A private citizen has filed charges against Graydon Smith and two officials with the Town of Bracebridge over allegations they violated the province’s Endangered Species Act.
The charges were filed by Michael Opara with the Provincial Offences Office in Bracebridge against Smith, Stephen Rettie, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer, and Geoff Carleton, the town’s Director of Public Works.
A September court date in Bracebridge has been scheduled where they will face separate charges for harming or harassing Blanding’s Turtles. The turtle is designated as a threatened species in Ontario.
Smith, who was elected as Parry Sound-Muskoka’s MPP earlier this month, was named to Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet last week as the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
However, the charges stem from his time as mayor of Bracebridge.
When reached, Smith declined to comment saying that this is a matter before the courts.
“These charging documents do not set out the details of any of the alleged offences and we are confident that they will be thrown out once a Justice of the Peace reviews the matter,” says Sarah Hahn, a partner with Barriston Law who is representing the Town of Bracebridge.
“The fact is, and the evidence will show, that the town acted diligently and appropriately in completing required road works within the vicinity of turtle habitat,” she continues. “It is unfortunate that town resources must now be used to respond to these baseless accusations.”
Opara says the charges are in regards to road grading being done on Peace Valley Rd. He alleges that turtle nests on the side of the road have been damaged during the work, despite his warnings to town council. “We have sent them emails and made presentations to council,” he says.
According to Opara, the work was done between June and August 2021.
In a September 2021 letter sent to Opara by Rettie, provided to the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom by Hahn, he writes that the town’s public works department “alters the manner in which it provides road maintenance activities to provide consideration for all species at risk, which complies with the regulatory framework for both endangered species, as well as maintenance standards.”
“The operations branch has also provided alterations to operating schedules to remove negative impacts to habitat, such as only grading the driving surface of the roadway, which removes the shoulder area from the grading, as well as eliminating routine grading operations and only completing required grading where
required to comply with maintenance standards,” Rettie wrote.
Opara says he invited Rettie to the site to discuss the issue, but that offer was rejected. However, at the end of Rettie’s letter, he says Scott Clayton, Bracebridge’s Manager of Operations, is available to visit the area to discuss Opara’s concerns.
A justice of the peace has signed off on the charges. The court case will be on Sept. 21 at 9 AM at the Provincial Offences Office at 70 Pine St.