Powers loses Superior Court appeal, hit with legal costs

Robert Powers Ellwood Shreve / Ellwood Shreve/The Daily News

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It took fewer than 45 minutes for an Ontario Superior Court justice to dismiss a failed mayoral candidate’s appeal of a compliance audit committee decision from this past summer.

When awarding costs in the Chatham courtroom Tuesday, Justice John Desotti also reminded the self-represented Robert Salvatore Powers he should have received the message about the consequences of his actions during his last visit to court.

“Did Justice (Paul) Howard not alert you?” Desotti asked. “He gave you the benefit of the doubt.”

In July, Chatham-Kent’s compliance audit committee rejected an election complaint from Powers against Mayor Darrin Canniff. Calling a judge’s role “finite” in such a matter, Desotti deferred to the committee’s decision and said he accepted the municipality’s response, which cited case law.

“You’re really tilting at windmills here,” he told Powers.

It was the 11th election compliance audit application received by the municipality from Powers relating to the 2018 election. All were rejected.

Powers, who finish a distant fifth in the mayoral race with 351 votes, submitted an application to the municipality alleging that then-candidate Canniff incurred an expense by registering a website before the beginning of the election period in contravention of the Municipal Elections Act.

“(The committee decision) was not a reasonable outcome,” Powers told the court.

In an unrelated matter, he was also in Superior Court in January to question the validity of ballots in the West Kent council race.

That case was also dismissed, with Howard calling it irrelevant to the actual election result since the polling information was simply statistical in nature.

Howard ordered Powers to pay $250, which John Norton, the municipality’s chief legal officer, confirmed had been paid.

This time, Desotti awarded $6,000 to the municipality, stressing even this was a “partial indemnity.” He said the full amount could have been in the $10,000 range, noting the expenses the parties have to incur.

Powers will have 90 days to pay.

Canniff conceded to the compliance audit committee the website was registered prior to the election period but stressed there was no expense in relation to the website.

Powers had also alleged that Canniff’s involvement in Chatham-Kent’s Positivity Day movement resulted in preferential media treatment.

The committee noted the “possibility, belief or speculation on the part of the applicant is not sufficient for this committee to recommend an investigation.”

In court, Norton slammed Powers for “serving his own private interests,” not the public’s.

“These allegations were baseless,” said Norton, adding they “cast mud” on mayor, staff and the electoral process in general.

He said this warranted a significant cost award compared to the leniency Powers was shown in January.

“He’s already been given a first chance,” Norton said.

The solicitor noted the staff time involved in dealing with these complaints, stressing the municipality took the matter “extremely seriously.”

Canniff was in attendance Tuesday, along with several municipal staff. Outside court, Canniff said the decision was “all self-explanatory.” Powers declined comment.

Desotti said he will provide an expanded decision at a later date.

tterfloth@postmedia.com
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