by Richard Wiefelspuett
In March 2014, the Office of the Ombudsperson (“Ombudsman”) notified the Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) that an open investigation of the municipality and Council had been launched. The investigation is the result of a formal complaint filed by me in December 2013.
The filed complaint is a comprehensive document, now posted on the Stop-the-Docks website for reference.The complaint is based on this Council’s actions regarding their recommendations to the Province that allowed for construction of the docks at Cape Roger Curtis (CRC).
Before we settled on Bowen Island in the fall of 2012, my wife Lesley and I had spent some 15 years in China and Singapore, countries in which democracy is nothing but a faint wish. We were looking forward to life in a vibrant community but became quickly concerned over the lack of genuine public debate and the many barriers that the current Council has raised deliberately to undermine public engagement.
The Ombudsman only investigates complaints that have merit; the office does not investigate trivial complaints.
The specifics of my complaint are related to private dock applications at CRC and addressed the role and conduct of BIM Council during the process of providing a response to the request from the Integrated Land Management Bureau (the “Province”).
In a Council meeting (May 6, 2013), several Council members declared that they had received legal advice regarding the Municipality’s power to recommend to the Province that these private docks not be approved. At this Council meeting, the mayor and several councillors – Rhodes, Lucas and Duntz – explained to the public that their legal advice confirmed that they had no jurisdiction to take any position in the dock approval process (see archived video of the meeting).
This information however is in complete contradiction of independent legal advice by a respected law firm (Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP: May-23-2013-Legal-Opinion1.pdf). I found this contradiction deeply disturbing and asked for the release of more details related to the legal advice received by Council. BIM refused to provide the legal advice to me.
In February of 2014, the Ombudsman confirmed to me that their office would proceed with an investigation into Council’s actions. The primary concerns of the Ombudsman were the closed door meetings held to discuss the Council’s response to the Province and the result of this closed door meeting: rejection of BIM planning staff’s recommendation to not approve the docks based on the Official Community Plan.
As a result of the investigation and communication with the Ombudsman’s office, I have provided additional information including cogent examples of Council’s conduct, with respect to alleged violations of the Community Charter closed meeting provisions and a range of examples that illustrate conflict of interest issues on the part of some council members.
On 18 September 2014 the Ombudsman called to update me on the status of the investigation. In response to his request to BIM, the Ombudsman received records related to the legal advice sought/received by Bowen Island Municipality in regard to the dock approvals at Cape Roger Curtis.
He stated, that the the Bull, Housser and Tupper advice to the Stop-the-Docks campaign describes the jurisdiction of the municipality accurately. The Ombudsman has since asked for additional information from BIM and the scrutiny of BIM’s legal advice continues.
This finding is significant. It confirms that, contrary to their own representation to the public, the BIM Council did indeed have jurisdiction to stop the docks at CRC! The BIM planner’s report of June 2012, eventually released a year later as a result of a freedom of information (FOI) request, made no mention of legal advice received or solicited and provided valid reasons (based on the BIM Official Community Plan) for recommending to the Province that the docks not be approved. In a closed door meeting on June 25, 2012, Council specifically rejected the recommendation of its own staff and then presented to the public that it had no jurisdiction to not approve the docks. The failure to hold an open meeting to debate this issue, contrary to the requirements of the Community Charter, resulted in the staff recommendations being kept secret for a whole year. The public was thus prevented from lobbying Council to follow the recommendations of its own staff. The result was the provincial approval of the unsightly docks we see today.
Why did Council lack the political will to protect the public interest and preserve the coastline of CRC? We can only speculate that, rather than protecting the public interest, they were following a different agenda.
The finding of the Ombudsman to date sets the record straight and places the responsibility squarely with the current administration. The docks at CRC are the irrefutable legacy of Jack Adelaar, Tim Rhodes, Andrew Stone, Cro Lucas, Alison Morse, Daron Jennings and Wolfgang Duntz.
The Ombudsman has informed further that the open investigation will continue and “conflict of interest” issues are next on his list.