When we last looked in on the Sutherland Saga, one question remained unanswered. Is the four-storey structure looming over the downtown core unsafe?
After a day-long hearing Friday at the Elgin County Courthouse – in which lawyer Valerie M’Garry, representing owner David McGee, and John Sanders, representing the city’s chief building official Chris Peck, parried over the definition of unsafe and is there a definition of a safe structure – little headway was made in what has become a dizzying debate over semantics.
And, as was the case on the opening day of the hearing a week ago, it was Justice Peter Hockin who dominated proceedings. Pondering aloud at one point, “What if this place is not insurable from a liability point of view?”
To backtrack for a moment, the purpose of the two-day hearing is to get down to business and deal with the decision of a three-member court of appeal panel handed down last month in which it ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.
Neither of the combatants in the City of St. Thomas vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was the star of the show Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse.
That honour went to his honour, Justice Peter Hockin , who had no qualms about speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts and guiding lawyers Valerie M’Garry and John Sanders down the path of least resistance.
Or as he stressed, “I don’t want to spin our wheels on collateral issues.”
Now remember, this is the same Justice Hockin who, in 2008, overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the go-ahead to demolish the four-storey structure.
In reference to the boxes of evidence accumulated since then, Hockin cut to the chase. “Is it unsafe right now . . . there were recommendations of what could have been done but never was done.”
After a protracted legal battle that has spanned nearly a decade – and characterized as a “battle royale” at a hearing Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse – the Sutherland Saga comes down to a single question.
Is the Sutherland Press building unsafe?
Justice Peter Hockin set an aggressive tone early as both sides sat across from each other for the first time since a three-member court of appeal panel in Toronto earlier this month ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.
A last-minute addition to the City Scope lineup this week, predicated by the death Tuesday of Edra Sanders Ferguson in her 105th year of “an overflowing life.”
The Times-Journal, and this corner in particular, championed “Ma Ferguson” as she was known for many years by Toronto lawyers.
The photo on the front page of Friday’s T-J offers a tantalizing taste of the individual who served as the first woman alderman in St. Thomas; to initiate a Red Cross Clinic in Guelph; and to be appointed the first Division Court judge in Ontario (later to become the Small Claims Court).
St. Thomas native and Order of Canada recepient Edra Ferguson, left, and Tara Muzumdar, the Belmont House Nursing Home employee who nominated her.
We will forever cherish the personal note from Edra’s nephew, St. Thomas lawyer John Sanders
, sent this past June after the announcement she was to receive the Order of Canada for her contributions in the fields of law and women’s rights — the oldest person ever to receive the Order of Canada.
Better yet, today’s (Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011) Bygones photo on page 2, sent along by Gina Coady at Elgin County Archives, transports us back to 1926 and a striking Edra as a member of the Alma College debating team.