A group of District of North Vancouver residents is petitioning the courts to have Couns. Lisa Muri and Betty Forbes thrown out of office, alleging they violated conflict of interest laws.
The lawsuit stems from council’s passing of a bylaw prohibiting the keeping of pigeons which targeted only Forbes’ neighbour Kulwant Dulay and his 15-strong flock of pigeons, which he keeps in a coop on his property.
The substance of the conflict of interest allegation draws on Forbes’ communications with council before she was elected and a series of emails in the weeks and months before the new bylaw was adopted.
Before she ran for office, Forbes made several complaints to the district about Dulay’s pigeons, the petition notes. District staff visited Dulay’s yard on numerous occasions but “raised no safety or health concerns with him and took no enforcement action against him.”
Later, Forbes lobbied against the district’s proposal to allow backyard chickens, arguing that the bylaw that allowed residents to keep pigeons should also be reviewed, the petition notes. Forbes told the district her property value was being brought down by Dulay’s pigeon coop, which she described as an “eyesore” that hampers her ability to enjoy her backyard.
“By her own admission, Councillor Forbes had a pecuniary interest in having the Pigeon Prohibition and Enforcement Bylaws enacted: she believed the presence of Mr. Dulay’s pigeons next door adversely affected the market value of her residential property. Councillor Forbes’ pecuniary interest is unique to her and is not one in common with the electors of the District generally,” the petition states.
Forbes was elected to council on Oct. 20, 2018, and five days later wrote to the district’s director of planning to complain about the lack of response to her earlier requests for enforcement.
After discussing the matter via email with Forbes, Muri brought forward a report to council in April, requesting staff amend the bylaw, arguing pet pigeons had been documented perching, feeding and straying onto others’ private property and public lands, and concluding “pigeons have disturbed adjacent property owners.”
When it came up for a vote in July, Forbes declared herself in a potential conflict of interest and recused herself from the vote, saying she “has a neighbour who keeps pigeons.”
The July motion directing staff to begin drawing up a bylaw to ban pigeons was moved by Muri and seconded by Coun. Megan Curren. It passed 4-2.
“Councillor Forbes failed to make full disclosure of the nature of her conflict of interest, including failing to disclose her efforts prior to this date to influence the outcome on this matter,” the petition states.
When it came up for adoption by council in October, Forbes recused herself, Coun. Jim Hanson seconded Muri’s motion and it passed 4-2.
Under the Community Charter, an elected member in conflict of interest must not participate in any discussion of the matter, or “attempt in any way, whether before, during or after such a meeting, to influence the voting on any question in respect of the matter.”
“Despite acknowledging, although not fully disclosing, that conflict of interest, Councillor Forbes attempted, both before and after the July 8 and October 28, 2019 council meetings, to influence the voting in relation to the Pigeon Prohibition and Enforcement Bylaws. She did so for the sole or predominant purpose of advancing her personal interests including her pecuniary interest,” the petition states.
“Further, Councillor Forbes enlisted the assistance of Councillor Muri to have the Pigeon Prohibition and Enforcement Bylaws enacted. At all material times, Councillor Muri was aware of the personal benefit to Councillor Forbes of having the Pigeon Prohibition and Enforcement Bylaws enacted and that it was being proposed for the sole or predominant purpose of advancing Councillor Forbes’ personal interests including her pecuniary interest. As such Councillor Muri had an interest in that matter that constituted a conflict of interest.”
The penalty for contravening that section of the charter is disqualification from office, but either the municipality itself or 10 or more electors must apply to the courts for a review.
The petition is filed by Wayne Messenger, John Harvey, Harsh Sharma, Gurdip Singh Dulay, Pala Singh Kavneet Sra, Krista Page, William Cowan, Phyillis Page, and Rob and Josie Grant, who are all neighbours of Forbes, members of the birding community or district residents who have since taken an issue in the matter.
The law gives the municipality, Muri, and Forbes three weeks to file a response to the petition. In the meantime, all three declined to comment saying it would be inappropriate to do so while the matter is either before the courts or subject to the District of North Vancouver’s internal review.