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Judge calls Bruce County, Ont.'s behaviour 'atrocious' in trust fund breach

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Calling Bruce County’s behaviour “atrocious,” a Superior Court justice has found the county in breach of the terms of a trust fund designed to preserve the region’s history.

“The decision by Justice Lemon is a wonderful one. It’s very good for anyone who believes in transparency and democracy in Bruce County,” says Laura Robinson, a Southampton, Ont.-based heritage advocate who brought forward the legal claim.

Court heard that in 2005, heritage advocate Bruce Krug left behind a $550,000 trust for Bruce County to use to store and display the county’s archives.

In 2018, Bruce County used money from the trust to buy a property right beside the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre in Southampton.

The expected intent was to build a new archives storage facility, but two months after the purchase plans changed to involve the demolition of a 123-year Anglican rectory on the grounds and the construction of a Nuclear Innovation Institute.

The Southampton Cultural Heritage Conservancy got involved, and were granted a injunction, temporarily halting the rectory’s destruction.

Local heritage advocates then brought forth a legal claim accusing Bruce County of a “breach of the trust,” and misusing the trust for projects other than its intended purpose.

On Monday, Justice Gordon Lemon agreed, finding Bruce County in breach of the trust, as well as not being transparent enough in their decision-making process.

During a separate investigation last year, 18 closed-door meetings by Bruce County in regards to the Krug trust were found to be unlawful.

“The Krug Trust is a separate legal entity from the county and the county acted as if it was their own money." Robinson says their attitude was, "If we (Bruce County) want to demolish an historic building, and put in a nuclear institute, we can. We can do whatever we want, and we’ll do it all in secret.”

Lemon says he could not determine if the county’s actions were intentional or unintentional, simply saying in his decision, “the county’s behaviour has been atrocious, throughout.”

Bruce County Warden Janice Jackson reacted to the decision in a news release that read, “We (Bruce County Council) accept His Honour’s decision that we made mistakes in the purchase of 254 High St. We are eager to work towards a resolution with the public guardian and trustee, and Estate Trustee, in this litigation."

The 1893 Anglican rectory building still can’t be demolished, says the judge. He’s seeking submissions from all parties involved on what the next steps with the rectory and Krug trust should be.

“We’d like to see it protected. I think we’re fortunate to have it deferred to the public guardian and trustees, to see how the trust can be administered more in accordance with what Bruce Krug intended,” says Alexandra Puthon, with the Southampton Cultural Heritage Conservancy.

As for the Nuclear Innovation Institute, it has found a temporary home at the former Saugeen Shores Police headquarters, in Port Elgin. Bruce County continues to seek a permanent home for it.

No decision has been made on where Bruce County will house its county archives, that still requires a new, permanent home as well.

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