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Kirk LaPointe: Mark Sager saga raises serious questions of his character

Mark Sager's citation for alleged misconduct by the Law Society of British Columbia is bad, but even worse is how he tried to hide it, writes columnist Kirk LaPointe
Mark Sager is shown shortly after his election as the mayor of the District of West Vancouver in October, 2022. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager is in what an old boss of mine would deftly call “the shoo.”

Political scandals materialize not so much from what happened, but from how it was handled. This new Sager saga is one he could have made easier, earlier. Of his own making, he has deepened a mess that raises serious questions of his character.

Bad enough that he was cited for alleged misconduct by the Law Society of British Columbia. Even worse, much worse, is how candidate Sager tried to hide it by petitioning the society on the eve of the municipal vote to keep his name off the citation it was about to publish.

When the society temporarily granted his wish in order to review his request, it bought Sager precious time to campaign without any publicity about the case. Only last week did the society publish the citation and reject his request. By then, of course, he was mayor.

Sager, as the trustee on an estate of a friend, is accused of drawing funds from it over a decade, investing some of its assets in his wife’s investment firm, and not keeping proper books or paying taxes – all without telling his friend or ensuring his friend also received the requisite independent legal advice. To be fair, these are allegations, Sager says they’re “inaccurate and unfair,” and we should wait before passing judgment.

It’s unnecessary to wait any longer, though, in passing judgment on how he dealt with the impending citation while seeking office. The alleged misconduct is not a good look. But his request of the society – even though he was entitled to ask – is a big, bad smell.

Documents say Sager argued it would hurt the community’s standing in Metro Vancouver, hinder the district’s effort to negotiate positions on its many boards, make difficult his dealings with district staff involved in the investigation, and form a “significant distraction” from his work to deal with media. He told the society the publicity would hurt his mental health, “which he said is already under strain.”

There is a simpler interpretation: he was trying to save his skin and wouldn’t risk what a citation would do to his election chances.

Weeks after I moved to West Vancouver earlier this year, several told me that Sager’s Law Society scuffle in 2019 – a $20,000 fine and $20,000 in legal costs for professional misconduct in a will for his godmother – would soon be followed with another citation.

We expected this would emerge in the thick of the campaign. It didn’t happen, and now we know why: he used the rules to successfully rag the puck with the governing body until after the vote.

When he knew he’d lost his anonymizing argument with the society and that it was about to publish the citation last week, he decided to call the CBC’s Justin McElroy to tell his side of the story.

McElroy is too smart to create a puff piece. He spelled out the citation at length. When Sager claimed he never charged the estate a penny, McElroy noted the citation says he drew $40,000 in executor fees and $24,113.25 in management fees. It wasn’t the vanity press the mayor sought.

Sager was lucky it hasn’t been a bigger media focus. It was a bad week for the mayor brand – a sexual assault charge against the former Kelowna mayor, and an Elections Act violation against the former Vancouver mayor.

Some free advice: the time to get out ahead of the story would have been in September, when Sager knew the citation was about to be published. If he’d told his side of the story there and then, it might have affected the campaign (he won by a significant margin, though) but would have spared this new cloud over him in office and questions of how he rolls.

His desperate effort to keep his name out of the news demonstrates he didn’t trust the public to determine if unproven allegations from his profession’s governing body rendered him unfit for the mayoralty. To me, that says much and worries me much more than the allegations.

If he was so certain that disclosure of his identity would have posed a serious problem for his mayoralty, and he is so certain that he’ll be exonerated, then he should offer now to step down if the citation is upheld.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV as well as vice-president, editorial, Glacier Media Group, the North Shore News’ parent company. He is also a West Vancouverite.