The Shotgun Blog
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Petition to save the Liberty Summer Seminar
The National Post's editorial board urged the municipality of Clarington to drop the charges against my mother and father. They are being charged with running a "commercial conference centre" on land zoned Agricultural, for letting me host the Liberty Summer Seminar on their property.
Here's a little excerpt from their August 19th editorial entitled "Save the Liberty Summer Seminar":
This type of senseless bureaucratic incursion into people’s lives through over-broad regulation is simply not worthy of Canada. It fosters the type of culture the Jaworskis thought they had left behind in their native communist Poland, where businesses used the state to stamp out their rivals, and neighbours reported on each other’s alleged transgressions to curry favour with state officials. The charges against family should be dropped, and their summer freedom festival allowed to continue. In a country which prides itself on its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we should defend liberty whenever it is threatened — and that starts in our own backyards.”
I have now put up a petition to Save the Liberty Summer Seminar. Please consider signing it (and spreading it).
UPDATE: Marven Whidden, a popular local blogger in Clarington, has signed the petition, and written about it on his blog. The post is entitled "It could happen to you." Here's an excerpt:
Picture this scenario. You and your neighbours are having a street party. This party will feature a live band, BBQ, games and whatever else goes into making a successful street party. To achieve this, everyone pitches in a certain amount of money to cover the cost of the food and band.
At the party everything is going great, until a bylaw officer comes in and charges the organizer with running a commercial enterprise on residential property, all because you collected money for your party. Think this can't happen? think again.
In a nutshell that is what happened to the Jaworski family in Orono.
There is one thing I am not clear about here. Do you think the issue is that you broke a stupid bylaw that should not have ever been a law in the first place and should be repealed immediately? Or that you did not actually break the bylaw at all, regardless of its questionable "merits"? I don't know if you can really answer this question or not given the possible legal implications, but it does seem to me on the face of it that you did break the (stupid) bylaw (that should not have ever been a law in the first place and should be repealed immediately). When you charge $125 per head for a barbecue, that cannot be just, as Whidden describes it, people pitching in to merely cover the costs. It looks like it was an amount designed to be a fundraiser for the Institute for Liberal Studies.
To be clear: in my view most municipal bylaws are garbage and should be scrapped (including this one). So while it might help generate more support to present the case as one where you did not break the bylaw or, as Whidden does, by misrepresenting the circumstances of your barbecue, it looks to me that you really did break the law. Section 6.1(a) of the Clarington Zoning By-Law #84-63 lists the ways the municipality allows agricultural land to be used, and unless I missed something, holding a fundraising conference for a registered educational non-profit organization is not among them.
So if you start a petition asking for the bylaw to be changed or repealed, I'll sign. But not one that tries to suggest that you didn't break the bylaw, because I don't see how that is true.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2010-09-19 1:45:45 PM
Hey has anyone heard from Matthew Johnston as I have not seen him post here for a very long time?? Is he still with the WS?? Anyone know?
Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2010-09-19 4:10:40 PM
The Shotgun is virtually a ghost town now. Publius and Hugh are the only regular bloggers here now. When the 9-11 anniversary came and went without a mention here and Marc Emery was sentenced without a new blog post on it here it was clear that the shark had well and truly been jumped. So wherever Matthew might be, he certainly does not seem to be here. But he`s not the only one.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2010-09-19 7:41:48 PM
Hey Fact Check:
The Liberty Summer Seminar is not a fundraiser for the Institute.
Since the founding of the Institute for Liberal Studies in 2006, I and my parents stopped losing money on the event (from 2001 until 2006, I "lost" over $10,000. I put "lost" in scare quotes because I don't view it as a loss at all. I'd be happy to continue to put money into the event, since I think it's important, and I get a lot out of it).
The fees for the LSS do not cover the costs to the Institute. Every year, including this one, the ILS has lost money on the LSS (last year we came awfully close to breaking even).
The municipality claims that my parents run a "commercial conference centre." The claim in the petition is that that is false.
Given the kind of event that it is (educational), and the way that it is run (non-profit, non-partisan, run by a registered charity), there is no way that that constitutes a "commercial conference centre" (whatever that means. I have yet to see a legal definition for that in the Clarington bylaws).
I have also spoken with constitutional lawyers, who suggest that we could have a constitutional challenge on our hands. In fact, one constitutional lawyer wrote to the municipality telling them just that -- that we have grounds for a Charter challenge, and that there is a chance that we could win.
So that's the basis for the petition, Fact Check. I also think that the bylaws in Clarington are byzantine and out-of-date, that they are far too restrictive. But that is a separate issue.
Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2010-09-20 8:26:37 AM
"The fees for the LSS do not cover the costs to the Institute. Every year, including this one, the ILS has lost money on the LSS."
I certainly don't think you are lying, but I have been to many many barbecues over the years and I have never gone to one where the costs would come to $125 per person. So at the very least it is not crazy for the municipality to suspect that it was a fundraiser.
"The municipality claims that my parents run a 'commercial conference centre.' The claim in the petition is that that is false."
I read the bylaw and while I agree that you clearly were not running a "commercial" anything, I don't think that matters. The bylaw says what you are allowed to do on agricultural land, not what you are not allowed to do. Simply put, the bylaw says you are allowed to do A, B, or C. The municipality is saying you were doing D, which is not on the list. The reality is that you were not doing D, but you were doing E. E also is not on the list, so the bylaw was violated, even though their description of what happened is wrong. I'm not a lawyer, but I think this is right.
"I also think that the bylaws in Clarington are byzantine and out-of-date, that they are far too restrictive. But that is a separate issue."
Well, if you ever start a petition asking for the bylaw to be repealed because it is byzantine and out-of-date, or far too restrictive, I'll sign that. Hell, a petition objecting that the bylaw is just plain ridiculous is one I would sign. Just not one that suggests that you did not actually break that bylaw, as ridiculous as the bylaw might be.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2010-09-20 11:25:49 AM
I read what Fact Check had to say and i decided to sign the petition. JAWS says that he held the seminar there for years , if it was contrary to the law, they should have been warned first. Then they could have decided what to do next, whether to hold it or not.
Its a little sad when you have neighbors ratting on you, its not like there are any victims here.
Posted by: don b | 2010-09-20 1:27:57 PM
Do the Clarington bylaws specifically allow someone to run a bed and breakfast enterprise on agricultural land? I can't see this as being an "agricultural" use for farmland, but apparently that is not in question, at least as far as the bylaw inspector was concerned.
As for the costs, guest speaker fees alone could easily amount to $125 per person depending on who they are, how many you have and how far they had to travel.
Posted by: Dennis | 2010-09-20 3:17:59 PM
"Do the Clarington bylaws specifically allow someone to run a bed and breakfast enterprise on agricultural land?"
Yes they do. Section 3.3 of the bylaw specifies that "A Bed and Breakfast Establishment shall be permitted within a single detached dwelling located in the 'Agricultural (A)'...."
"As for the costs, guest speaker fees alone could easily amount to $125 per person depending on who they are, how many you have and how far they had to travel."
Ok, but if the $125 per person is being used to cover speaker fees, then (1) Whidden's description of people pitching in to cover food costs looks less honest and (2) the idea that the barbecue was a "commercial" event seems more plausible, since some people did make a profit off of it after all.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2010-09-20 4:16:39 PM
"Ok, but if the $125 per person is being used to cover speaker fees, then...(2) the idea that the barbecue was a "commercial" event seems more plausible, since some people did make a profit off of it after all."
No, Fact Check, that's not correct. The mere fact that 'someone' profits as the result of the LSS does not make the LSS even plausibly a commercial event. Yes, speakers may indeed be paid fees and as such it could be said they profit. Food vendors and port-o-potty vendors are also paid fees and they, too, profit. In fact, every proprietor along the travel route of each LSS attendee who provides goods and services to those attendees could be said to profit. The mere fact of that profiting, however, bears absolutely no implication that the seminar is itself commercial. By your logic, my vacation would be a commercial event because I paid rental fees for a beach house and the beach house owner profited. That, of course, would be preposterous.
By accusing the Jaworski's of running a commercial conference center, the Jaworski's are being accused of profiting from the Liberty Summer Seminar. But they are not profiting (nor is profit even an intent or motivation for the event). Therefore LSS is not a commercial event. Further, given that LSS is the only such event held on the property, Willow Pond does not at all qualify as a commercial conference center. The charges are outrageously bogus.
Posted by: Lori Kennedy | 2010-09-21 8:55:15 PM
ack! I of course mean 'Jaworskis', sans apostrophe.
Posted by: Lori Kennedy | 2010-09-21 9:02:19 PM
Think of it this way: Suppose I own a theatre and I ask Broken Social Scene to come perform there and offer to pay them to do it. They agree. Then I get together a few hundred people and ask them to pay to come to theatre, explaining that the payment is to cover my costs (set-up, clean up, refreshments, etc.) and a fee I am paying the band. They agree. Even if I make no money at all - even if I lose money - what I am doing looks an awful lot like hosting a concert, a commercial event. Now just substitute "large back yard" for "theatre" and "guest speakers" for "Broken Social Scene" and you have what looks like a commercial event.
By the way, your vacation is a commercial event - for the airline that flies you and for the hotel you stay at or for the cruise ship you go on. This is even true if they only charge such a low rate that they lose money on your vacation. The barbecue was not a commercial event for the guests of the barbecue who paid $125 each to come, but it might well have been a commercial event for the hosts and certainly for the speakers, who were more than merely an incidental aspect of the event.
Finally, as I said before, even if the event was not a commercial one and even if the Jaworskis' yard cannot be plausibly be called a "conference centre" that does not mean that they did not break the bylaw. (See 2010-09-20 11:25:49 AM above).
The bylaw is stupid and should be amended if not scrapped altogether. There are lots of stupid laws and bylaws that should be scrapped. Some are even worth defying as an intentional act of civil disobedience. Had the Jaworskis done that and been asking people to sign a petition to that effect I would have signed. But from all the evidence I have seen they did break the bylaw, as ridiculous as the bylaw is. And that is true even if what they hosted was not a "commercial" event and their yard is not a "conference centre". The bylaw is bogus, but I don't think the charges are.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2010-09-22 7:20:18 AM
Fact Check, your analogy fails to hold because the ILS is a non-profit organization. Isn't "non-profit" by definition exactly the opposite of "commercial"?
Further, exchanges indirectly associated with my vacation would ONLY be commercial for those who stand to potentially profit from my engaging in THEIR commercial ventures. *I* am not the profit-seeker in this scenario, therefore my vacation is not a commercial event for me.
As such, I could not rightfully be held responsible as holding a commercial event.
In this scenario, any attempt to claim my vacation as a commercial endeavor would be utterly ridiculous. And if I am a non-profit organization, that ridiculousness explodes. If I am a non-profit entity and if my vacation is an event held by my non-profit organization for the purpose of advancing the goals of my non-profit organization, then the event of my vacation is most certainly not a commercial event.
The charges are indeed bogus.
Posted by: Lori Kennedy | 2010-09-22 10:51:16 AM
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