May 5th, 1997 (Revised May 12th, 1997)
Editor, Equal Time
59 Front Street East
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1B3
RE: Rebuttal to "Behind this Door" Article by Elaine Dewar
May 1997 Issue of Toronto Life
The age-old adage that states "if you cannot laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at" certainly applies to Ms Dewar's entertaining article "Behind this Door" in your May 1997 issue. Those organizations and individuals mentioned in this commissioned article, myself included, have been taught a lesson the hard way. One should not think that by being forthcoming with a journalist that only the truth will be published.
No matter how well intentioned, a reporter can sometimes be blinded by an informant's pompous and bombastic statements plus misinterpretations of the facts thereby twisting a story to suit an ulterior motive. In this particular case Ms Dewar chose to support Dr. William Finlayson's individual point of view, one that I believe is not particularly shared by many in Ontario's archaeological community. His attacks on the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation (MCzCR) are nothing but vindictive innuendo based upon an idealistic logic (or rather illogic) from an academic "ivory tower" perspective that ignores the realities of archaeological consulting and government priorities.
Ontario archaeology is neither a national nor an international disgrace as alleged by Dr. Finlayson. In fact, the amount of consulting and research being done here and now far exceeds that in most parts of the world. While there are many things that could be improved, who is going to provide the financial resources to pay for them? Certainly not Dr. Finlayson. What is not stated in Ms Dewar's story is that Dr. Finlayson is fortunate to be employed by an institution (affiliated with the University of Western Ontario) which is exempt from paying taxes on its own archaeological consulting fees, and is supported in part by archaeology consulting firms that do have to pay corporate taxes on their retained revenues. The annual grants for operating, student employment, capital cost and personal research that his institution receives from the federal and provincial governments plus private charitable foundations provide him with a somewhat unfair competitive advantage plus an attitude which private firms do not have and cannot afford to have if they are to provide their clients with a service at a reasonable cost. As the US economist Milton Friedman has said, "few temptations are so irresistible as doing good at some else's expense".
While Dr. Finlayson was certainly a leader in the early development of consulting archaeology in this province during the late 1970s and 1980s, his once pervasive influence has largely diminished with the blending and maturation of academic and consulting archaeology into the applied discipline of cultural resource management. Neither he nor Ms Dewar seem to understand the concepts of client confidentiality and the chain of responsibility, and that investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars may be put at risk with the unauthorized release of sensitive information including archaeological data. Consultants in all disciplines routinely must sign contracts containing clauses prohibiting public interviews or distribution of reports without the prior approval of the client. There is nothing new or sinister in this practice because it is only good common sense to protect an investment by whatever practical and fully legal means available.
As required by regulations of the Ontario Heritage Act, all archaeological fieldwork must be licenced by the MCzCR whether the work is being conducted by university professors, private consultants, civil servants, avocational practitioners, museum administrators or an endowed chair of Canadian archaeology. Reports on their fieldwork results must be submitted in a timely manner for review by MCzCR staff in order to ensure that the required standard is maintained before an individual's licence is annually renewed. This standard of reporting has been greatly increased during the last four years by the introduction of the "Archaeological Assessment Technical Guidelines" (MCzCR 1993) which are followed as part of the development approvals process under the Planning Act, the Environmental Assessment Act and the Cemeteries Act as well as other statutes.
While I disagree with the current MCzCR policy not to allow anyone access to the archaeological licence reports on file and for D.R. Poulton and Associates Inc. to deny Dr. Finlayson a copy of a particular report, no explanation or apology is necessary from the MCzCR, the Royal Ontario Museum or the Toronto Historical Board for being bureaucracies with staff unable to perform their jobs in a fully effective and efficient manner as they would like. The proverbial "red tape" is as real as it always has been, as are the seemingly constant changes in priorities from a cabinet in the midst of a "common sense revolution". This is quite simply a fact of life for most government and municipal agencies. It's a wonder that anything ever gets done.
Dr. Finlayson's loudly proclaimed and seemingly endless criticisms of the status of Ontario archaeology are largely old news from the last decade and earlier. They do not accurately reflect the ever changing current situation, individual circumstances or on-going discussions to remedy his perceived problems. Many of the individuals mentioned in the article are either his former students or former employees of his museum (I worked there with him for six years). One would think that having had him as their instructor and supervisor they would at least share and express some of his concerns. However, it is apparent from the article and the Plenary Session on Cultural Resource Management at the recent Canadian Archaeological Association conference in Saskatoon that they do not place emphasis on relatively minor issues. Dr. Finlayson is in a distinct minority of one with regard to what the majority consider as more important. Notwithstanding the absolute need for budgetary control and deficit reduction, the trend toward an ever dwindling of government resources being directed to preserving and documenting the rich heritage of this province hopefully will soon be reversed before there is little or nothing left for us or our future generations to learn from or to appreciate.
Ms Dewar's delightfully inventive use of verbs (e.g., Finlayson "thundered", Williamson "asked the ceiling", Kapches "sniffed", Latta "snapped", and Andy Barrie the radio broadcaster "chirping") was evidently chosen to be provocative rather than informative. Similarly, her reference to a young man with a shaved head (actually prematurely bald), wearing a sleeveless vest exposing an enormous, swirling tattoo was pointless. She was well aware that this person is an artist who just happens to share office space in my building for a sign making business. Because he has nothing whatsoever to do with archaeology, what reason was there to include him in the story or to refer to his off-the-cuff joking remark? According to Dr. Finlayson and Ms Dewar, I must be guilty of something if I know such an individual and, by extrapolation, so must everyone else who knows this individual or anyone else that is bald with a tattoo. The magazine's editorial policy must also be questioned because after the article was filed, I was contacted by a Toronto Life representative who was checking some facts about my company. She read to me over the telephone that portion of the article describing my interview but did not mention anything about a bald person with a tattoo.
As for my returning artifact collections to the landowners on which they were found when instructed to do so by their lawyers, Dr. Finlayson must know that "people in glass houses should not throw stones". I recall on at least one similar occasion when his institution did the same thing, and a second incident when his museum presented an artifact to Prince Phillip to take home to England. There is nothing wrong with these practices today as long as the MCzCR or other appropriate authority pre-approves them. In my particular situation, the Ontario Heritage Foundation, as the licence approval agency at that time, was informed and no objections were received. MCzCR staff in 1994 unilaterally reinterpreted the regulations of the Ontario Heritage Act to mean that Minister of the MCzCR must approve such transfers. To my knowledge, no public announcement of this reinterpretation was issued. When I was made aware of it by Michael Johnson, the Manager of the Archaeology and Heritage Planning Unit, I followed his written and verbal instructions to include prior consultation with MCzCR staff. My long-standing corporate policy is to recommend that clients have the artifacts found on their land donated to local, regional or national organizations, museums and universities with the facilities and commitment for long-term care, display and public access to researchers. Dr. Finlayson and Ms Dewar find fault with this practice by making the reinterpretation retroactive to situations that occurred years before. There is a word in the English language that describes this "do as I say and not as I do" approach -- it is called hypocrisy.
Ms Dewar's article and Dr. Finlayson's counter-productive proclamation that "the Ontario government must clean up its act or shut down all archaeological work in the province" will do little to promote public awareness of and appreciation for our archaeological heritage. If an analogy can be found in folklore about the article, it should be the one about "the Emperor having no clothes". It is too bad that Ms Dewar did not examine the situation and the bigger picture a little more circumspectly before accepting the assignment to write a negative story. Although Dr. Finlayson has described Ms Dewar as Canada's third-best investigative reporter, I found her distorted story to be rather third-rate.
Mayer Heritage Consultants Inc.
Robert G. Mayer