Coombs Director being sued by RDN funded Island Corridor Foundation

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, January 14 2015

Director Julian Fell, who represents Electoral Area F (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington) in the Regional District of Nanaimo is being sued by the Island Corridor Foundation for defamation.

The ICF claims, in a statement on its website that, “Mr. Fell made serious defamatory comments about the ICF, its directors and staff in a July 2013 memo. A retraction and public apology was demanded but none was forthcoming from the director.

“In October of 2014 Mr. Fell went on public radio and again made similar defamatory comments like those in his earlier memo.

“The ICF Board considered Mr. Fell’s most recent commentary and decided to instruct legal counsel to proceed with the defamation suit.”

ICF co-chair Judith Sayers said through the statement the ICF Board “has a responsibility to protect the credibility of the foundation and the personal reputations of the directors and staff.”

Fell had been nominated by the RDN to be representative on the ICF Board, but prior to the 2014 elections had not been formally accepted as the RDN representative by that same ICF Board.

The ICF is the organization tasked with returning passenger rail service to Vancouver Island, with funding to be received from local, provincial and federal governments.

Fell said in a phone interview this past week that the ICF is alleging he defamed “everybody in sight.” 

“I wrote a discussion paper pointing out the ICF wasn’t running the way I thought it should. 

“I identified flaws in a bylaw that they had put in. They are claiming the way I phrased it in effect put them under a bad colour.”

Fell said he concluded the paper with a list of reforms and amendments which he believed would cure all the faults he had identified. 

“To me it was a discussion paper. To them it was an excuse to prevent me from being appointed to the board of the ICF.”

Fell said he was not able to comment further until he had prepared a longer statement which he would provide to media after running it past his lawyer.

The ICF suit is directed at Fell personally.

Paul H. Thorkelsson, Chief Administrative Officer for the Regional District of Nanaimo, said the RDN is not named in the suit.

“The RDN has a bylaw in place under the requirements of the Local Government Act that indemnifies elected officials against claims ‘…arising out of the performance of their duties.’

“… the RDN cannot provide any specific comment on the suit filed against Director Fell; the RDN is not directly part of the action filed by the ICF. 

“I can say that the legislation governing local governments provides for the indemnification of officials by bylaw when the official is acting within their role in the local government. The RDN does have an indemnification bylaw in place. 

“The provincial legislation specifically excludes official indemnification when the action is libel or slander...The legislation affords local government to provide indemnification by bylaw or by resolution in a specific case. As this is a legal issue, any direction by the Board and debate would be undertaken in camera.”

In terms of Fell representing the RDN on the ICF  Board, Thorkelsson said the chair of the RDN Board is delegated the authority to assign appointments to committees both internal and external to the RDN.

According to Thorkelsson, RDN Chair Joe Stanhope (Director, Electoral Area G, Dashwood, Englishman River, French Creek) is finalizing those appointments for 2015 and they will be announced in due time. 

Thorkelsson said, “Given the legal issues at hand it is unlikely that Director Fell could continue as the RDN’s appointee to the ICF Board.”

According to the ICF website, a twelve person Board of Directors governs the Island Corridor Foundation. Five directors represent the Regional Districts and five directors represent First Nations. Membership is limited to local governments and First Nation governments whose territories are wholly or partly within the geographic area of the Corridor.