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BC attorney general appears to argue both sides of cases similar to Mack Laing battle

Jul 22, 2019 | Mack Laing, News

By George Le Masurier

What should Comox Valley residents think about the BC Attorney General’s office arguing two different sides of similar cases?

The attorney general of BC announced last week that it would take the district of West Vancouver to court because the municipality allegedly broke an agreement with two residents who had bequeathed their property to the district.

But in the Comox Valley, the Attorney General’s office is defending the Town of Comox for breaking its agreement with Hamilton Mack Laing.

And it gets more interesting. The lead counsel for the AG’s office in both cases is Sointula Kirkpatrick.

FURTHER READING: More on Mack Laing 

According to a report from Glacier Media, which publishes several BC newspapers including the North Shore News, the AG’s lawsuit asks the BC Supreme Court to rule that West Vancouver is in breach of the trust.

Pearley and Noreen Berissenden gave their property to the district of West Vancouver in the late 1980s. The couple specified that the property was “to be used and maintained by it (the district) for public park purposes.”

When Mack Laing died in 1982, he left the town his waterfront property, his home named Shakesides, and the residue cash from his estate “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.”

The district of West Vancouver never followed through on their agreement with the Berissendens, and instead rented out the couple’s home on the property from 2001 to 2018. And in 2017, the district applied to vary the trust to subdivide about half of the property into building lots.

The Town of Comox likewise never followed through on the terms of its trust agreement with Laing, and also rented out Laing’s home for almost 30 years. In 2017, the town applied to vary the trust in order to demolish Shakesides.

AG lawyer Kirkpatrick alleges West Vancouver is in breach of the Berissenden’s trust for failing to make their property a park and for profiting from the rent, according to the Glacier Media report. Kirkpatrick has asked for an accounting of all all rent money received and that it be put back into the trust.

As well, Kirkpatrick, on behalf of the AG’s office, wants the court to order West Vancouver to make the property a park.

But Kirkpatrick has taken the exact opposite view when it comes to the Town of Comox versus Mack Laing.

In the Comox Valley case, Kirkpatrick has defended the town’s failure to make Laing’s home a natural history museum for public enjoyment and for profiting from renting out Shakesides, even though there hasn’t been an independent accounting of those funds and not all of the rent money has been returned to the trust, according to the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

Kirkpatrick has not responded to an email request asking her to explain the differences in the two cases.

She did, however, request a nearly five-month delay for the Supreme Court trial that will determine the fate of Shakesides. Kirkpatrick requested the delay in early May, well before filing the lawsuit against West Vancouver.

At the time, members of the Mack Laing society said they hoped the delay meant the Attorney General’s office was less certain about the merits of the town’s application to alter the trust and that it had new concerns about how Comox councils and staff have mishandled Laing’s gifts to the community.

Now they hope the West Vancouver lawsuit signals a change in direction at the AG’s office over municipal applications to vary citizen trusts. It is part of the Attorney General’s mandate to provide oversight of charitable purpose trusts.

No court date to hear the Shakesides case has been scheduled.



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