Video – Northumberland County Forest Advisory Committee Hears from User Groups

In Editor Choice, Local

User groups brought their concerns to a meeting of the Northumberland County Forest Advisory Committee on Wednesday, June 26, 2024 at the County building in Cobourg.

Media weren’t allowed in attendance at the meeting, but after, several groups spoke to Today’s Northumberland about the concerns of the conduct of enforcement of municipal by-law officers patrolling the forest.

Recently a video was posted of municipal by-law enforcement officers stopping a user of the forest and his daughter riding motorcycles.

The by-law officers wanted not only to see his trail permit, but also proof of insurance and ownership.

User groups said outside the meeting that users of the forest are being “harassed” and “intimidated” by the by-law officers.

Mike Ainsworth President of the Northumberland District ATV Riders which represents approximately 1,000 riders said the attitude of by-law officers and the way they are treating pass-holders of the forest has got much worse.

“This summer has literally been the worst where the bylaw enforcement officers maybe have been harassing our pass-holders.”

Ainsworth said by-law officers have been stationed at areas of the forest waiting for users to approach on the trails.

When purchasing a trail pass, the person has to show proof of insurance and ownership making asking for it along the trail totally unnecessary.

“The enforcement officer should be able to look at the pass and see that it’s valid, and say, “have a great time – thanks for buying the pass and respecting the County Forest trails.”

“But that’s not happening.”

“They are getting intimidated, harassed and detained.”

Ainsworth said, time will tell if the County has listened to the user groups.

“If I’m still getting these complaints in two-weeks, then all the stuff that we talked about today with County staff has just fallen on deaf ears and they really don’t care.”

“They want to pass around a piece of paper on a Code of Conduct on how we are all supposed to act, well, there should be a Code of Conduct on how municipal by-law officers should act too. Especially to the people who are trying to be the good – buying the pass. Being part of the solution not the problem.”

Bernie Harrigan Vice President of the Great Pine Ridge Snowmobile Association explained for every land owner, including Northumberland County Forest they have a memorandum of understanding agreement.

With the trails throughout the forest a long term (five year agreement) allows the snowmobile association to apply for grants for maintaining the trails.

“Get money into Northumberland County Forest to improve the trails and trail conditions.”
Harrigan said last year was a “missed opportunity.”

“We had done the grant application to have $50,000 to do some safety improvements.”

But because there was no agreement, the group didn’t meet the qualifications to apply for a grant.

This year was the same with Harrigan stating it was a total loss of approximately $100,000.

“We’ve done projects with putting bridges in Campbellford that was $125,000.”

Having a long-term agreement of approximately five years makes it worthwhile for the efforts put in by the groups who use the trails.

“The landowners agreement for us is about getting value for our money.”

“If we spend $100,000 and next year the agreement is over, then we’re kicked off the trail system so it’s not a very good use of our funds.”

Harrigan said the Great Pine Ridge Trail Association has been using Northumberland County Forest for over 50-years, but at this time there is no agreement for this year’s winter season – yet.

“There are other things impacting their willingness to sign an agreement, but we’re ready, willing and able and we’d like to have the agreement and we’d like to be applying for grants.

Vice-President of Northumberland Trail Riders Dan Philp and Andrea Doyle-Philp who is Executive Director said a long-term member in good standing was stopped with his 15-year-old daughter and detained for over an hour.

“My concern is the tactics these by-law enforcement officers are using to enforce. We’ve been putting up with it for more than two-years with various different officers and security companies so we’ve seeing a consistency in their behaviour which is alarming because we suspecting it’s coming from the directives that they’ve been told how to act.”

Philp said it’s not just motorized users who are being stopped.

“We’ve had reports of dog-walkers, hikers, runners, bikers – everyone is getting this abusive treatment.”
Philp said the bylaw officers should enforce what they control.

“You’re not allowed to have fires, you’re not allowed to be in their after 10 p.m. That’s what they are there for. They aren’t there to make sure that bike isn’t stolen. They are just there to make sure it has a trail permit.”

“Enforce the by-laws and do it with a bit of dignity would be nice.”

A woman who was at the meeting explained to Doyle-Philp about her dog jumping out of her vehicle.

A by-law officer “interrogated her aggressively.”

Northumberland County reached out for comment from Today’s Northumberland and stated

“The Northumberland County Forest has experienced a dramatic increase in visitors in recent years, climbing from 40,000 visitors annually pre-pandemic to well over 100,000 visitors today. With this increased traffic on Forest trails, the County was seeing a rise in issues such as:

1. Vandalism

2. Motorized racing

3. Illegal hunting

4. Illegal dumping

5. Damage to sensitive habitats and species, such as the Oak Ridges Morraine

In 2022, County Council supported an increased presence of by-law officers in the Forest, to engage with visitors, educate on, and ensure compliance with the Forest By-law. This includes activities such as ensuring:

1. Visitors are staying on designated trails, so as to protect habitats and wildlife

2. There are no campfires or littering

3. Motorized vehicle users are obeying speed limits, signage, displaying permits, and riding with valid license and insurance

4. No driving of unauthorized vehicles in the forest

The goal is for all visitors to the Forest to have a safe and enjoyable experience, while protecting the Forest for future generations.

All representatives of the County, including staff and contractors, are tasked with upholding the organization’s core values, demonstrating respect, professionalism, and service to the community. We invite members of the public to, at any time, share compliments or concerns about their experience with County services by visiting forms Northumberland.ca/customer-service-feedback. The County reviews and considers all feedback submitted with the goal of continuous quality improvement.”

 

Below is a e-mail with a video the rider took describing his interaction with by-law officers in the forest. In the video two municipal by-law officers interact with the father on his motorcycle.

In the background of the video a vehicle with flashing red and blue lights is visible. Today’s Northumberland reached out to the Ministry of Attorney General’s office to determine if the emergency lights are legal or prohibited.

There response was, “I’ve been advised this would not fall under MAG. As it deals with by-law officers you may want to check with the municipality on whether they could address this issue.”

E-mail (below) from the motorcycle rider to Today’s Northumberland concerning the incident on video.

There was no valid reason for stopping us either time. We were simply riding on the trails.

There was no signage or warning of any kind that there were bylaw officers ahead or a designated checkpoint or anything of the sort.

In fact it was more of an ambush where they seemed like they were trying to “catch” people by surprise so they chose to be hidden out of view until we were right up to them both times.

They are also not easily identifiable having only dark uniforms without any obvious markers that someone on a trail could quickly and easily see and be able to tell who they were.

Again, it seems more like they’re trying to be stealthy and intimidating than identifiable and approachable.

Both times they aggressively blocked us from proceeding although I did not get video of the first stop.

The officers both appeared to be recording with cell phones tucked into their vests, although they did not declare that they were nor request consent to do so.

I would like to get copies of those recordings, assuming that they did in fact record us.

I have a strong feeling that that recording they are doing is not allowed, but if they’ve done it, I want to have it.

The first stop occurred on May 20th where officer Votour grabbed my bike by the handlebars in the middle of the trail and stood directly in front of me glaring into my eyes, quite aggressively.

He seemed like he was prepared to attack me. That was the feeling that I had. It was immediately a scary encounter.

There was nothing friendly or courteous about it. Votour refused to tell me who he was and his name was hidden so I didn’t see anything identifying him.

Votour said he would not tell me why they had stopped me until I handed over my drivers licence.

I argued but didn’t know what to do and it didn’t appear that I had any choice so I gave it to Votour.

He still did not tell me who he was or why he had grabbed my bike and stopped my daughter and I.

He just walked past me and demanded that my daughter give him her licence and I told him to leave her alone as she didn’t even have a licence.

Hayward then chimed in and began to allege that we were breaking a handful of laws and that my daughter was riding illegally as she was underage, and also that we were trespassing on their private property, the allegations were plentiful.

I didn’t know what to say at the time as I was completely caught off guard.

I argued that we hadn’t done anything wrong and that we wanted to go and asked them to give me my licence back but they refused.

Instead, Votour took my licence to his unmarked Toyota RAV4 and sat inside while we were detained in the forest for over 20 minutes, several times refused to have my licence returned so that we could leave.

They issued a POA ticket that day for an alleged “disobey a posted sign” violation contrary to By-law 21-10 which I have no idea what they are even referring to.

They told my daughter that they were going to give her a break and not give her a ticket for riding her dirt bike without a licence, so now she is afraid that she’s breaking the law and going to get in trouble.

It was a very miserable experience.

I spoke with Todd Farrell the next day and asked him to cancel the ticket and he said that he could not.

I told him my concerns about the interaction with the bylaw officers and he said that he would investigate.

I never heard from him again.

I also met with Warden Brian Ostrander on June 3rd and again expressed my concerns with the behaviour of the bylaw officers.

He said he would talk with CAO Jennifer Moore about this and that he understood my concerns and agreed. I never heard from either Ostrander or Moore.

The stop that is documented in my videos was similarly for no reason.

We were legally using the trails and just happened to run into those same guys hiding out in the woods.

The difference was that after the last time they jumped out and grabbed me, I have been reading the laws, the rules, and trying to get information on who regulates bylaw enforcement officers in Ontario and it’s a black hole.

There doesn’t seem to be any regulation.

There is a voluntary association that regulates its members but as it’s only voluntary, no bylaw officer is required to join or follow the standards.

Northumberland County does not have standards nor a code of conduct for those bylaw folks.

I phoned MPP Piccini’s office and asked if they could help me understand who regulates the bylaw officers or what their standards are and they did not know the answer either.

There was a general referral to check the Police Services Act, however that Act has been repealed. There is some information on Peace Officers on https://criminalnotebook.ca/index.php?title=Peace_Officers&mobileaction=toggle_view_desktop but from what I can tell, the Northumberland bylaw enforcement officers are not peace officers, except within the specific context of enforcing Northumberland County By-law 21-10.

Outside of that, I believe their powers are that of civilians.

They do not have a valid or legal reason for doing what they are doing.

They are performing unlawful detentions without warrants and plainly violating the public’s basic rights and freedoms.

I don’t believe that it is defensible, however I am certainly not a lawyer nor a judge so it isn’t for me to say.

But my opinion, based on everything that I have learned, is that they are breaking the law and putting the public at risk. Not good.

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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