In January 2019, Cortes Island was rocked by the news that 14 residents filed a legal petition, in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, to remove their recently re-elected Regional Director, Noba Anderson, from office. The petitioners claimed that “Anderson took money from her constituents for personal gain and a number of those same constituents received gifts and grants in return.” Many hoped that the affair was finally over after the lawyers from both sides filed a joint application stating “There is no basis for the declarations sought by the petitioners.” The Supreme Court Of British Columbia adopted this application as its judgement. However the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) refused to pay Director Anderson’s legal fees and subsequently censured her for revealing confidential materials to an undisclosed recipient. On Monday, July 13, 2020, this conflict entered a new phase: Regional Director Noba Anderson is Suing the SRD.
What She Wants
According to the documents she filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia (i.e.- now in the public record), Director Anderson is seeking full repayment of her legal costs from the 2019 lawsuit.
She also seeks to have the SRD’s censure motions (of May 8 and October 24, 2019) quashed. It appears that the Board censured Director Anderson for seeking legal advice about SRD reports not available to the public:
“As the reports being circulated to Board members concerned my personal interests, I sought legal advice concerning them. For that purpose, I provided those reports (including the report of Mr Peterson and the legal opinion of Ms Stuart) to my lawyer Mr Matthew Voell. I disclosed these documents to Mr Voell on a confidential basis, and for no other purpose than to seek independent legal advice with respect to how these reports affected me personally.” – Affidavit of Noba Anderson, 31.
As Director Anderson “did not have a declared conflict of interest,” she also wants copies of a number of reports and materials classified by the SRD Board as “in camera” (i.e. secret) between April and October 2019.
“ … it is also my view that some steps taken by the Board since 2019 have also infringed my legal rights and standing as a member of the board. I am concerned that these events may adversely affect my ability to represent the best interests of my constituents on Cortes Island, and thus may affect their interests as well.” – Affidavit, 7.
SRD Will Not Comment
Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch responded to my queries by emailing, “Mr Hales, The Strathcona Regional District will not comment on matters that are before the court.”
Before The Disqualification Petition
Noba Anderson was elected as Cortes Island’s Regional Director in November 2008 and has subsequently been re-elected in 2011, 2014 and 2018.
As to her relationships with other members of the board, Anderson wrote:
“On a number of occasions since I was first elected, I have found myself being strongly ideologically opposed to positions supported by some, and in some cases most, of the other Board members. There have also been a number of instances in the last decade when I have been concerned that statements made to me, or about me, and steps taken in respect of my role as a Board member, have exceeded the bounds of respectful political opposition …” – Affidavit, 7.
The Fire And GoFundMe
Noba’s father, Bernie Anderson, is “experiencing advancing dementia,” so she installed a cabin for him, on her property.
When this structure burned down in January 2018, Bernie lost everything that he owned.
A close neighbour subsequently offered to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for a new living space.
“ … While I was initially hesitant, I eventually agreed to this because I could see no other viable way of financing the construction of a new space for my father. My father received only a modest government pension, and my family did not have the means to obtain suitable alternate accommodation. Ultimately we added an addition to our family home to accommodate my father as we determined that given his age it would be best if he lived with us.” – Affidavit, 11.
After The Last Election
Noba Anderson was reelected as Cortes Island’s Regional Director on October 20, 2018.
According to her affidavit (14): “On October 25, 2018, I was advised that the SRD Board received certain complaints about me. I initially heard about the complaints during a closed meeting of the Board.”
This was followed by two confidential staff reports during an in camera meeting on November 7, 2018.
“Following the circulation of the staff reports, four SRD Directors suggested that I should resign immediately. Electoral Area C Director Jim Abram stated that I should resign now because I was unlikely to be able to finance my defence. Director Leigh stated that I was ‘morally corrupt’ and that because my constituents had known about my actions and still reelected me, the whole of Cortes was ‘morally corrupt.’ These statements were all made before the Board hired an investigator to look into the allegations, and before I had an opportunity to respond to the complaints before the Board. No one else at the Board meeting said anything in response to these comments.” – Affidavit, 16.
On November 14, Director Anderson’s lawyer wrote the board about the issues raised in these complaints, but received no reply.
“ … The letter was marked ‘to be received in camera …” – Affidavit, 17.
At their November 22 Board meeting, Director Anderson expressed concerns about other directors receiving confidential emails from some of her constituents. According to the Campbell River Mirror account of this meeting, “Area D Director Brenda Leigh also referred at that meeting to information she had received from Cortes residents about concerns with the (proposed hall tax) referenda.”
Craig Peterson Hired To Investigate
According to the petition Noba Anderson and the Strathcona Regional District (henceforth Anderson vs SRD) :
“In late 2018 and early 2019, the SRD initiated an investigation into …[Director Anderson*] relating to a go-fund-me fundraising effort to assist with the costs of rebuilding a home for the petitioner’s father, which had been destroyed by a fire (the “Investigation”). The SRD hired an investigator, Mr. Craig Peterson, to interview …[Director Anderson] and a number of other residents of Cortes, and to report on his findings.”
The date in this passage is important. The Cortes Legal Petition [called the Disqualification Petition in Anderson’s documents] was not filed until January 2, 2019: i.e.- after Peterson was hired. Craig Peterson arrived on Cortes Island on January 8 – the day after the Campbell River Mirror published an article about this lawsuit.
As word of Peterson’s investigation spread swiftly through the Cortes community, Anderson published a Director’s Report on the Cortes Tideline.
” … In response to a question about whether the SRD would make the results of the investigation by Mr. Peterson available to the public, I answered I did not know and I was not at liberty to comment while the investigation was underway.”
“When the Board gathered on January 30 and 31, 2019, for budget deliberations I was expressly reprimanded by the Board Chair for my public statement acknowledging the existence of the Disqualification Petition and the investigation, even though both were public knowledge.” – Affidavit, 28, 29.
Though Craig Peterson’s report was circulated among Board members, Director Anderson wrote:
” … I was never afforded the opportunity to make submissions to the SRD Board concerning the conclusions in, or use of, the report from Mr. Peterson, despite Mr. Voell’s express request that I be given an opportunity to the respond to the substance and release of the report.” – Affidavit, 33.
Not Permitted To Seek Legal Advice
Prior to the April 10th Board meeting, Director Anderson was informed she was not allowed to seek legal advice.
” … In accordance with standard practise at the SRD, staff prepared and circulated separate reports for the open portion of the meeting and for matters which staff expected to be addressed in the closed portion of the meeting. The materials which I received in advance of the meeting included only the reports dealing with the open portion of the meeting. In order to determine whether or not I had a conflict of interest in any matters that might be considered at the closed portion of the meeting, I asked … [Chief Administrative Officer] Leitch to provide me with a copy of those staff reports as well. He refused. I asked Mr. Leitch if a copy could be sent to my legal counsel and he told me no. I also asked Mr. Leitch if there was an intent to deny me access to SRD Board business. He said ‘yes’ and further added that I did not have a right to share SRD legal opinions with my legal counsel …”
“I was asked to leave the closed portion of the April 10, 2019 meeting even though I had not declared a conflict (not knowing what the meeting was about). The Board was very uncomfortable with my position that as I had not declared a conflict of interest I could not know whether I should recuse myself. The Board was not willing to proceed with me in the room, so I left the in camera portion of the meeting in good faith so as to not cause further discomfort for the Board members.” – Affidavit, 35 & 36.
The Decision To Not Pay Noba’s Legal Fees
Director Anderson also had to recuse herself from the closed segment of the May 8 Board meeting. She was permitted to see the Agenda. Two of the attached staff reports, which she was not permitted to see, were called “Director Anderson Indemnification” and “Release of Confidential Information.”
“On or about May 2019, I received a letter from Chair Babchuk of the SRD Board, dated May 10, 2019, stating that the SRD Board had resolved on May 8, 2019, that I would not be indemnified in respect of the Disqualification Petition … I was never given any reasoning for the Board’s decision.” – Affidavit, 39.
The Disqualification Petition
There are more details about the Disqualification Petition in Anderson vs SRD:
“A number of … [Anderson’s] constituents subsequently filed a disqualification petition in the BC Supreme Court, alleging that … [Anderson] had acted in a conflict of interest as a Director of SRD Electoral Area B in voting grants in aid to various non-profit organizations in the SRD. The allegations and evidence put forward in support of the Disqualification Petition were highly inaccurate, both factually and legally.”
Some of the petition’s ‘evidences’ did not pertain to Grants in Aids. For example, Cortes Island’s alleged garbage collector – who actually is not the island’s garbage collector – gave $20 to the GoFundMe. The petitioners explain “Garbage collection on Cortes Island is administered through an SRD contract which has never publicly placed for bid.” (They would have found a reference to the tender, if they searched the SRD minutes using the actual garbage collector’s name.) Similarly, someone who sat on Cortes Island’s Advisory Planning Commission (APC) for two meetings in the year prior to the cabin fire, donated $40. The petitioners pointed out that “she was appointed to the APC by Anderson.” These ‘evidences’ are so flawed as to be irrelevant.
Director Anderson was on maternity leave when most of the Grants-in-Aid cited in the petition were made.
The exceptions were two non profits whose alleged directors made donations, of $100 each, to the GoFundMe campaign. They were not directors of these organizations.
When the case finally reached court, Director Anderson’s lawyer showed each of the Disqualification Petition’s allegations to be factually erroneous.
None of the petitioners were present.
Their lawyer sat silently, offering no arguments or evidences. He did say, “My clients were put up to this,” but would not reveal the identity of the real instigator of this lawsuit.
Judge R.A. Skolrood accepted the lawyer’s joint submission as his ruling: “There is no basis for the declarations sought by the petitioners.”
After the Court Victory
One would have thought that Director Anderson’s vindication in court would have resolved some of the friction on the Board, but two days later she was once again asked to leave an in camera session:
” … I was told that I should leave the room without being told of the substance of the materials to be considered and told that I had a conflict and that if I did not leave the room I would be vulnerable to being disqualified from office. Again the minutes of this meeting state that I recused myself from this meeting due to a conflict of interest. This is incorrect as I had not declared any such conflict. – Affidavit, 47.
Her lawyer, M Voell, sent a letter of protest, adding:
” … I therefore request that Director Anderson immediately be provided with all staff reports and in camera meeting minutes that have been withheld from her by SRD staff and the Board, since and including the April 10 2019 SRD Board meeting.”
“We are aware of no basis on which these materials may continue to be withheld from my client, an elected member of the SRD Board. Should Director Anderson have a conflict of interest in relation to any of these matters, she will declare such a conflict, after obtaining legal advice if required, according to the procedure set out in section 100(4) of the Community Charter.”
“We also insist that the SRD Board immediately cease its practise of forcing my client to leave portions of in camera meetings, which we note has been ongoing since April 10, 2019. There is simply no authority for this practise. Notably, this occurred again on June 12, 2019, after my client was declared not to be in conflict of interest by a justice of the BC Supreme Court.” – Exhibit M, Affidavit.
The SRD Board ignored this protest and continued to send Director Anderson out of the room during segments of in camera sessions.
“On or about June 25, 2019, I was advised by Chair Babchuk that the Board would be considering whether to proceed with a censure decision regarding my seeking legal advice and providing confidential material to my legal counsel …” – Affidavit, 49
” … The agenda for the June 27, 2019, closed Board Meeting indicated that the Board received a report from Mr. Leitch titled “Investigation into Release of Confidential Information,” which I have never received or has been provided for me.” – Affidavit, 51.
Director Anderson was told to leave the in camera session for July 24 and September 11, without being told why.
Chair Babchuk notified Director Anderson of the motion to censure her in a letter dated October 10, 2019.
” … Before proceeding with a vote on the motion of censure the Board will be holding a hearing at which you and your legal representative are welcome to attend and make a submission to the Board.” – Exhibit Q, Affidavit
Mr Voell made verbal and written submissions to the subsequent censure hearing, on October 24, 2019. Then, after answering one question, he and Director Anderson were asked to leave the room.
The subsequent SRD press release states:
“At the conclusion of the hearing the SRD Board of Directors deemed that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Director Anderson released 2 in-camera legal opinions and an investigation report (known as the Peterson Report) without the Board’s authority. With this decision debated the SRD Board of Directors passed the attached motions of Censure that the Board felt were measured and relevant.”
This report does not reveal the fact Director Anderson was actually consulting with her lawyer.
The Court Documents
To read the complete petition, “Noba Anderson and the Strathcona Regional District“:
- there is a copy on the web, which you can access here
- Or purchase a copy through Court Services Online.
Regional Director Noba Anderson’s affidavit and numerous attachments:
- there is a copy on the web, which you can access here
- Or purchase a copy through the Campbell River Supreme Court Registry, 500 – 13th Avenue, Campbell River, BC V9W 6P1 (phone 250-286-7510)
Other Media Coverage Of This Story
- Cortes Island Area Director Sues Strathcona Regional District (Marc Ketteringham, Campbell River Mirror, July 17, 2020)
Top photo credit: Screenshot of Regional Director Noba Anderson from the April 24 Cortes Island Virtual Community Meeting