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Willow Pond

“Crackdown on LSS”

The following story appears in the November/December issue of The Landowner, the official magazine of the Ontario Landowners Association.

Want to celebrate Canadian freedoms? Be prepared to pay a $50,000 fine.

That’s what my mother and father are facing for permitting me, their son, to host the Liberty Summer Seminar on their expansive 40-acre property in Orono, part of the municipality of Clarington.

The Liberty Summer Seminar, founded in 2001, is an annual two-day seminar and barbecue that celebrates and promotes Canadian freedoms — individual liberty, private property, and economic freedom. The values and institutions that the founders of Canada held near and dear to their heart.

These are the values that my family holds close to their hearts as well. In 1984, my family escaped from Communist Poland. We were refugees in Germany for three years, waiting on paperwork to move to a country that values individual liberty, private property, and puts genuine constraints on government. In 1987 we arrived in Canada, and, in 1991, we became proud citizens of a free and democratic country.

Given my family’s history, you can understand why an event like the Liberty Summer Seminar is so important to us. When, in 2001, I asked my mom and dad if I can invite friends over to discuss and debate the freedoms and liberties that Canada has to offer, and that Poland had failed to offer, my parents did not hesitate. Of course, they said.

This year over the July 24, 25 weekend, we celebrated our ten-year anniversary. But overzealous bylaw bullies muted our celebration.

Marta during the seminar. One of the two pictures that ran with this story

Four days before the Seminar, I received an email from the Clarington health department. We cannot make food for the attendees, I was informed. Our kitchen is not up to code, they haven’t had a chance to inspect the premises, they need to know about our washrooms, and so on.

I spent the next three days speaking with the health department. We received advanced permission to carry on with the event, provided we catered. So we did. Subway, pizza, a three-piece chicken dinner from Loblaw’s, all individually-wrapped, all non-toxic, all plastic forks and knives and paper plates. We generated more garbage thanks to health department requirements this year than the last three or four years combined.

The health department got wind of the Seminar thanks to a tip from the zoning department. And that department had gotten wind of what was happening on my parents property thanks to complaints about weddings. Even without hosting a single wedding reception, a competitor had started to call bylaw to complain about us hosting wedding receptions after my mother advertised an intention to allow her property to be used in this way in March.

While the municipality had been happy to see weddings being hosted without requiring re-zoning for more than ten years, something changed this year. The municipality started to crack down on all sorts of events and businesses. You won’t find equestrian businesses in Orono any more. The municipality frowns on such things. And while “illegal” weddings continue, many have been cowed by the aggressive and intimidating tactics employed by our local bylaw department.

Still, the email from the health department came as a surprise to all of us. No one, after all, gets married at the Liberty Summer Seminar.

More surprising was the visit paid by a bylaw enforcement officer on the Sunday of the Seminar. He came to where the cars were parked, armed with a camera, and quizzed an attendee about the food, the port-a-potties, the event, and even got into a debate about the appropriateness of zoning laws. He didn’t speak to an organizer or the property owners, and he felt at liberty to walk on to our private property without an invitation.

The shocking surprise came on August 12th. While my mother was putting out flowers, the bylaw officer came to deliver a summons to appear in court, one for my mom and the other for my dad. The municipality, knowing that the Seminar is an event that celebrates and promotes Canadian freedom, had decided to charge my parents for permitting me, their son, to host the Seminar on their property.

According to the summons, my mom and dad “on or about the 25 day of July,” had run afoul of the bylaws by using their property as a “commercial conference centre” on land zoned Agricultural. They were to appear in court on September 28th “to be dealt with by law.”

The municipality must be confused. A few facts: The event is run by an educational charity, the Institute for Liberal Studies. It is a non-profit, educational event. The attendees are our friends, neighbours, and like-minded individuals. The fees that the Institute charges ($125 general, $75 for students) do not cover the costs of the Seminar (they never have). The event is not “commercial,” it is educational, and it is not-for-profit. I have never heard of a “conference centre” that exists solely to put on a once-per-year event. It is a family-run seminar and barbecue on private property.

How could this event be of interest to bylaw, much less the health department? In short, just how does this event differ from a politician’s barbecue where people chip-in to cover the costs of hamburgers and speakers? How does this event differ from Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s cross-Canada bus tour? If the Liberty Summer Seminar is contrary to bylaw, then so may your family reunions, neighbourhood gatherings, and barbecues with friends be.

What the municipality did not anticipate is just how much our story would resonate with Canadians from coast to coast. Our story made the cover of the National Post. Their editorial board put together a lead editorial entitled “Save the Liberty Summer Seminar” that demanded the municipality drop the charges. The Toronto Sun covered it. Ezra Levant made it the subject of one of his columns. Local papers covered it as well. Even the Toronto Star put together a favourable news piece on A2, with a picture of me and my mom.

Me and mom, the picture that ran with the Toronto Star story

Outraged Canadians flooded the municipality with angry phone calls and letters. Hundreds of Canadians (as well as people from the U.S., China, the Netherlands, and elsewhere) signed our online petition requesting the charges be dropped. Shortly after making a request for contributions to the Marta and Lech legal defence fund, concerned Canadians managed to contribute over $3,000 to help my mom and dad fight against the bullies.

Of course, the Ontario Landowners Association supported us from the very beginning. As municipalities across Ontario are starting to learn, the Ontario Landowners Association is the rock in the sling for Davids going up against Goliaths.

Many OLA members came along with president Jack MacLaren to our first day in court on September 28th. While all that happened was a rescheduling of court to the 26th of November, it did surprise the judge and the prosecutor to see three quarters of the court room stand up to leave after my mom and dad were dismissed.

Celebrating and promoting Canadian freedoms, values and institutions is not contrary to any legitimate law in Canada. The municipality of Clarington simply does not understand our constitutional rights — in particular, our Charter rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Soon, they will.

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