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?