B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Judge ponders case of alleged conflict over Langley Township council donations

The mayor and two sitting councillors could be removed from office

A ruling is expected early in the New Year on whether Langley Township’s mayor and two sitting councillors are to be removed from office over an alleged conflict of interest due to campaign contributions.

The hearing before Justice Paul Walker in Vancouver Supreme Court wrapped up on Friday morning after five days of arguments by lawyers.

Mark Underhill, representing 10 Township voters, argued in favour of a petition to the court to remove Mayor Jack Froese, Councillors Bob Long and Blair Whitmarsh from office. The petition also named former Coun. Angie Quaale, who lost her seat in the 2018 election.

Underhill wrapped up his final comments by agreeing with opposing lawyers – J.W. Locke for the mayor and councillors, and James Goulden, for Langley Township – that he had to show there was a “pecuniary interest,” some kind of financial benefit, behind the votes for various development projects.

In other, previous court cases that the lawyers have gone over in search of precedents, those interests were employment or membership in a non-profit that stood to benefit from a council vote.

READ MORE: ‘No smoke, no fire’ defense says in conflict case that could kick three of Township council

Locke and Goulden have pointed out that there is no direct, traditional financial interest for the mayor and councillors in question. They are not employees or investors in the development companies, and they don’t have relatives working there, for example.

In this case, the financial interest was the election campaign itself and the need to fund it, Underhill argued.

“These people [council members] cannot put themselves in this position where they have this interest in getting more donations from these folks,” Underhill argued.

“It’s all about the contributions,” he said later in the proceedings.

Locke and Goulden spent much of the day Thursday arguing against that idea, pointing out that courts have previously found that campaign contributions are not enough to create a financial interest.

“There must be a link beyond mere campaign contributions,” Locke argued Thursday. “There is nothing unlawful about giving campaign contributions, that’s well established.”

They have argued – and the mayor and councillors have written in affidavits for the court – that their decisions were based on community interest and the council members’ own judgment, and weren’t influenced by any donations.

The campaign donations came from owners and senior staff members at development firms. The 2018 municipal election was the first in which direct donations by corporations or unions were banned.

After hearing submissions since Monday, Justice Walker said he expected to release a decision early in 2021.

“It’s a very interesting case with interesting issues,” Walker said.

“I am generally very quick abut getting judgments out, but this one may take a while,” the judge added.

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