British Columbia

Ex-B.C. solicitor general cleared in land deal probe

Former B.C. solicitor general John Les will not face any charges linked to his land dealings in Chilliwack in the 1990s, but a former municipal official will, the Criminal Justice Branch says.
John Les won't be charged with breach of trust over his land dealings in Chilliwack in the 1990s, a special prosecutor has concluded. ((CBC))

Former B.C. solicitor general John Les will not face any charges linked to his land dealings in Chilliwack in the 1990s, but a former municipal official will, the Criminal Justice Branch announced on Friday.

The available evidence against Les did not meet the threshold necessary to make a conviction for breach of trust likely, said special prosecutor Robin McFee, who concluded that charges should not be pursued.

But McFee did approve charges against Grant Sanborn, a former approving officer with the City of Chilliwack.

Sanborn has been charged with three counts of breach of trust by a public officer and is scheduled to appear in court on July 27.

Former approving officer withheld information

The charges against Sanborn are linked to his approval — between 1994 and 1999 — of two subdivisions on land that was previously in the Agriculture Land Reserve.

At the centre of the controversy was the Rosebank development, which was built on land where boundaries had been redrawn when Les was mayor of Chilliwack between 1987 and 1999.

Former Chilliwack approving officer Grant Sanborn is facing three charges of breach of trust. ((CBC))

The special prosecutor found that Sanborn failed to fulfil his public duty as an approving officer when he allowed the subdivision to proceed at Rosebank and when he approved another subdivision known as Trails at Longthorn Creek.

In one of the counts against Sanborn, he is accused of wilfully withholding information from Chilliwack council and the public while in another he's accused of using his office for a purpose other than the public good.

McFee said Sanborn gave Les preferential treatment in the rezoning of one subdivision in which Les was involved.

But McFee concluded there's not enough evidence to suggest Les directly encouraged Sanborn to approve the subdivision.

Relieved by news

Les said Friday he was happy to learn he would not be charged.

"Just a great feeling of relief and gratitude that at the end of this long process, the result was just as I had always expected," said Les shortly after hearing the news.

But the special prosecutors report did raise concerns about the MLA's business activities during his time as mayor of Chilliwack, including his role as the main developer of the Rosebank development.

The investigators found that Les and most of the councillors embraced a "pro-development/can do" culture at city hall that resulted in a number of decisions that did not comply with both provincial and municipal laws.

"Staff were encourage to find creative solutions to facilitate development, and view government regulations and municipal laws as guidelines only, with the goal of finding creative ways to make developments happen," said McFee.

The independent prosecutor concluded that even though as mayor Les always excused himself from any discussion or votes at council about his Rosebank development, it should never have been approved by Sanborn under provincial regulation controlling the use of agricultural land.

But the report found that even though it appeared Sanborn gave Les preferential treatment by approving the development, there was no evidence that Les used his public office directly to encourage Sanborn or to advance his personal interest.

Resigned in 2008

Les resigned as B.C. solicitor general in March 2008 in the wake of allegations that he and his family benefited improperly from developers who created subdivisions in the Chilliwack area, many of which were developed while Les was mayor.

The special prosecutor was appointed following Les's resignation as part of the investigation into the allegations.

While Les resigned from cabinet, he remained a Liberal MLA during the investigation.

Sanborn later left Chilliwack city hall to become a private consultant specializing in assisting with applications to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve. CBC News recently learned that some of that work has been investigated by the RCMP.

With files from The Canadian Press