Court will allow opposing evidence in Mack Laing case

Court will allow opposing evidence in Mack Laing case

A BC Supreme Court has granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in the Town of Comox’s application to alter the naturalist’s public trust. MLHS hopes the new council is open to out-of-court discussions

 

This article was updated Monday to include a quote from Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott

There’s renewed hope that the fate of famous Comox naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing’s public trusts and his heritage home, called Shakesides, might be settled out of court.

Over the objections of the Town of Comox, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson recently granted the Mack Laing Heritage Society intervenor status in a case to alter the late naturalist’s public trust.

The town applied to the court in 2017 to change Laing’s trusts so it can demolish Shakesides and use the money and property Laing left the town for other purposes. The Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) has opposed the town’s application.

In a court hearing Oct. 16 in Nanaimo, Justice Thompson said he thought he had given clear instructions to the town and the BC Attorney General in mid-April to sign a consent order allowing the MLHS to present their evidence “with no restrictions” at trial.

The town has refused to sign several versions of the consent order because they want to exclude much of the MLHS evidence and limit the society’s time before the court.

This time, Justice Thompson directed the parties to sign a consent order, which he framed for them, and instructed MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning to write.

As of today, the Attorney General and MLHS have agreed to the terms, but the Town of Comox has not yet accepted the order as written.

The MLHS hopes Comox will sign the consent order soon. And, now that the municipal election is over, perhaps enter into talks that prevent further costly court appearances.

“We think the court did the right thing in making MLHS (an) intervenor, and if we get to court we have faith that the right thing will happen there as well,” said MLHS President Kris Nielsen.

“However, our true hope is that the new council will work with us instead of against us to realize the terms of Laing’s will, which Comox agreed to when they took his money in trust. To that end we have a business plan and generous support from many construction and heritage professionals.” he said.

Comox Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott has left the door open for talks.

“Given that there is a new council it will be something we will be looking at. I would hope to negotiate a suitable outcome for all parties involved and the community as a whole,” he said.

FURTHER READING: Read more on the Mack Laing case 

The justice also granted additional time for the MLHS to present new evidence, despite objections from the town and the AG. He gave MLHS until Oct. 30 to file the new evidence and gave the town and the AG until Nov. 30 to file responses.

MLHS has prepared a business plan for restoring Shakesides and transforming it into the nature house envisioned by the famous Comox naturalist. The plan includes commitments from about two dozen Comox Valley construction companies to supply materials or labor at little or no cost to the town.

“We just wanted to make sure someone spoke for Mack in court,” said Gordon Olsen, a former friend of Mack Laing. “And we hope Comox doesn’t waste any more taxpayer dollars on this unnecessary litigation. Instead let’s honour the legacy of this amazing and generous man.”

There is no court date set to hear the case. It would not likely get onto the Supreme Court docket until February at the earliest.

Nielsen said that delay gives the society and the town an opportunity to hammer out a solution by the end of the year.

Background

The Town of Comox has petitioned the court to vary the terms of Laing’s trust, including the right to demolish the famous ornithologist’s iconic home, called Shakesides. The society wants to present a business plan for a future use of Shakesides that honors Laing’s agreement with the town.

The society also wants a forensic audit of the Laing financial trust.

MLHS has argued for years that the town mishandled Laing’s funds. A private citizen, Gordon Olsen, commissioned an independent audit by a Campbell River firm that concluded Laing’s trust should be worth more than $400,000 today.

The town has admitted to claims by the MLHS, individuals and other organizations that it had misspent Laing’s money. In a Nov. 29, 2017 staff report, Town CAO Richard Kannigan presented a long list of inappropriate expenditures.

In December 2017, the Town Council voted to add back nearly $200,000 into the trust.

Meanwhile, the town has racked up additional legal fees by fighting the MLHS.

Who is Mack Laing

Hamilton Mack Laing (1883-1982) was one of Canada’s foremost naturalist-collectors; he was a photographer, artist, writer and educator whose output included over 700 journal and scientific articles.

He wrote a biography of his friend Major Allan Brooks, another well-known Canadian naturalist.

Laing left several unpublished manuscripts, journals and field notes, and hundreds of letters, papers and photographs. These are available for viewing at the Royal BC Museum, the Winnipeg Archives and the Canadian National Museum of Natural History.

Specimens he collected are still in the collections of many major Canadian and American museums.

Mack Laing belonged to the Brotherhood of Venery, a secret fraternity known as the “B.” This influential group of conservationists and naturalists included such notables as Percy Taverner, Kenneth Racey, J. B. Harkin, Ian McTaggart Cowan, John Muir and Aldo Leopold.

 

Town’s Mack Laing “hub” aims to influence court

Town’s Mack Laing “hub” aims to influence court

But the real intent is ignore Mack Laing’s gift to Comox citizens

Submitted by the Mack Laing Heritage Society

On Aug. 7, 2018, the Town of Comox issued a news release about an online information hub for residents “to learn more about the Mack Laing property and its history,” though the information about the property and its history on the webpage is minimal.

The suggestion that “updates on the plans for Mack Laing Nature Park” are coming this fall in response to questions from the public is also difficult to interpret. The public has been raising questions for a long time about the plans for the park, with little response from the mayor and Town Council.

The timing of the new information hub seems to indicate that it will function mostly to justify the town’s controversial decision to have the terms of the Mack Laing Trust altered by the B.C. Supreme Court and to report on the outcome of the case.

The variance being sought by the town is better described as an overturning of the Trust.

A favourable decision will result in the destruction of Shakesides, the home Mack Laing built by hand in 1949. In leaving his property to the Town of Comox, Laing expressly stated that his home, as well as his land, were to be made available to the public for their enjoyment and education.

Yet Shakesides was not made available to the public, but was rented out to a series of tenants from 1982 to 2014 — with the proceeds going into general revenue.

Shakesides was then left vacant and unsecured, encouraging vandalism. It was boarded up in 2016 and, finally, a security fence was erected around it at the beginning of 2018.

The town’s neglect of Shakesides, like its neglect of Baybrook (Laing’s first home, which was demolished in 2015), runs counter to the terms of theLaing Trust which call for a “natural history museum”, or nature house in modern parlance – not a viewing platform.

The financial issue that has been used to justify the altering of the Laing Trust is that the money left to the town by Laing was not originally sufficient to do the necessary restoration or renovation of Shakesides. However, that $50,000 dollars would have bought a house in 1982, and even now, it has to be considered with all the interest it has earned and the income generated by the rental of Shakesides.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society restoration estimates have demonstrated that there are savings to be made by taking advantage of donated labour and materials. In any case, the financial burden to the town of restoring Shakesides is much less than the town has already spent on legal action and other costs to avoid restoring it. And this is without even considering the design, labour, and materials for the proposed viewing platform.

The Mack Lang Heritage Society has applied for standing in the Supreme Court case and is ready to add 400 pages of documents and affidavits to the court record.

A decision favourable to the town is by no means assured when the court convenes in early October. The MLHS believes that this may be a good time for the town to change course and negotiate a settlement that really “honours the conservation and educational goals laid out by Mack Laing”.

Further information about Mack Laing, his importance, and the work done by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (work recognized with a BC Heritage Award in 2016) can be found at www.macklaingsociety.ca .

Questions the Town of Comox doesn’t want asked in court

Questions the Town of Comox doesn’t want asked in court

Why is the Town of Comox fighting so hard and spending so much money to thwart the Mack Laing Heritage Society from presenting evidence during a BC Supreme Court trial to decide whether the town can vary the terms of the famous ornithologist’s gifts to the municipality?

 

The Comox mayor and council members are determined not to allow the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) to present evidence in BC Supreme Court about the future of Laing’s heritage home.

And they’re spending tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money to keep the society’s information out of court.

At the Town of Comox’s second Supreme Court appearance in mid-April, Justice Douglas W. Thompson suggested the town work with MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning and the BC Attorney General’s office on an agreement by May 28 that would grant intervenor status to the society with “no restrictions whatsoever” on the evidence it could introduce into the proceedings.

Justice Thompson suggested the consent order as an alternative to taking up more court time on this preliminary issue.

But the town would not agree. It has rejected every attempt by Canning to find an agreement.

Frustrated by the town, the MLHS has since filed a requisition to restart its Application for Standing in the fall Supreme Court session that begins in October.

A standing status would give MLHS equal footing in the ultimate trial with the town and the AG ministry.

FURTHER READING: Read all of Decafnation’s stories about Shakesides here

The consent order would have brought the society’s Application for Standing, which began in March, to a conclusion and the court could have moved on to the merits of the case.

The Town of Comox has petitioned the court to vary the terms of Laing’s trust, including the right to demolish the famous ornithologist’s iconic home, called Shakesides.

The society wants a forensic audit of the Laing financial trust. They also want to present a business plan for future use of Shakesides.

The failure to reach agreement means a third Supreme Court appearance just to decide whether the MLHS can present evidence regarding the town’s arguments for varying the terms of Laing’s trusts.

Coupled with a two-day minimum trial period, pre-trial work and at least three court appearances on the society’s legal standing, the town is racking up enormous legal costs.

The town has not released information about how high it anticipates the legal fees to reach, but some observers speculate it could reach $100,000.

When Decafnation asked each council member and the mayor why they are willing to spend so much money on lawyers to bury the MLHS’s evidence — money that could be used to live up to the terms of the Mack Laing trust — they all declined to comment because the matter was “before the court.”

Nor would councillors talk about related issues that aren’t before the courts.

Asked if council should form a new citizen advisory committee to study possibilities for Shakesides now that the financial trust has almost quadrupled, the mayor and council also declined to comment.

The town is relying on the citizen committee’s contested conclusion that Shakesides isn’t worth saving. Two committee members wrote a dissenting opinion.

But at the time, the town contended there was only $70,000 in the trust.

Since then, the town has admitted to charges by the MLHS, individuals and other organizations that they spent Laing’s money inappropriately and have added back nearly $200,00 into the trust.

Had the citizens committee known there was more than $260,000 available for complying with Laing’s trust, they might have come to a different, perhaps even unanimous conclusion.

The committee was seriously misled about the finances of the Laing trust.

Yet not one council member has publicly asked if the matter should be reconsidered before spending additional tens of thousands of dollars with a Vancouver law firm.

Now a third BC Supreme Court day will be consumed by a debate over whether the Justices should consider nine affidavits totalling 500 pages of evidence compiled by the MLHS.

Two Justices have already said the “armful of evidence” makes “an arguable case and it should be heard.” The Justices have said, “There are serious issues at stake; it’s been 36 years; and, the vindication of a will.”

Apparently there are many questions the town does not want the MLHS to ask in court. They’re spending a ton of tax dollars to prevent it.

Makes you wonder why. What is the Town Council afraid of?

 

Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has won a major legal battle to force the Town of Comox to honor trust agreements with the famous naturalist

 

AB.C. Supreme Court judge has facilitated an agreement so the Mack Laing Heritage Society can present its evidence in a case that will decide the future of the famous ornithologist’s iconic home and clarify the status of his trust agreements.

In a hearing in Nanaimo this week (April 17), Justice Douglas W. Thompson asked lawyers for the town and the B.C. Attorney General’s office why they objected to the court hearing the “armful of evidence” submitted by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS).

Justice Thompson then pointedly asked the Attorney General’s representative how she could fulfill her obligations as a “defender of public trusts” without all the information in the case.

And he asked the town’s lawyer, of the Vancouver-bassed Young Anderson law firm, what questions the town did not want MLHS to ask in court.

By the end of the five-hour court session, the town’s lawyer and the AG’s office had agreed to grant intervenor status to the MLHS with “no restrictions whatsoever” on the evidence the society can introduce into the proceedings, which will be held in late May.

It was a major win for the MLHS and a defeat in round one for the Town of Comox.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses: we misspent Laing’s money; Link to all Shakesides stories

The town has petitioned the court to vary the terms of the Mack Laing trusts — there are three — in order to demolish Laing’s heritage home, which he willed to the town, and use the money Laing also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed naturalists intended.

The MLHS had sought official standing in the case. “Standing” meant that the society could introduce nine affidavits totally about 500 pages of evidence that purport to negate the basis of the town’s petition, and, if successful, could have recovered its legal costs from the town.

Local builder Bunker Killam, who rented Shakesides for the first nine years after Laing’s death, sets up croquet in the front yard. Killam said the house was in good condition while he lived there.

By granting the MLHS intervenor status with “no restrictions,” Justice Thompson has cleared the way for the court to consider all of the society’s evidence. But if MLHS succeeds in defeating the town’s petition, it will not be able recover its court costs.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen said, “”Had we been offered this deal months ago, we would gladly have taken it. All we wanted was the chance to present the evidence we have collected from a wide array of sources and individuals, together with the historical facts from these sources, seen through different eyes, plus ask questions in order to get answers from town officials.

“The justice recognized the value of these different documents early, and made it clear that he did not see why this information should not be at the disposal of the court?,” Nielsen said. “Now our 11 affidavits and 120 or so exhibits are fully vested in the upcoming Supreme Court Hearing.”

According to Nielsen, the “genius of Justice Thompson” showed up in the last half hour of the April 17 court session, when he maneuvered the proceedings around with “carrot and stick tactics” to bring about a conclusion, surely saving a full day of court time from playing out.

“It was all done with one question (to the Town of Comox and the AG representative),” Nielsen said. “What question is it you want the society NOT to ask?”

Asked if he cared to comment on the outcome of the court session, Comox Mayor Paul Ives said, “Not really — the matter has been adjourned to the week of May 28 in Nanaimo.”

There could still be a mediated settlement in the case if the town decides to cap its incurred legal expenses — speculated to be heading toward $75,000.

And it’s still unclear whether the MLHS, or other community organizations or individuals, could file civil lawsuits against the town for breaches of trust.

Background of the case

The town has petitioned the court, under a specific section of the Community Charter, to vary the “terms applicable to money held in trust if a municipal council considers the terms or trust to no longer be in the best interests of the municipality.”

MLHS wants the court to see painstakingly detail how the town has misspent Laing’s money, disregarded the intention of his three trusts over a 36-year period and misstated facts to the court corroborated by its own documents.

The town passed a resolution 32 days after Laing’s death in February of 1982 to rent Shakesides and several months later, in August, started spending the rent money and interest earned on Laing’s cash gift on items beyond the scope of the trust agreements.

One pressing issue is whether the town can demolish Laing’s home, which he gave to the Comox community for the purpose of establishing a natural history museum.

But MLHS also wants the court to order a forensic audit of the Laing trusts.

MLHS contends the town has misstated the amount of cash Laing left them after his death in February of 1982 and that the trust today should be worth up to nearly $500,000.

Can Shakesides be restored?

According to Guerdon “Bunker” Killam, a developer and home builder, who lived in Shakesides for nine years, from 1982 to 1990, the house was in good condition when he moved in and he continued to improve it during his tenure.

Killam said Shakesides is “a very well built small house in excellent condition.”

But during the town’s 36-year stewardship, the house’s conditions has declined. The town even rejected an offer by MLHS to provide free labor to install a waterproof covering over the leaking roof until the court is settled.

Meanwhile, a number of Comox Valley businesses have added their names to the list of those willing to donate time and/or services to renovate Shakesides.

According to Gordon Olson, a friend of Laing in his latter years, Lacasse Construction has committed to donating some work to restoring the house. Comox Valley architect Tom Dishlevoy will donate some design work, and Three Oaks Flooring will donate labor for refinishing the house’s wood floors.

Masonry trades people and window specialists have also made commitments.

 

 

Shakesides supporters encouraged, hearing adjourned

Shakesides supporters encouraged, hearing adjourned

PHOTO: Mack Laing cutting a Douglas fir with a Wee McGregor, a mechanical bucker, on the Comox waterfront in September 1925. — B.C. Archives

NOTE: This article was updated at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 15

Shakesides supporters encouraged, court hearing adjourned to April

A B.C. Supreme Court hearing scheduled for this morning (March 15) to determine whether to grant standing to the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) in the Town of Comox’s application to vary one of the famous ornithologist’s trusts has been adjourned until April.

MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning had a medical emergency and could not attend. In a written statement to Supreme Court Justice Robin Baird, Canning asked for the case to be adjourned. Lawyers for the Town of Comox and the B.C. Attorney General’s office wanted to proceed anyway.

But saying he had spent time reading much of the nine affidavits submitted by Comox Valley citizens and organizations, such as Comox Valley Nature, Justice Baird said  “the society has an arguable case and it should be heard.”

“I’m not pre-judging the case, I’ve just read the materials,” Justice Baird said. “There are serious issues at stake; it’s been 36 years; and, the vindication of a will.”

Justice Baird seemed to encourage the town’s counsel and the AG lawyer not to oppose standing for MLHS.

“Obviously, there has to be a hearing,” Justice Baird said. “Unless counsels can decide, upon reflection, that it’s not necessary … we can get to the merits of the case sooner.”

And later while discussing a date for the adjourned hearing, Justice Baird said again “but if counsel can come to terms (about granting standing to MLHS), let the trial coordinator know (in order to cancel time for a hearing on standing).”

When all parties agreed to adjourn to April 16 in Nanaimo, Justice Baird left with what may or may not have been an intentional whimiscal comment.

“We’ll let nature takes its course; it has been 36 years,” he said.

Supporters and opponents of the town’s petition attended the court hearing, as did four member of Comox Town Council: Mayor Paul Ives and councillors Russ Arnott, Marg Grant and Maureen Swift.

 

ORIGINAL STORY: B.C. Supreme Court to hear Shakesides arguments today

The B.C. Supreme Court will hear arguments this morning (March 15) in Courtenay whether to grant “standing” to the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) in a case that will decide the future of Laing’s historic home, Shakesides.

MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning will argue that nine affidavits totalling nearly 500 pages of evidence compiled by Comox Valley citizens and organizations, negate the basis of the Town of Comox’s petition to vary one of three trusts given by Laing to the community.

The Town of Comox has opposed standing for MLHS. The town hopes to shield the citizen’s evidence and exhibits from the court.

FURTHER READING: What is “standing?”

The town wants to demolish Laing’s iconic home, which he willed to the town, and use the money he also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed ornithologist intended.

The town has petitioned the court, under a specific section of the Community Charter, to vary the “terms applicable to money held in trust if a municipal council considers the terms or trust to no longer be in the best interests of the municipality.”

J-Kris Nielsen, president of MLHS, said “justice would only be served” if the court considers all the facts and evidence.

Nielsen said the nine affidavits that MLHS wants the court to see painstakingly detail how the town has misspent Laing’s money, disregarded the intention of his three trusts over a 36-year period and misstated facts to the court corroborated by its own documents.

Granting “standing” would mean the MLHS lawyer could present the affidavits to the court to consider in ruling on the town’s petition.

But, if the Supreme Court does not directly grant standing to MLHS, the affidavits may still be considered by the court.

MLHS filed a counter-petition this week challenging many of the facts in the town’s original petition, and the town must respond. Nielsen said that could get the most critical information before the court.

It’s possible the court will not rule on the town’s petition or the MLHS’s counter-petition at this sitting. It could put the matter over until its next session in July.

At issue is whether the town can demolish Laing’s home, which he gave to the Comox community for the purpose of establishing a natural history museum.

The MLHS wants the town to preserve Shakesides as a heritage site, and to create some form of a natural history museum, as Laing wished.

The town wants to build a viewing platform, despite having already built a viewing platform just footsteps aways from Shakesides, on the site of Laing’s original home, called Baybrook. The town tore down that house in 2015.

MLHS also wants the Supreme Court to order a forensic audit of the Laing trusts.

MLHS contends the town has misstated the amount of cash Laing left them after his death in February of 1982 and that the trust today should be worth up to nearly $500,000.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses, we misspent Laing’s money!; More Mack Laing articles

Comox Council and staff admitted in December to misspending Laing’s money, and have put funds back into the trust. It is now worth $256, 305.98, according to the town’s petition.

That’s a significant increase in the trust’s value from the $70,000 the town told a 2016 citizens advisory committee. The committee eventually recommended demolition, although several members disagreed and presented a contrary minority report to the Town Council.

It’s likely the committee would have made a different recommendation if it had known there was more than a quarter-million dollars available for restoration and fulfillment of Laing’s trust. And that money could have been leveraged up, including an offer of funds from Heritage B.C., which has urged the town to preserve the building.

Who was Hamilton “Mack” Laing?

Hamilton Mack Laing was a naturalist, photographer, writer and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront from 1922 through 1982 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing gave his waterfront property, his home, substantial cash and personal papers from his estate to the Town of Comox “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.” The town accepted the money and, therefore, the terms of the trust.

But 36 years later, the Town of Comox has done nothing to satisfy his last wishes and mishandled the money Laing left, raising serious ethical and legal questions, which the B.C. Supreme Court may ultimate answer.

Laing moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables.

After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot.

Shakesides’ heritage value

An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm issued a Statement of Significance regarding the former home of naturalist Mack Laing — known as “Shakesides.” They said the building is of national importance and that it should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.

The chairman of Heritage B.C., a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”

Heritage B.C. has offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.

The town has ignored Heritage B.C.’s offer.

FURTHER READING: Who are the B.C. Supreme Court justices?

 

Town of Comox confesses: we misspent Laing’s money

Town of Comox confesses: we misspent Laing’s money

The Town of Comox has finally confessed that it inappropriately spent funds from the Hamilton Mack Laing trust.

At its Dec. 6, 2017, meeting, the Town Council approved paying $103,000 into the trust, a sum that town staff has classified as misspent prior to 2001, plus interest those funds would have earned.

In a report to Town Council, Comox Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan characterized the misuse of funds as:

“These expenditures may not have been in strict accordance with the terms of the trust, which required the town to use the funds to convert Shakesides into a museum.”

It was an understatement. Some of those expenditures included repairing the Brooklyn Creek stairs, which aren’t even located on Mack Laing’s property.

It’s the first time the town has admitted spending Laing’s trust funds improperly.

And it’s unclear whether the confession is simply posturing for an upcoming B.C. Supreme Court hearing, or a genuine acknowledgement that the town mishandled a binding trust agreement with an important literary and ornithological benefactor.

In any case, the admission makes a start toward reparations for 36 years of disrespecting the Last Wishes of one of the community’s most widely admired citizens.

But not everyone agrees the town has fully owned up to the totality of expenditures disallowed by the trust. And there are other unresolved questions about the town’s accounting and handling of the Laing trust.

These issues are raised in at least a half-dozen affidavits that oppose the town’s court application to tear down Laing’s house.

Mack Laing vs. Town of Comox

Laing was a prolific naturalist, photographer, writer, artist and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront since 1922 earned him worldwide recognition.

Prior to his death, Laing left his waterfront property and his second home (named Shakesides) to the town. After his death, he left the town the residue cash from his estate “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum,” and to support its ongoing operation.

But nearly 36 years later, the town has done nothing to satisfy Laing’s last wishes.

Instead, the town applied to the court last February to alter the terms of Laing’s Last Will, namely to demolish his house and use his trust fund to construct a viewing platform.

To finance the project, the town now proposes to use the $103,000 of misspent money, $75,000 previously allocated, and the balance remaining in the Laing Trust, estimated at around $70,000.

Any money left over would be placed in a reserve fund to maintain the new platform.

But to critics, such as the Mack Laing Heritage Society, the town’s $178,000 deposit into the trust is a hollow gesture because the town had already committed itself to building a viewing platform in its court filing to tear the house down.

The town appears to be simply moving the money it has promised to spend, if the court allows, from general revenue into the Laing Trust. Not so, says the town. They maintain their action was to make Laing’s trust whole.

Accounting disparities

According to several affidavits submitted to the Attorney General’s office, which is charged with defending trusts made to public institutions, the town’s calculation of misspent funds doesn’t square with its own ledger entries.

Gordon Olsen, who has filed one of those affidavits, was a friend of Laing. He says the documents he has compiled show the town is “way short of making the Laing trust whole.” But he said the details of his claim is in the AG’s hands and will ultimately be made public.

In 2016, Olsen hired a Campbell River accounting firm to review publicly available financial records of the Town of Comox. The review showed the trust fund should be worth in excess of $480,000 today. The firm used figures released by the town and used conservatively calculated interest rates.

The independent analysis suggested that if the town had immediately invested all of Laing’s bequeathed cash plus the income it derived from renting the house for 30-some years, it would have nearly a half-million dollars in the trust fund.

Olsen believes the great disparity in accounting demands a court-ordered forensic audit of the town’s financial records.

A forensic audit is a specialization within the accounting profession to determine negligence or other financial irregularities for use as evidence in court. Most major accounting firms have a forensic auditing department.

The Attorney General’s office doesn’t discuss active cases.

In response to an enquiry from Decafnation about the number and content of affidavits it has received in this case, the Ministry of Attorney General sent this statement:

“The Legal Services Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General is responsible for this case. Applications made to the B.C. Supreme Court will be decided by the Court. As this case is before the courts, we cannot comment further.”

Comox Mayor Paul Ives declined to comment for this story, referring enquiries to town staff.