The municipality of Clarington is clamping down on a studious celebration of Canadian liberties, charging its rural hosts with a zoning offence carrying a hefty fine.
“The irony isn’t lost on me,” said Peter Jaworski whose parents, Marta and Lech, have been charged under a bylaw for letting him hold — for the tenth time — the annual Liberty Summer Seminar on their 16 hectare spread east of Oshawa.
“It’s an outrage that we’re hosting an event celebrating the freedoms we have in Canada, that we didn’t have in (communist) Poland from which my family fled, and the municipality decides to stomp down on my parents,” Jaworski said.
“I feel horrible — they’re facing a possible $50,000 fine ($25,000 each),” at a time when the couple opened a bed-and-breakfast to bolster a struggling business selling books and other items to employees of various companies.
Some 72 Canadians and Americans paid $125 each, or $75 for students, to attend the July 24-25 conference run by the Institute for Liberal Studies, a registered charity. With a tent and stage, they ate, drank and heard speakers including Michel Kelly-Gagnon, chief executive of the Montreal Economic Institute. On the Saturday night they partied with live music.
Peter Jaworski said the local health department called him a few days before the event and he thought he had addressed its concerns over food being served — he decided to cater — and the three portable toilets on site.
But the couple received a summons to provincial court on Sept. 28 on a charge of using land in an agricultural zone “for a commercial conference centre” contrary to a Clarington bylaw.
Marta Jaworski, 57, said she and her husband, also 57, are “devastated” by the charge, which she called a “taste” of the oppression they felt in Poland before fleeing in 1984 to Germany and later Canada.
“It is a feeling to be hunted. They come in uniforms . . . ,” she said, starting to cry.
Scott Reid, Conservative MP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, attended the seminar and said he can’t understand why the municipality is cracking down now, after nine previous events. “I don’t see how the public interest has been harmed. This is a real injustice,” he said.
Peter Jaworski said a bylaw officer told him the investigation was sparked by a complaint. He thinks it was likely someone else hit by an apparent zoning crackdown who thinks everyone should suffer.
Bylaw enforcement officials for Clarington could not be reached for comment Tuesday night, nor could Mayor Jim Abernethy.
Councillor Gord Robinson, who represents the Jaworskis, declined comment by email, saying: “The Jaworski family have not been in contact with me about any issue and until they do I will not interfere.”