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HomeNewsCharges against Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP, Bracebridge officials withdrawn

Charges against Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP, Bracebridge officials withdrawn

The charges filed by Michael Opara against Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Graydon Smith, Stephen Rettie, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer, and Geoff Carleton, the town’s Director of Public Works, have been withdrawn.

Jason Wakely, Federal Crown Attorney, said he concluded there is “no reasonable prospect of proving beyond reasonable doubt that the Town of Bracebridge’s road grading activities harmed species at risk, namely Blanding’s Turtles, or damaged habitat on the dates in question” during the court case on Oct. 25 and asked for the charges to be withdrawn. He was appointed by the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario to act as the agent for the case.

In June, Opara filed charges alleging Smith, who was Mayor of Bracebridge at the time, Rettie, and Carleton were accused of harming or harassing Blanding’s Turtles.

Wakely said Opara “briefly observed” the species of turtle in June 2020 and again in June 2021. However, he says he was given insufficient evidence from government agencies responsible for tracking endangered species, people that live in the area, and other witnesses of evidence that the turtles had been in the area specified by Opara. “If indeed Blanding’s Turtles were present in this area at the relevant time then one would expect some indication to be observed by them,” Wakely said.

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He added that since there are other species of turtle in the area, species identification would be a “seriously contested fact in any trial with no corroboration.”

“It is doubtful that these two isolated momentary occurrences are sufficient to establish that the portions of the road that were actually graded by the town constitute a habitat as defined in the endangered species act,” Wakely said.

In response, Opara said his experts believe those saying there is no evidence of Blanding’s Turtles being in the area are incorrect. “If some other observer walks by a particular time and doesn’t see them that doesn’t mean there’s no Blanding’s Turtles present,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that the town doesn’t have the desire to preserve our turtle species,” he continued. “We’re going to be losing all of our turtle species. “We’re going to be losing all of our reptiles. It’s just unfortunate that this has what it’s come to.”

Sarah Hahn, a partner with Barriston Law and representing the defendants, didn’t counter what Opara said. “I think it’s clear that what Mr. Opara said has not been proven in court,” she said.

The town is committed to environmental stewardship and protecting the beauty of Muskoka while keeping our roads safe,” town officials said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “The town’s innocence was shown by the intervention of the Crown and withdrawal of these unsubstantiated charges.”
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