By Roy L Hales
From the beginning, the legal petition filed against Strathcona Regional Director Noba Anderson appeared to be slipshod. Numerous factual errors were reported. The amounts of the alleged bribes are trivial, mostly ranging between $20 and $100. The suggestion that they are anything other than donations to a fire relief fund seems dubious, especially as none of these allegations are substantiated. This impression was materially strengthened when Noba’s lawyer filed his response on Thursday.
Bernie Anderson’s cabin burnt down, with almost everything he owned inside, on January 31, 2018. One of his neighbours started a GoFundme campaign called “Bernie’s Cabin Fire Rebuild” which raised $3,700 on his behalf. There is nothing unusual about this in a remote community like Cortes Island. Only Bernie’s daughter had just been re-elected as the island’s Regional Director (is this her fourth term?). As her father is no longer capable of living by himself, Anderson used these funds to add a room for him to her house.
Going through a list of the fund’s twenty-eight donors, some of Anderson’s opponents noticed that a number had connections to Cortes Island non-profit organizations and these organizations subsequently received “grants in aid” from the Strathcona Regional District. (They had actually been “receiving grants” in aid for years.) On January 2, 2018, fourteen Cortes residents filed a legal petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, with the stated intention of having Director Anderson disqualified from holding office until the next general election. They argue that “Anderson took money from her constituents for personal gain and a number of these same constituents received gifts and grants in return.”
Anderson’s lawyer, Matthew Voell, demands proof:
“There was no express or implied connection between the donations made to assist the Respondent’s father and the Respondent’s position or role as the Director for SRD Electoral Area B [Cortes Island]. With respect to the Fund-raising effort, the Respondent never explicitly or implicitly made any offer to, or received any request or suggestion from, any of the people who donated to her father, of anything in return for the personal donations. There was no express or implied connection to any past, present or future SRD grant-in-aid funding.”
No Personal Information
Voell points out, “The Petitioners have not provided any personal information in this matter, and in particular, other than Mr. William John Cathcart, have not provided evidence that they are electors within Electoral Area B of the Strathcona Regional District.”
While we know that they are Cortes residents, this lack of personal information, or any visible input, raises questions about the degree to which these fourteen petitioners are collectively involved in the lawsuit bearing their names. Did all of them know what they were signing?
By way of contrast, nine of the twelve people that the petitioners single out as examples responded by filing affidavits. In almost every case, they point to glaring factual errors in what the petition said about them. (For example: the “garbage collector” who seems to be accused of bribing Anderson for garbage collection contracts – but in reality is not, and never has been, a garbage collector.)
The Grants In Aid
In Director Anderson’s affidavit, we find that she has less control of the Grants in Aid than many of her constituents suppose.
“In the spring of 2018 I received nine applications from community groups … [and] I recommended eight of these applications for funding to the SRD Electoral Area Services Committee.“
This is a list of those eight applicants and when they applied:
- On February 20, 2018, the Cortes Island Museum & Archives applied for 2,400 to assist with the Cortes Wild Linnaea Exhibit.
- On February 15, 2018, the Cortes Community Health Association asked for $5,000 to assist with the augmented home support program.
- On February 14, 2018, the Southern Cortes Community Association sought $10,000 to assist with core operating expenses.
- On March 10, 2018, the Cortes Island Seafood Association asked for #1,000 to assist with shuttle and musician for Seafest
- On February 20, 2018, the Friends of Cortes Island Society applied for $3,000 to assist with the Love the Lakes project;
- On February 20, 2018, the Cortes Business and Tourism Association sought $5,000 to assist with LEAP report writing and launch;
- On February 20, 2018, the Linnaea Farm Society applied for $4,500 assist with core program operating costs;
- On March 25, 2018, the Whaletown Community Club applied for $5,000 to assist with core program operating costs.
All but one of these applications were made prior to March 13, 2018, when the GoFundMe campaign was launched, and the exception was not one of the organizations alleged to have received a “grant in return.”
Director Anderson submitted her list of suggested recipients to the SRD’s Electoral Areas Services Committee for consideration. This is a body made up of the district’s four Regional Directors. As the SRD Board followed their recommendations, it is important to note that in 2018 the committee consisted of :
- (Chair) Jim Abram – Director for Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets,
- (Vice Chair) Brenda Leigh – Director for Oyster Bay-Buttle Lake,
- Gerald Whalley – Director for Kyuquot/Nootka-Sayward,
- and Noba Anderson – Director for Cortes Island.
When the committee submitted their report of April 4, 2018, they recommended funding the eight organizations proposed by Anderson – but for less than the amounts requested:
- $2,000 to the Cortes Island Museum & Archives
- $3,200 to the Cortes Community Health Association
- $3,000 to the Southern Cortes Community Association
- $800 to the Cortes Island Seafood Association
- $1,300 to the Friends of Cortes Island Society
- $4,500 to the Cortes Business and Tourism Association
- $2,000 to the Linnaea Farm Society
- $3,200 to the Whaletown Community Club
The Electoral Areas Services Committee report was submitted to the SRD Board at their April 11, 2018 meeting and subsequently approved on April 26, 2018.
On September 19, 2018, the Electoral Areas Services Committee resolved to recommend two additional grants in aid for Cortes Island:
- $1,500 to the Friends of Cortes Island Society – this time to assist with new Parks and Trails Committee work.
- $3,500 to the Cortes Island Business and Tourism Association to assist with the first phase of the Local Economic Action Plan.
These new recommendations were submitted in a report dated October 2, 2018 and approved at the SRD Board Meeting of October 10, 2018.
The Decision To Build An Addition
If Director Anderson had kept to her original intention of rebuilding her father’s cabin after it burned down, the petitioner’s would not be able to claim that she personally benefitted from the GoFundMe campaign. As a result of the decision to build a room for him in her home, they can point to a presumed increase in her real estate value. However this is not how Director Anderson describes her motivation:
“In 2012, given that my father’s age and dementia had progressed to the point where he could no longer live alone, we built a cabin on the property across the yard from my house so that my father could come and live with me.”
“In January 2018, my father’s cabin burnt to the ground and my father, Bernie Anderson, lost everything he owned. He immediately joined me, my husband Peter Schmidt and my daughter Zyla Schmidt in our house and moved into Zyla’s room …. “
“It became clear after having my father in our home for a few months that sharing closer quarters with him was beneficial to his physical and psycho-emotional well-being. He was eating more often, having more contact with our family (especially his baby granddaughter) and seemed to be in an overall improved state. We therefore decided to build an addition onto our house rather than rebuilding his cabin on the other side of our yard. Construction began in late spring of 2018 and continued through late fall with him moving into his new quarters just before Christmas.”
The GoFundMe Campaign
As the name suggests, “Bernie’s Cabin Fire Rebuild“ was launched prior to the decision to build an addition rather than another cabin. The legal petitioners suggest that several of Cortes Island’s non-profit organizations received gifts and grands in aid because of their members donations to this GoFundMe campaign.
In her affidavit, Director Anderson replies:
” … There was never any explicit or implicit offer on my part, or request or suggestion from any of the people who donated to my father, of anything in return for these people’s donations. There was certainly no express or implied connection at all to any SRD grant in aids funds or any organizations past, present, or future receipt of such funding.“
” … My friend and land partner Lovena Harvey offered to co-ordinate a go-fund-me fund raising effort to assist with the costs of rebuilding a space for my father. I was initially hesitant to be so public about being in a financially thin situation , and because I am a relatively private person in my personal life, however two months after the fire I accepted Ms Harvey’s offer to assist.”
” … Because we had most of the lumber already on hand and could afford (between Bernie and me) the needed building materials, a modest goal of $3,000 was set so that we could hire some labour to get us going.”
“ … All funds donated through the on-line go-fund-me platform were deposited directly into Bernie’s bank account and … donated cash was used exclusively for the building project.“
The fact Director Anderson consistently spells “GoFundMe” incorrectly in her affidavit supports her statement that Lovena Harvey administered the campaign. This is not the kind of error Anderson would have been likely to make, had she been more intimately involved.
Whether the amounts derived from the GoFundMe campaign exceeded $250 depends on whether they are counted as an aggregate number or as individual donations. If the later, it is noteworthy that the largest Cortes donation was $150.
The GoFundMe Campaign Organizer
The GoFundMe campaign in question was started by Lovena Harvey, whose affidavit states:
“In 2007, my husband Ryan Harvey and I, along with Noba, Conrad Dombrowski, Lukasz Biela and Gregory purchased a property on Cortes Island where we all currently live …
“Noba’s father, Bernie Anderson, had been having health issues so Noba built him a small cabin on our shared property so she could be closer to him and look after him.”
“In January 2018, Bernie’s cabin burnt down. I witnessed the fire and saw that it took everything of Bernie’s: his personal possessions, his handmade boat, his photos, writings and momentous, and almost his life. He was left with nothing.”
“In March 2018, I started a “GoFundMe” campaign by creating a page on www.gofundme.com called “Bernie’s Cabin Fire Rebuild” … The Fundraiser was my idea: Noba did not ask me to do this. As exhibited in Exhibit “B,” when people visited the Fundraiser webpage, it listed my name as the “creator.” I described the purpose of the Fundraiser to “raise a ‘bare bones amount, enough to support them in getting material and some labour to frame and insulate a structure that will accommodate Bernie.”
“I made no reference to Noba’s position as Cortes Island Regional Director on the Fundraiser page because it was irrelevant. The Fundraiser was to support Bernie. I started the Fundraiser because I am Bernie’s friend and I care about him …. My husband and I donated $100 (collectively) to the Fundraiser for the same reason…”
Morgan Tams was another donor. According to the petition, he “does the garbage collection on Cortes Island,” and “Garbage collection on Cortes Island is administered through an SRD contract which has never been publicly placed for bid.”
Tams responded, “I do not collect garbage for Cortes Island. I have never been involved with garbage collection on Cortes Island. In the two and a half years I have lived on the island, I have worked as a self employed artist and seasonal employee at Hollyhock. I donated $20 to the “Bernie’s Cabin Fire Rebuild” GoFundMe campaign to support Bernie Anderson when his cabin burned down. This was done purely in the spirit of community support, to help out a neighbour in a time of need. To suggest that I donated such a small sum with the goal of some kind of compensation from Director Noba Anderson is ridiculous.”
According to the Amended Petition, “Cory Dow was appointed to the APC [Cortes Island’s Advisory Planing Commission] by Anderson and personally contributed to the GoFundMe Acct.” If the link between these two facts seems tenuous, consider that she was also no longer serving on the APC when Bernie Anderson’s cabin burned down.
In her affidavit, Dow says:
“Director Anderson asked me to sit on the APC in 2016, which I did for approximately one year. During my time on the APC, I believe the group tried to meet monthly; However I think I attended three meetings because my schedule often conflicted with the APC meeting times. In 2017, after approximately one year, Director Anderson asked if I still wanted to be on the APC given that I was rarely able to attend meetings. I told her I thought it would be best to fill the spot with someone who had more time to participate. I have not been a member of the APC since that time.”
“To the best of my knowledge everyone on the APC is a volunteer. I was not employed by the APC and I was never offered any compensation for my involvement, nor did I expect any compensation. I donated $40 to the “Bernie’s Cabin Fire Rebuild” GoFundMe campaign because I frequently try to help people on Cortes who are in need…”
According to the Amended Petition, “Amanda Glickman is on the ESS and runs a Ham radio course which is funded by the SRD. Ms Glickman has personally contributed to the GoFundMe Acct.”
In her response, Ms Glickman makes it very clear that there is a big difference between the ESS (the Island’s Emergency Social Services Program), which she and her husband Barry volunteered for in 2015-16, and the “Ham radio course” they now teach.
“I have taught this course several times in various locations in the SRD. Until recently, we never charged for these courses. We paid out of pocket for our transportation, hall rental, course material, accommodation, and other costs (such as the frequently disappearing USB sticks containing the course material). The decision to charge for the recent ham radio course was made by the SRD’s Emergency Program Co-ordinator, Shaun Koopman, who felt Barry and I should be compensated for some of our expenses. The amount I received from teaching this course is very small and does not cover my expenses.“
As regards their contribution to the GoFundMe campaign, Amanda states:
“Barry and I have known Bernie Anderson for approximately 11 years. Bernie, like Barry, was a former university professor. They have a lot to talk about. Bernie is a long time Cortes Island resident in his declining years. When his cabin burned down, we were all struck with the pain of his loss and wanted to help in whatever way we could. Barry and I together donated a total of $50 to the “Bernie’s cabin Fire Rebuild” GoFundMe campaign, which was nothing compared to the loss Bernie experienced.”
Most of the remaining affidavits are from people with a connection to some of the Cortes Island non-profit organizations that received grants in aid during 2018.
The exception is from one of Cortes Community Radio’s (CKTZ) DJs. This organization has not applied for, or received, a grant in aid since 2017 and thus could not have received a kickback in 2018.
Victor Van Buskirk
This may explain why Victor Van Buskirk, who CKTZ listeners know as the Dancing Wolf of “From the Muses Garden,” signed a statement saying: “I have never received any money from the Strathcona Regional District for my radio show.”
He added: “I donated $100 to the Bernie Anderson GoFundMe campaign” and “I donated to three other GoFundMe campaigns and other fundraisers in the last two years: to help someone in need.”
Mary Elizabeth Lavelle
The Legal Petition also slams the Southern Cortes Community Association’s manager of Manson’s Hall, Mary Lavelle, who has been Ms Anderson’s Alternate Director since January 2015 and donated $100 to the GoFundMe Campaign.
Ms Lavelle explains, “I have known Bernie since I moved to Cortes Island in 2004. My husband and I worked with Bernie on several building projects and Bernie was always kind to our family. Bernie needed a new home as a result of the fire and I wanted to help.”
” I acted as a community member when I donated to Bernie. It did not occur to me that someone might misunderstand my gesture and see it as inappropriate because I work for the SCCA or because I am the Alternate Director for our Electoral Area.“
According to the Amended petition. “Kirsten Schofield-Sweet is on the APC, Cortes Island Seafood (CISA) and is a member of FOCIS. Ms Sweet was Anderson’s alternate director in her previous term, running from 2011 to 2014. Ms Sweet also signed Anderson’s nomination papers. CISA received an $800 grant on April 27, 2018 and a further $800 grant on May 26, 2016. Ms Sweet contributed personally to the Go-Fund-Me Acct.”
Ms Schofield -Sweet’s affidavit points to a number of errors and possible misinterpretations in that passage:
- Firstly, She was appointed to the APC by Regional Director Ralph Nursall in 1991, or 1992, and went on to serve under George Sirk and later Jenny Hiebert, as well as Anderson. During that time, she received a total of about $50, for taking minutes when the APC secretary could not attend, and has not otherwise received any compensation.
- While it was true she had served as Directors Anderson’s alternate, but in 2008 to 2011 – not 2011 to 2014 (as the petition states).
- As for her involvement with FOCI (Friends of Cortes Island), Ms Schofield-Sweet was a member when she first came to Cortes, but “left the organization and has not attended meetings for several decades.”
She adds, “I have known Bernie Anderson for roughly 28 years. Bernie and his wife Lella used to live on Twin Islands, which are just south of Cortes Island. [My partner] John and I would give Bernie and Lella rides across Cortes Island for social events and chores. I did not expect any preferential treatment from Director Anderson or the Regional District in exchange for my donation. It is heart breaking to think that my neighbours, who have drummed a Klahoose First Nation honour song for me at Seafest, who have sat at our Christmas table, and who have joined me in APC deliberations across several years, would think me capable of helping a friend only in exchange for some sort of benefit.”
The petition erroneously states that Cortes Island realtor Martha Abelson was one of the Directors of the Cortes Island Tourist and Business Association. While this was once true, she ceased to be a board member as of June 2017.
Abelson testified, “When there was a call within the Cortes community for donations to help Bernie Anderson after his cabin was destroyed by fire, I responded without hesitation. I donated $100 to the GoFundMe campaign. I have known Bernie since the 1980’s, when he lived and worked as a caretaker with his family on Twin Islands. I am the nearest neighbour on Cortes Island to Twin Islands. I donated to the “Bernie’s Cabin Fund Rebuild” to help my friend. I also responded in the same manner when another home on Cortes Island burned down a few years ago.”
According to the Legal Petition, Ryan Harvey “is on the Board of the Friends of Cortes island Society (FOCIS)” and was “paid to do the trail repairs on Cortes Island parks. This position has never been placed for tender…”
To which Harvey responds, “I am not and have never been a Director of FOCI [Friends of Cortes Island]. I am an independent contractor and have done work for FOCI for approximately 17 years. I am currently their Parks and Trails Coordinator. I have no control over or input into FOCI’s funding, am not their employee, and have never been their employee. When I heard that Bernie Anderson lost his home to a fire in January 2018, my wife created a fundraising campaign on www.gofundme.com to raise money to help Bernie find new housing … My wife, Lovena Harvey, and I donated a total of $100 to the Fundraiser because we love Bernie.”
Grounds Disqualification From Office?
In the petition it states “The Community Charter, Part 4, Division 6, Conflict of Interest permits of the disqualification from holding office on a council in the event that the elected member participates in a conflict of interest and exercises their powers contrary to the provisions of the charter.”
Proceeding to item 105 of that document, it says (1)A council member must not, directly or indirectly, accept a fee, gift or personal benefit that is connected with the member’s performance of the duties of office.
- “(a) a council member receives a gift or personal benefit referred to in section 105 (2) (a) that exceeds $250 in value, or
- (b)the total value of such gifts and benefits, received directly or indirectly from one source in any 12 month period, exceeds $250.”
(2) In the circumstances described in subsection (1), the council member must file with the corporate officer, as soon as reasonably practicable, a disclosure statement indicating:
- “(a) the nature of the gift or benefit,
- (b) its source, including, if it is from a corporation, the full names and addresses of at least 2 individuals who are directors of the corporation,
- (c) when it was received, and
- (d) the circumstances under which it was given and accepted.”
“(3) A person who contravenes this section is disqualified from holding office as described in section 108.1 [disqualification for contravening conflict rules] unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith.”
Director Anderson is her father’s legal guardian and appears to have been acting in his interest, rather than her own, when she decided to take him into her home (rather than build another cabin). The petitioners allege but have yet to prove that there was any real conflict of interest between the way Anderson looked after her father and her performance as Regional Director. It also seems likely that any contravention she may have made “was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith.”
 As both the $1,000 donation and anonymous donations of $300, $400. $100 & $100 are said to have come from Director Anderson’s family, only $1,800 appears to have come from Cortes Island residents and only one of these Cortes donations exceeded $100. The exception was only $150. ]