Court filing: the SRD’s Response to Petition

On July 13th, Regional Director Noba Anderson’s lawyer filed a suit against the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She seeks repayment of her legal fees, from a frivolous lawsuit brought against her last year, and the dismissal of a subsequent SRD motion of censure. The case is to be heard sometime during the assize week starting November 23, 2020. James H Goulden just filed the SRD’s Response to Petition.

Legal argument for not paying court costs

This document argues that the SRD’s Indemnification Bylaw only provides protection for officials “in connection with the exercise of the official’s powers or the performance, or intended performance of the official’s duties or functions.” 

“The Disqualification Petition is not a ‘claim, action or prosecution’ and was brought against Director Anderson in respect of the alleged receipt of gifts that were not in connection with the exercise of her powers or the intended exercise of her powers or, the performance, or intended performance of her duties or functions. The SRD is therefore not required to indemnify Director Anderson for the legal costs incurred.” 

Legal argument for censorship

The Response to Petition also confirms Anderson’s contention that she was censored for showing her lawyer confidential SRD documents, while seeking his legal advice.

According to the SRD’s Code of Conduct Bylaw, “information discussed or disclosed at closed meeting or the board” or marked as confidential “must not be disclosed or released to anyone.”

Chronology of events 

Thus when Director Anderson’s lawyer, Matthew Voeil, cited two of these documents, in a March 7, 2019 letter to the SRD, the Board perceived it as a violation of their Code of conduct. 

In response, the SRD stopped providing Director Anderson “with closed reports to the Board respecting matters that relate to Director Anderson and to which Director Anderson may be in a conflict of interest with the Board.” 

On April 15th, the SRD’s legal counsel wrote Mr Voeill that these documents were confidential and “should be returned to the SRD or deleted.” 

On May 1st, Mr Voeill responded that “Director Anderson was entitled to disclose those documents to him.”  

At their closed meeting a week later, on May 8, the Board resolved to not pay Director Anderson’s legal fees.

The Disqualification petition 

The Disqualification petition which triggered these matters went before the Supreme Court of British Columbia a month later, on June 10th, 2019. The lawyers from both sides filed a joint letter, in which   they stated “There is no basis for the declarations sought by the petitioners.” 

Reporters from the Campbell River Mirror and Cortes Currents were in the courtroom, when Mr Voeill showed that all twelve of the illustrations set forth in the Disqualification petition were factually erroneous. 

The petitioner’s lawyer, Harry Wenngatz, had little to say in response aside from, “My clients were put up to this.” 

You can read first hand reports of these proceedings on both the Campbell River Mirror and Cortes Currents. 

After the Court case

On June 19th, Mr Voeill once again requested that the SRD pay Director Anderson’s legal fees. 

A week later, on June 25th, Director Anderson was informed that the Board would be considering whether to proceed with a censure motion regarding “Director Anderson’s disclosure of confidential and privileged information.” 

Her lawyer was permitted to send a written argument, to the closed session in which the Board voted to proceed with a hearing.     

The Board passed a censure motion against Director Anderson during their closed meeting of October 24th, 2019. (Her lawyer was present and permitted to make both written and verbal arguments.)

Origins of the Disqualification Petition 

The SRD’s Response to Petition also provides some additional insight into the origins of the Disqualification petition.  

These events appear to have been set in motion by Director Anderson’s re-election on October 22nd, 2018.

According to the Response, “In or about October 2018, the SRD received information from several Cortes Island constituents respecting the alleged receipt of gifts and an alleged conflict of interest by Director Anderson.”  

“At its November 7, 2018 closed meeting, the Board resolved to hire an experienced neutral third-party investigator to undertake an investigation into the allegations …”   

The SRD hired Craig Peterson of Creative Risk Management Solutions. 

(The November 28, 2019, Campbell River Mirror states Regional Director Brenda Leigh was receiving emails from Cortes residents opposed to the island’s proposed hall tax. Leigh would subsequently refuse to disclose the contents of these emails.)

“ … In or about January 2019, the SRD became aware that residents of Cortes Island had filed a petition with respect to their allegations, seeking, among other things, the disqualification of Director Anderson (the ‘Disqualifiaction Petition).”  

Corresponding chronology from Cortes sources

Fourteen Cortes residents signed the Disqualification petition that was filed on January 2, 2019

The Campbell River Mirror carried a story about the suit on January 7th, but, De Clarke wrote, the first that many islanders heard of these events was from Craig Peterson.

He arrived on Cortes January 8th, “was quite open and frank about his mission here. He said he was here ‘to investigate the charges against Director Anderson … So most people naturally interpreted Peterson’s extensive visit to our island (several days and at least 20 interviews) as a response (though a bizarre one) to the ludicrous charges made in that petition.”  

Clarke was one of several signatories to the Open Letter to Cortes Islanders, dated January 21st, protesting the Disqualification Petitions “unfounded and mean spirited” allegations.

That document alludes to Peterson’s visit in this paragraph: 

“Most of the 14 signatories to this lawsuit are political opponents of Director Anderson. SRD has also been apprised of these allegations against her. Their CAO, David Leitch, with the agreement of the SRD board, has hired a private investigator to look into the matter. This investigator has been interviewing Cortes residents during the first half of January. Was this costly response appropriate, given such flimsy and partisan allegations?”

There were already 196 signatures on that document when a tiny group of Cortes Islanders attempted to give it to the SRD Board on January 24th.

By the time the SRD finally listened to a delegation, on February 28th, close to half of Cortes’ adult population had signed.

SRD narrative

The Response to Petition refers to the Open Letter in the following passage:

Between on and about January 21, 2019, and on and about February 28, 2019, the SRD received correspondence and presentations from various Cortes Island residents requesting that the SRD cover Director Anderson’s legal costs. At that time, the Board had not yet made public that it had received and considered an indemnification request from Director Anderson.”

On or about January 30, 2019, an article authored by Director Anderson, including the the name of the investigator hired by the SRD, was published on the Cortes Tideline online newspaper.”  

Of course, by that time many Cortes residents were already talking about Mr Peterson and his investigation.

Links of interest

This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

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