A looming Superior Court decision will determine whether the Municipality of Mississippi Mills can proceed with its efforts to brand resident Steve Maynard a “vexatious litigant” or whether the case should be dismissed as a “strategic” lawsuit intended to silence public dissent.
The long-simmering legal feud is awaiting a ruling from Justice John Johnston after the municipality asked the courts last fall to declare Maynard a vexatious litigant following years of legal challenges, zoning disputes and appeals lodged by the former mayoral candidate.
Town solicitor James L. McDonald filed the court application against Maynard in September, listing 15 separate legal matters Maynard had initiated against the municipality over the past 10 years.
By the time the case was heard in a Perth courtroom on May 2, that list of litigations had grown to 20.
Maynard responded with a countersuit seeking to dismiss the township’s case under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation.
In his written submissions and during an in-person court session earlier this month, Maynard argued the municipality’s legal pursuit was a SLAPP “intended to hinder freedom of speech and shut down criticism by instilling fear of large legal costs and large damage awards to members of the public who openly debate or express opinions on matters of public interest.”
He described himself in the court filing as a concerned citizen and an “active objector” to the municipality’s planning decisions.
Maynard claims he “has been trying to ensure that planning-related bylaws are legal and conform to Mississippi Mills’ community official plan, the Planning Act and the provincial policy statement.”
Lawyers for the township rejected the notion their legal action was “bad faith” and denied the municipality was seeking to “stifle” public discourse and debate.
“Rather, it seeks procedural safeguards to stop the ongoing waste of staff time and resources and of the tens of thousands of dollars spent on (legal) counsel to respond to the proceedings commenced by (Maynard) that are vexatious and/or conducted in a vexatious manner,” McDonald wrote in a court filing outlining Maynard’s expensive history of “chronic” litigation.
“The vexatious litigant process is the last option for the municipality,” Mayor Christa Lowry said in an emailed statement Friday. “It is costly, but the municipality continues to spend significant taxpayer funds defending decisions that continue to be upheld in court and other quasi-judicial bodies.
“When someone expresses their intention to continue to challenge the decisions of Council, there is little that a municipality can do but to seek the protection of the court to stop the waste of taxpayers’ dollars to defend planning and other decisions that are in the public interest,” Lowry said.
Most of Maynard’s recent legal challenges involve zoning disputes over the town’s official plan through the Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly LPAT) and are brought “without reasonable grounds and frequently litigated without substantive merit,” McDonald wrote.
Most are dismissed once they reach the tribunal stage.
Even after losing his cases, McDonald argued, Maynard has “re-litigated issues, brought claims that have no chance of success, sought relief that is impossibly broad and far-reaching, brought claims based on bald, conclusory statements and without material facts and without evidence, and brought appeals with no legal merit.”
As town clerk Ken Kelly outlined in a memo to council more than a year ago, those legal challenges must still be defended, leaving local taxpayers on the hook for thousands in cumulative legal fees.
The township “is not large and does not have limitless resources to respond to litigation,” yet it requires “significant staff time” to address the litigation at “significant costs,” according to McDonald’s written arguments.
“Over the past several years, the municipality has incurred in excess of $150,000 dealing with litigation matters involving Mr. Maynard and countless hours of municipal staff and Council time,” McDonald wrote. “Every dollar spent responding to frivolous and vexatious litigation involving Mr. Maynard is a dollar wasted … .”
The municipality is seeking a court order declaring Maynard “has persistently and without reasonable grounds instituted vexatious court proceedings and has conducted court proceedings in a vexatious manner.”
If granted, the order would prohibit Maynard from lodging any further legal actions unless he was first granted permission from a judge.
That hearing must first await Johnston’s pending decision on whether the case should be dismissed as a SLAPP or whether it can proceed in Superior Court.
Maynard declined comment when reached last week, though in an interview shortly after the township’s motion was filed in October, he said he was “confident that the court will dismiss the application to have me declared a vexatious litigant.”
He also took issue with the town’s calculations of its legal defence expenses after several of his Ontario Land Tribunal appeals were dismissed and suggested “the costs claimed (by Mississippi Mills) were far beyond reasonable for the complexity of the appeal.”
Maynard’s legal pursuits are not limited to municipal planning tribunals and related appeals, however.
The township’s case against Maynard outlines his decade-long history with Superior Court litigation, including family and estate litigation, his numerous cases in small-claims court and his threats of litigation over social media posts.
Township lawyers cite Maynard’s bitter legal battle over the estate of his late father, Don Maynard, and a 2012 libel lawsuit against his brother, who responded in that case with a vexatious litigant application, which was eventually withdrawn.
The document also provides a vivid account of Maynard’s 2009 divorce proceedings, when a judge banned him from bringing any further motions against his ex-wife and chastised Maynard over his “disdain (for) orders of this court.”
Maynard has acknowledged his difficult behaviour during those divorce proceedings, but said the other cases and conduct cited by the municipality “do not meet the requirements to have me declared vexatious.”
Maynard brought a lawsuit against a town councillor in 2017 asking court to declare her ineligible for her seat, which was dismissed, and that same year he was involved in competing libel lawsuits filed by then-mayor Shaun McLaughlin and Coun. John Edwards.
The application also cites three cases in small-claims court, including a “gross negligence” claim against the municipality, a libel lawsuit against Kelly, the town’s chief administrative officer, and another libel claim against a fellow Almonte resident over a series of Facebook posts.
A longtime Almonte resident, Maynard ran for mayor in 2018 and placed second with 25 per cent of the votes cast.
In his counter-arguments, Maynard indicates his interest in municipal planning decisions predates the election campaign by several years.
“Maynard has been an active objector to many of the Municipality of Mississippi Mills planning decisions since 2016 when the municipality attempted to sell Don Maynard Park,” he said in his written submissions in April. “This is a neighbourhood park named after Maynard’s father, a well respected and beloved high school teacher for over 30 years.”
According to the township’s most recent legal arguments, outlined in an affidavit from Kelly, Maynard has more recently “directed his focus on the municipality and (his) personal view that planning decisions are not being made in accordance with his view of good planning.
“The attacks on the planning decisions do not involve properties that affect his personal interest, but rather reflect his personal belief that the decisions are somehow wrong as a matter of policy,” the affidavit continues.
“However, when these matters are litigated … Maynard has not advanced any evidence in support of his appeals, abandoned issues at the hearing and/or failed to make submissions. Mr. Maynard then seeks recourse in the Superior Court of Justice to re-argue the matters before the Ontario Land Tribunal … which losing efforts he appeals to higher courts.”
Maynard will not cease without intervention from the courts, McDonald argued, citing Maynard’s own statements from a recent tribunal hearing.
“If there was any doubt about (Maynard) being a chronic litigant, it was erased when he expressly committed himself to carry out future Tribunal appeals against the town … when he indicated that the ‘next time’ he had an appeal before the Tribunal, he would be better prepared,” McDonald wrote.
Maynard “left no doubt about his intentions,” McDonald said.
“This is not my first challenge of planning bylaws and it will not be my last,” Maynard argued. “If I don’t try to ensure legal conformity and compliance with planning, then who will?”