File photo of Shakesides / George Le Masurier photo
AG delays Shakesides court date by nearly five months
In a surprising new development, the BC Attorney General has requested a delay in the Supreme Court trial that will determine the fate of Shakesides, the heritage home of Comox pioneer Hamilton Mack Laing.
The Town of Comox had hoped to get its petition to alter Laing’s Trust and tear down his house before the court during its June session. The new delay means the case likely won’t be heard until October.
The town has already requested two three-month delays. The first came after the 2018 municipal election and pushed any possible court date to after Feb. 6, 2019. Then, Town Council asked for another three-month “abeyance,” which expires May 22.
Now, the Attorney General’s office is asking for a further delay of about five months.
A letter to the town and the Mack Laing Heritage Society, which is an opposing party to the case, announced the delay, but gave no specific reason or purpose for it.
Members of the Laing society hope it means the Attorney General’s office is less certain about the merits of the town’s application to alter the trust, and have new concerns about how Comox councils and staff have mishandled Laing’s gifts to the community.
It’s also not known what role the K’omoks First Nations intends to play in this controversy, which has pitted the town against voices for heritage preservation, moral obligation and civil law issues surrounding how local governments should handle citizen’s endowments.
Last month, K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel expressed her disappointment that the Town Council had made plans for the Shakesides site, which is traditional and sacred land for First Nation’s people, “without prior consultation.” Rempel asked for a halt to all planning and other work until “meaningful consultation has taken place.”
But the town proceeded to refine its plan to replace the house with a viewing platform, which it finally approved this week.
According to the new deadlines for the Supreme Court trial, the heritage society has until Aug. 7 to submit any final documents into evidence. They have already submitted more than 500 pages of affidavits and other documents.
The town and the Attorney General then have until Sept. 4 to respond to those documents.
Another issue that might be weighing on the Attorney General’s office is how a judgement in the Shakesides case could affect other municipalities and other charitable purpose trusts across the province.
Have other municipalities mishandled trusts? How has the Attorney General’s office dealt with those issues, if they were aware of them? How widespread is the altering of trusts freely agreed to by generous citizens and local governments?
Because there is no provincial registry of charitable purpose trusts, the Attorney General’s office may not have known about the Laing Trust until the town petitioned to alter it, some 35 years later.
It is part of the Attorney General’s mandate to provide oversight of such trusts.
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Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, a serious question arises: With whom did town staff and council members consult?
Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.
The Town of Comox’s self-imposed period of reconsideration about the future of Mack Laing Park has created division not unity, and a growing rift on the issue among town councillors.
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