Hamilton

Former NPCA head says he was fired amidst forged signatures and anonymous Gmail

A former head of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is suing the authority, saying he was fired in a bizarre twist of events that included secret meetings, anonymous Gmail accounts and being asked to choose between money and his reputation.
David Barrick, centre, sits at a meeting of the new Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board last month. Barrick's predecessor, Mark Brickell, says he was terminated days after he fired Barrick. Then Barrick came back to be appointed to the top position. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A former head of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is suing the authority, saying he was fired in a bizarre twist of events that included secret meetings, anonymous Gmail accounts and being asked to choose between money and his reputation.

Mark Brickell filed a lawsuit, worth about $2 million, in Welland court Thursday. Brickell claims he was turfed illegally, and for reasons that are still a mystery to him.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. But the 34-page statement of claim, filed by Toronto lawyer Stephen Moreau, is of House of Cards proportions.

Brickell, 56, of St. Catharines says he started at the NPCA in 2014 as a project manager, and was promoted to CAO in June 2017.

He inherited many of the problems outlined in a 2018 report by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, he said. That includes board members interfering with day-to-day operations, undefined conflicts of interest and too-frequent restructuring.

Brickell claims his tenure was marked with achievement and compliments. Then in October 2018, most of the regional councillors on the board weren't reelected. That included board chair Sandy Annunziata of Fort Erie.

On Nov. 23, Brickell fired David Barrick, senior director of corporate resources. Barrick is a former regional councillor, and Brickell says Barrick had friends on the board. Lysyk's report, too, flagged Barrick's hiring.

'What's more important to you, money or your reputation?'

Two days later, Brickell claims, he was called to an unadvertised Nov. 28 board meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He asked Annunziata the purpose of the meeting, he said. Annunziata said it was to review his employment.

"The plaintiff advised Mr. Annunziata that this process did not follow NPCA policy," the claim says. "Mr. Annunziata responded that he could do anything he wants."

Brickell said on Nov. 28, Annunziata took him into a private room with a human resources consultant and then-vice chair James Kaspersetz. Kaspersetz was a Hamilton rep and hasn't been reappointed. Brickell says he was placed on forced administrative leave then, and forced to hand over his keys and cell phone. 

Brickell claims he still hasn't been given a reason. Annunziata tried to pressure him to resign, he said. At one point, he claims, Annunziata said, "What's more important to you, money or your reputation?"

In the claim, Brickell said he was received an email at 5:53 p.m. on Dec. 6 from NPCA legal counsel stating that his employment had been terminated as of 5:01 p.m. that same day, and that at 5:15 p.m. regional council passed a motion to remove the old NPCA board.

Also that day, a clerk was appointed interim CAO. She rescinded Barrick's firing, and Barrick became interim CAO on Dec. 14.

Anonymous email sent to Justin Trudeau

Brickell also says he got a termination letter no one had signed, then one that appeared to have two different people's handwriting on it.

On Dec. 27, he said, someone sent an email full of "false and unsubstantiated allegations" against him using the email aconcernedcitizen905@gmail.com. The email was sent to dozens of people, including local media, the NPCA board, Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On Dec. 21, a Welland judge also issued an emergency ruling stripping the previous NPCA board of its authority. 

Brickell is suing for $800,000 in general/moral damages and $1 million in punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.

His claim includes "false, libellous, and defamatory comments by email" and unlawful termination.

The CBC is seeking comment from Annunziata and the NPCA.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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