July/21 Bearspaw Beat - Judge dismisses County's case against me
Justice N.E. Devlin of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench has dismissed Rocky View County’s disqualification suit against me.
The County’s case involved two separate matters – an alleged pecuniary interest concerning my neighbour’s property and failure to pay my property taxes. Both allegations were made in January 2020, shortly before the court date on which Councillors Hanson and Kissel and I successfully challenged our sanctions.
With regards to the pecuniary interest allegation, Justice Devlin concluded that the pecuniary interest was “too remote, speculative and uncertain to be material” and, stated “Councillor Wright approached the issue in good faith and with due diligence. Nothing was hidden from public view.”
The judge recognized that the MGA is based on “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” voting requirements. If you have a pecuniary interest and vote on the issue, you can be disqualified. But, if you do not vote because you might have a pecuniary interest, you can be disqualified. Instead, he emphasized that the MGA “should be read in a way that avoids putting councillors at risk.”
Regarding the tax issue, the judge concluded that Council’s conduct in the matter “fell well below the expected standard of democratic due process” and, “was the product of political animus.” He further noted that it did not, “make sense that Councillor Wright would consciously have allowed a situation to arise that made her vulnerable to automatic disqualification, given the highly contentious political climate that had developed on Council."
While he referred to the non-payment of taxes as “careless and irresponsible,” the judge
ultimately concluded it was an “honest mistake.” In his closing remarks, Devlin stated, “the factor that tips the scales is the exercise of the hasty, unfair, and extrinsically motivated manner in which Council treated Councillor Wright tax issue at the special meeting. Put bluntly, basic procedural fairness was abandoned when the MD and Council were presented with an opportunity to remove Councillor Wright, who had by that point become their political bête noire."
As you are all aware, challenging anything in the courts is a costly endeavour. It would have been easy to walk away; however, one must have faith in the legal system if one is to take a stand and challenge what one believes is wrong. In this case, that faith was rewarded by the judge seeing things for what they were.
Heartfelt gratitude goes out to all those who provided support through this stressful time and to Michael Niven, Q.C, and Michael Custer, my lawyers, who delivered such stellar representation.
Should you wish to read the ruling, you may find it here.