I hope that you get vindication in the end.

John”

Here’s the letter from Gilles in Afghanistan:

“To Your Honour the Mayor Jim Abernethy,

I am presently serving in Afghanistan and have read about the Gestapo like tactics of a certain bylaw officer who seems to have a personal vendetta against the Jaworski family and their bed and breakfast. As you may or may not be aware, this business is owned by former Polish democracy activists who fled communist Poland in 1984, only to find themselves in a bureaucratic Kafkaesque vendetta over a back yard BBQ. It also seems that your bylaw officers have been purposefully targeting this family as they were forced to abandon home cooking for catered food, which in turn was used as a reason to lay the recent fine associated with having an illegal commercial conference centre.

As I mentioned, I’m in Afghanistan, and I’ve been serving in the CF since 1984, and the support I’ve seen from the Canadian public over the recent years has been amazing. And seeing part of the 401 being renamed the Highway of Heroes has at times brought me to tears, especially when I’ve seen my fellow Canadians line the route for my fallen comrades.

I see the Clarington municipality is within Bowmanville, which recently was the destination of the planned route for last June’s Hero’s Highway Ride. But it seems to me now, that Bowmanville’s association with your municipality, and the type of actions you allow those who protect your community, has sullied this honourable route.

I’ve been defending our country for many years, but I never thought that what I was defending was the right of over-zealous bylaw enforcers to bully a family business over a backyard BBQ.

What if a similar Hero’s Ride were to be organized when I get back next spring from my tour, but instead of ending it at the Bowmanville exit on Hwy 401, some participants pulled into the Jaworskis’ Bed and Breakfast for a BBQ, would your Bylaw officers once again employ the same heartless uncommon anti-social tactics? Of course, no such event is planned, but the freedom to do so seems only natural, but not, it seems, in your most unfriendly municipality.

While I’m here in Afghanistan, or as I have been throughout my career, defending those freedoms Canadians enjoy, it appears the Jaworskis are not entitled to such freedom, regardless of how many heroes have died to ensure that those freedoms exist.

Remember that the next time you ride or drive on the 401.

Gilles.”

If you would like to phone our councillors, or send them a message, you can do so by clicking here.

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What can I do with my property?

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You might be wondering what you are permitted to do with your own property in the Municipality of Clarington. If you are, the municipality provides a very handy guide here. That guide often points to these by-laws. Those by-laws are put together in response to this official plan, which is guided by three principles: “This Plan has been prepared in recognition of three key principles which provide direction for the policies of this Plan: sustainable development, healthy communities and growth management.” (Ch. 3, p. 1)

It would not be fair to expect residents to have to hire lawyers, PhDs, or consultants and experts just to understand what the by-laws are saying. If residents had to hire professionals, who charge significant hourly rates, it would violate the spirit of equality before the law. Those either wealthy enough to afford experts, or who are themselves experts, could take advantage of all of the privileges and rights associated with private property ownership. Those who cannot, or are not, would have a much more difficult time accessing the privileges and rights of property ownership. And whatever else that would be, it would not be fair.

Clearly, to avoid this, by-laws and regulations should either be written in as clear and plain a manner as possible, providing an allowance for the requirement of precision, or the municipality should make their experts available at a reasonable price (those experts are on the clock during the day anyways, so guiding a property owner through the by-laws should probably just be part of the job anyways).

Are by-laws and regulations in the municipality easy enough to understand? Can a property owner in Clarington be reasonably expected to understand and comply with the by-laws?

There are some fairly clear requirements. For example, if you want to put a rain gutter on a structure on your property, here is the by-law regulating that:

“Notwithstanding the yard and setback provisions of this By-law to the contrary, every part of any yard to be provided in all zones shall be open and unobstructed by any structure from the ground to the sky, except for the following:

i) Sills, belt courses, cornices, chimney breasts, bay windows, cantilevered floor areas, pilasters or parapets may project into any yard to a distance of not more than 0.75 metres;
ii) Eaves or gutters, for other than an accessory building or structure, may project into any required yard a distance of not more than 0.75 metres;
iii) Eaves or gutters for an accessory building or structure may project into any required yard a distance of not more than 0.3 metres; [etc.]”

That seems simple enough.

But suppose you want to erect a flagpole in your residential yard to wave the Maple Leaf on, say, Canada Day. That’s not a problem, probably. All you need to do is figure out what this by-law (3.1, j, vi) is saying:

“Fences, freestanding walls, flag poles, clothes poles, diving boards, antennae, light standards, and similar accessory structures and appurtenances, and hedges, trees, and shrubs are permitted, but in the case of a residential interior lot line situated in any residential zone, no structure, hedge or obstruction that is more than 0.75 metres in height is permitted within 3 metres of any street line where such structure, hedge or obstruction will impede vision between a height of 0.75 metres and 2.5 metres above the centreline grade of an access from any improved public street to any lot.”

Not impeding vision sounds sensible. I’m not sure what “0.75 metres and 2.5 metres above the centreline grade of an access from any improved public street to any lot” means, but that would probably just require a quick trip to the dictionary (or a phone call to the by-law folks at the municipality).

By-law 3.6 (“Established building line”) is clearly saying something important:

“Notwithstanding the yard and setback provisions of this By-law to the contrary, where a permitted use is to be erected on a lot and where there is an established building line extending on both sides of the lot, such permitted use may be erected closer to the street line or the centreline of the street, as the case may be, than required by this By-law such that the yard or setback is equal to the average setback of adjacent buildings on the same side of the street, provided further that such building is not erected closer to the street line or the centreline of the street, as the case may be, than the established building line.”

Whatever that important thing is, I haven’t a clue. If one of my students submitted the above to me, I would send it back to them demanding clarification and simplicity.

You might think I picked some of the more difficult bits of the by-laws. If you think that, I invite you to read through the document yourself.

Why are the by-laws so complicated? Why is it such a hassle for property owners to do anything on their own property? How can anyone be expected to follow, let alone understand, the legal demands of the by-laws?

Often, people tell me that philosophers are obtuse, verbose, and unnecessarily complicated. They haven’t read the zoning laws.

(Posted by Peter Jaworski)

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John Oakley show, Charles Adler show (with Roy Green subbing in)

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On Wednesday, John Oakley interviewed me in the morning for his show. Mayor Abernethy, with whom I have had pleasant, if disappointing, exchanges, called in and joined the conversation. You can listen to that interview here.

In the afternoon, I was on the Charles Adler show, with Roy Green subbing in from him. I posted the link to the audio yesterday, but here it is again.

After the disappointing meeting yesterday, Roy Green asked me to be on the Charles Adler show again. I was on the program for about four minutes. You can listen to that exchange here.

(Posted by Peter Jaworski)

If you would like to help, please call our councillors and mayor (click for details). If you can, please also consider donating to the Marta & Lech legal defence fund (click for details).

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Charles Adler Wednesday audio

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Yesterday, I was on the John Oakley show in the morning, and then on the Charles Adler show (with Roy Green subbing in) in the afternoon. I can’t find the audio for the John Oakley show yet (Mayor Abernethy called in to that one), but if you want to listen to me explain my parents’ situation to Roy Green, here’s the audio link.

(Posted by Peter Jaworski)

If you would like to help, please call our councillors and mayor (click for details). If you can, please also consider donating to the Marta & Lech legal defence fund (click for details).

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Disappointing meeting with municipality

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We’re very disappointed.

The meeting did not resolve anything.

Present at the meeting were my mom and dad (Marta and Lech), Mayor Jim Abernethy, Deputy Clerk C. Anne Greentree, Manager of Development Review Carlo Pellarin, and Junior Planner Meaghan Harrington. I was on the phone to participate in the meeting.

The municipality did not budge.

With respect to the crippling $50,000 charges faced by mom and dad for permitting me to host the Liberty Summer Seminar on their property, Mayor Abernethy insisted that there is nothing they can do. That once the charges are put forward, there is nothing he can do. “I’m not in a position to drop the charges,” he said. “Once a charge has been laid, politicians cannot interfere.” The mayor continuously insisted that his hands were tied.

With respect to hosting weddings, a separate issue from the Liberty Summer Seminar, we would need to file three applications. It costs $10,000 for a change in the Official Plan application, $5,000 for a re-zoning application, and $3,000 for a site amendment application. On top of the prohibitive $18,000 application charges, property owners should also hire a planning consultant who puts the applications together; and must pay for any experts that the municipality decides are necessary.

Total estimated bill (application fees + experts + consultant fees): the average income of an average Ontarioan for a year. To start a business. In Clarington. With no guarantee of approval.

When I asked how residents of the municipality can start a business if they cannot pay an average year’s salary up-front, the mayor explained to me that there are only two sources of revenue for the municipality — property taxes (my parents’ property tax bill is $7,542.78 this year; the municipality’s share is $2,249.75, the remainder goes to the Durham Region and to education) and user fees, including application fees.

The mayor’s salary, as of this year, is $100,232.14, with $12,340.16 in taxable benefits (source). (Mayor Abernethy attempted to decline the three per cent raise that bumped him over the six-figure income mark, as the article explains).

As for the commercial sign that Ezra Levant wrote about, they informed us that we have to get a permit for the sign. It costs $150 for the permit.

When my mother, in tears, explained her fear of the by-law officer who has been dealing with my mom, and explained, “I feel harassed,” C. Anne Greentree interrupted her. “We do not harass people,” she intoned. “I do take offense to that.”

When I asked about whether or not a different by-law enforcement officer can deal with my parents, since my mother is obviously frightened of the one dealing with us now (especially after reading Ezra Levant’s column and blog), they did not want to discuss that issue.

My mother went to the hospital yesterday. She has lost 10 kilos (about 22 pounds). She is just over five feet tall. She weighs less now than she weighed when she got married.

But no one wants to discuss the simple matter of putting someone other than the six-foot by-law enforcement officer who menacingly said, “be careful” to my mother in one exchange. When my mother, confused, responded “I am careful,” he leaned in and whispered, “be very careful…”

At the end of the meeting, I expressed my disappointment that nothing has moved forward, and that my parents are in the same position they were in before all of this started. Nothing has changed.

My parents did not go to work this morning to attend the meeting. My father left at one point in the meeting to put more quarters into the parking metre. The civil servants and the mayor were on the clock for the meeting. They did not lose two hours of income to speak with my parents.

Disappointed might be the wrong word. I feel deflated.

I feel deflated, but not defeated.

(Posted by Peter Jaworski)

If you would like to help, please call our councillors and mayor (click for details). If you can, please also consider donating to the Marta & Lech legal defence fund (click for details).

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Ezra Levant: Overzealous by-law leaves sour taste

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Ezra Levant writes about what is happening to my parents in the Sun chain of newspapers today. He tells us that it was picked up by 27 different newspapers, including many in Ontario.

He spoke with the by-law officer who delivered the summons to Marta, and has been coming to our property on a regular basis since May. According to Ezra, the by-law officer plans on taking Marta and Lech’s sign advertising the bed and breakfast (you can see the sign in the picture accompanying the Oshawa This Week story here).

Here’s an excerpt from Ezra’s column entitled “Overzealous by-law leaves sour taste“:

“…the officer charged Peter’s parents with running an illegal “commercial conference centre,” which carries a fine of up to $50,000. The officer, a burly, tattooed, six-foot-something man, told Peter’s mom to “be very careful.” She burst into tears.

I phoned that bylaw officer to ask him about the Jaworskis. I found a man on a mission, boasting to me that his next step would be to take down the street sign for the family’s small bed and breakfast.

He was particularly pleased that he could do that without issuing a summons, or even receiving a complaint. When he sensed my sympathy for the Jaworskis, he hung up on me.”

You can read the rest here.

Ezra has also put up a blog post about his column, entitled “The bully of Clarington“:

“Usually I write my columns based on news reports that are in the public domain already. But for today’s column, I did a fair bit of reporting myself, calling most of the people involved in the story. That included a call to the most belligerent bylaw officer I could imagine, in the town of Clarington, Ontario. He positively boasted to me on the phone about what he had done to the Jaworski family, and what he was planning to do to them still. It was shocking — and a symptom of a government that no longer sees itself as a servant of the people, or even a policeman to the people, but as an antagonist of the people. The citizens are not the boss in the mind of this man; they are the enemy. He seemed to have a personal mission to harass the Jaworskis using every tool in his large book of laws.

Embarrassing; enraging; frightening.”

Are we frightened? To be honest, yes. What are we to do if Ezra is right? What does anyone do if a by-law enforcement officer, who is supposed to impartially enforce the law, is partial?

Clarington’s by-laws and regulations are numerous, complicated, and, according to several people we’ve spoken to, including an ex-mayor, some of the most complicated in Ontario. It’s very difficult to start a new business venture in Clarington. And Marta and Lech, while they want to be left in peace, also would like to see changes to the by-laws and regulations to make it easier not just for them, but for everyone in Clarington, to open a business, and to have more secure private property protection in the municipality.

We have a meeting with the municipality on Thursday. We’ll update you on how that conversation goes.

(And thank you to everyone who has called our municipality, and who has sent us words of encouragement and support, including contributions. It is unbelievable to us how many of you have shared similar stories of how difficult, expensive, and humiliating it is to deal with your local municipalities, their by-laws and regulations. This needs to change.)

If you would like to help, please call our councillors and mayor (click for details). If you can, please also consider donating to the Marta & Lech legal defence fund (click for details).

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