Friday, November 23, 2012


I hope you are all well.

Here in London, Ontario, we've been having issues with a city council where councillors don't get along, and a raft of other problems with the mayor.  I won't take your time with details. 

A former city council member, Gina Barber, writes a blog titled London Civic Watch and her wisdom on civic issues is always worth reading.  Her post today speaks to the juridical meaning of that often-used term "innocent until proven guilty" and to the importance of integrity in elected officials and people in power generally.  I hope this gets you thinking.

Best regards, as always,

Why's Woman

Friday, November 23, 2012                            London Civic Watch

The presumption of innocence
Watching the press conference unfold yesterday, I was glad I had chosen to do my viewing from the comfort of my own home. Those who crammed into the office of Gord Cudmore where it was being held on Fullarton Street looked pretty steamed even before the mayor spoke.

And no wonder. The room was packed with reporters, some perspiring heavily. The owner of the building must have received a density bonus, so high was the concentration of the fourth estate.

It was, after all, a momentous occasion, the mayor speaking out for the first time since retaining a lawyer and since being charged with three criminal offences: breach of public trust, uttering a forged document, and fraud under $5,000.

I had predicted correctly that Fontana would hold firm and not step aside despite the severity of the charges. But I was surprised to hear him say clearly and several times at that, that he was innocent of all the charges.

It had been a more than a month since the allegations had surfaced and the RCMP investigation undertaken. Not once during that time did he make such an unequivocal statement; the best he had been able to come up with previously was that he believed all transactions would be found to be proper and that his records showed that a payment had been made from his personal account to the Marconi Club during the relevant time frame. Never once did he say “I paid the bill.”

But now, only a day after the RCMP laid the charges, he and his lawyer were adamant that the Fontana family had paid the bill for the wedding reception for his stepson and that Fontana himself was innocent and accordingly would plead not guilty upon his first court appearance in January.

So what had changed? Why innocent now and not a month ago? Did being charged jolt his memory? And just when did the payment for the reception occur? And to whom was the payment made?

These are all questions awaiting answers, which may not come for some time. Noting that matters proceed slowly through the courts, Cudmore, Fontana’s lawyer, estimated that it could take a year or so. In other words, about in time for the next election but not much before. Cudmore also hinted at the argument that the defence might use when the time came. 

It was his understanding, he said, that the RCMP had documentation that the Fontana family had paid the outstanding balance of $20,000 or so. He hadn’t seen the evidence; it was just his understanding. So all that was in dispute was the $1,700 for the “room deposit” and it seems that there had been a number of government-related events at the Marconi Club that year. So maybe, he implied, it was all just a little mix up.
But he wanted these matters dealt with in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion. He wanted the presumption of innocence as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It sounded very noble.

Some people have taken that mantra to defend Fontana. He should be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

True enough. But the presumption of innocence is not what guides either police investigations or the holding of public office. As someone facing criminal charges, the mayor was required to step down from his position on the Police Services Board. But not from being the budget chief in charge of a billion dollar budget. 

Any teacher facing assault charges would be removed from her classroom until the allegations were resolved. 

A bank employee charged with fraud would not be left in charge of client accounts. 

A city hall employee alleged to have interfered with a government investigation found herself unceremoniously escorted out the door.

Were these violations of the presumption of innocence?

The presumption of innocence is a guideline for how matters should be dealt with by the courts; it is not a recipe for daily action in public or private life. If your daughter or son were romantically involved with someone facing criminal charges, would you give them your blessing because you presumed innocence?

The presumption of innocence means there are rules for disclosure of evidence and the questioning of witnesses. It governs what evidence is or isn’t admissible according to strict guidelines. It requires that the finding of guilt must be based on more than just likelihood; it should be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The concerns that Londoners have about their mayor is not whether he is guilty of wrongdoing within a narrow definition of criminal offences, but whether he is acting in an ethical manner publicly and privately. Can they trust him to put the needs of the city and its residents ahead of his own and his friends' and family’s interests?

So it’s not just the $1,700 or even $20,000. It’s the millions of dollars that have been taken from taxpayers to give hefty receipts to “donors” to his private charity. It’s working with and for individuals who have engaged in shady business practices. It’s being involved in enterprises that leave investors wondering where their money went. It’s stacking committees and interpreting rules to produce the outcome that favours a few at the expenses of the many. It's giving tax breaks now to be paid by our children later.

How is the public to deal with those concerns and those questions? 

The Municipal Act is ill-equipped to deal with incompetent or unethical representatives and conflict of interest is very narrowly defined. The one tool that municipalities have been given is the right to retain an integrity commissioner, but only a few weeks ago a majority of council, led by the mayor, turned down that option. Had such a person been available to council, s/he would not have been able to force the mayor to step aside, but there could at least have been an investigation and a report for the public and its representatives. Citizens could have had a voice.

The one thing this council has done repeatedly is to overturn previous decisions of council. Even its own decisions. A new council year is about to begin.

Perhaps this next year will be the year that a few more council members begin to appreciate the importance of integrity. Perhaps an integrity commissioner will be welcome.

Integrity looks good on campaign literature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Permaculture, Christmas Trees and Gratitude at American Thanksgiving

Hello everyone!

I hope this day finds you well.  Enjoying the sunshine and mild temperatures if you are in Southwestern Ontario (my vicinity).  I'm resisting planting more tulip bulbs.

Got an email this evening from Wildcraft Permaculture.  I happen to know its founder, Jessica Roder Robertson.  I like her.  She's smart, and straightforward and certainly doing her share to renew the Earth through her work ... and she and her husband have a new baby who won't be quite 4 months old this first Christmas.  Wow! That something to celebrate!  Well, Jessie's newsletter had a wonderful idea: to pick a favorite tree in a park nearby and do a bit of decorating of it "for the birds" - an edible Christmas tree!  And on the date of your choosing - whether that be Christmas December 25th or Solstice on December 21 or another day ... go visit that tree with family and friends and have a picnic, or raise a toast, or sing a song for the tree and each other, or just close your eyes together and be silent.  I love that idea.  There's something deep and important in that that I've been missing. Thanks Jessie!

And if you, dear reader, are interested in learning about permaculture or having a consultation about your own grounds or having work done, please visit Jessie's website, and learn about Wildcraft Permaculture's services.

This is not a commercial.  This is a moment of gratitude.  Quite coincidentally on the eve of American Thanksgiving, I've found several things to be thankful for.

Best regards, and thanks to all of you,

Why's Woman

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Plaid Friday! Shop Local! Create creativity!

Good morning.  How are you today?

I just read about something that is fun and sensible and small scale: Plaid Friday.

With the Plaid Friday idea, local U.S. businesses are encouraged to develop their own innovative shop local campaigns to counter the the Black Friday shopper madness that happens in the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving.

Plaid Friday seems to have been thought up by Kerri, who lives in California.  Hurray Kerri!

Plaid Friday is a shopping day campaign that encourages local, independent, innovative businesses to promote themselves and encourages people to shop local and thereby support their own community.

Plaid Friday does apply here in Canada!  Have you been reading the news items that promote sales that will be happening at big retailers here on that U.S. Black Friday?  The big retailers say they are trying to keep business here in Canada.  The thing is, how many of those big retailers are U.S. based/owned?  I bet a lot of them are.

Please think about keeping some of your regular and Christmas shopping to a small scale, from local sellers, and of items that are made by people you might actually meet one day.  Encourage the handmade, the craft, the talent.

Yeah, I know I'm getting speachy!  Better quit here.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Oh!  As happens, I ran across this Plaid Friday idea on Jenna Woginrich's Cold Antler Farm site. Jenna recounts her full experience developing her small farm.  She's always worth a read.  Thanks Jenna!   

Cold Antler Farm site:
Plaid Friday website:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sustainable Food Systems Report

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all well.  We're past the time change, and I hope your cats and dogs are just about adjusted to the new dinner times!

I've just been reading the Local Food Systems report, commissioned by the London Training Centre, here in London, Ontario.  Authors Roxanna Roshon, Tom Schell, and Angelica Nef have done an awesome job of bringing together a huge amount of information to do with the current and potential resources and ideas that can make our food systems more local and sustainable, and will provide jobs!

A browse of the Toolkit section is joyous!  Section after section of good examples!  Who is helping new farmers get started? What projects are using "alternative value transaction" models (barters and local currency) successfully? Where are there small abattoirs and local egg grading stations? Where are there community kitchens doing small batch preserving for local sales?  Check out the toolkit.  The individual sections online have active links to all the places.  And there's a long resource list at the end of all the places mentioned.

In this time of negative media, bad news reporting all the time, it's wonderful to read mention of project after project that are doing something good.  And feeding people!

As Pam Warhurst says in her Incredible Edible Todmorden TED talk "If you eat, you're in."  We all eat.  We all benefit from this report.  (see October 19 post)
The Local Food Systems report is printable, in sections, and can be reached at

I'm looking forward to hearing a presentation on the report at the London Community Foundation's local food conference this Friday.  There are going to be a lot of interesting presentations, and people there. I'll report back!

Just skip over to Community Gardens London for more info on that and on other events and news that has to do with shared gardens and urban agriculture.  CGL is linked into the Local Food Systems report under Community Gardens.  We are proud and grateful for this mention.

Best regards!

Why's Woman

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: good reason to be anxious

Hello everyone,

We're still having rain, but the tarp remained on the breakfast nook roof and no water got in as London, Ontario felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  We were really lucky to be on the outskirts of its effects.  Even places as close to London as Toronto and Wingham had far more rain and wind than we had. 

Actually, I spent three days in absolute anxiety prior to the storm touching the U.S. coast.  My husband suspects that the media/societal anxiety generated by days of news coverage and frequent conversations with people who only talked about the upcoming weather had more effect on me than the storm itself.  I am subject to what I'll call energy shifts.  Whatever meteorological energy was going on prior to and during the storm was, for me, stronger because of all the stressed people around.

A couple of my favorite authors are based in New York, in the heart of the flood zone, so I paid attention to Sandy's path.  During the last years, I've also seen computer generated climate models - those tidy animations with the building outlines and rising water levels.  The thing is, of course, these are based in reality of absolute disaster and mess.  I've got an apocalyptic imagination, and I'm a fan of Harry Harrison's book Make Room, Make Room! about a "future" New York (1999) of 40 million people, crammed in with limited access to food and water.  The movie Soylent Green was made from the book.  There are some differences in plot, but both are worth looking at. 

Oh yes, and there's a made for tv movie, Flood ( with David Suchet as deputy prime minister of England, having to make the decisions about what to do when the Thames River Barrier flood gates lock and the perfect storm of high tide and storm surge bear down on the estuary and London, England.  For all the made for t.v. drama, this sort of thing could be too easily real. 

This does leads into climate change and urban agriculture ... which is what I'd meant to write about when I sat down! 

But I have to run up and down stairs a bit.


Why's Woman