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Whistler's mayor acting against SLRD in legal action



Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden's private work as a personal injury lawyer and her public work as Whistler's top elected official are set to collide.

According to documents filed in BC Supreme Court Wilhelm-Morden is representing a client who is suing not only the Squamish-Lilloet Regional District but also the province of B.C. and the Pemberton Valley Trails Association (PVTA) after a mountain bike accident in 2010.

At Tuesday's council meeting (Dec.4) Wilhelm-Morden announced that she had appointed Councillor Jack Crompton as the Whistler rep at the SLRD board, a spot usually filled by the mayor.

Asked after the meeting about the decision she said: "Right now I also have a conflict of interest because one of the lawyers in our firm is acting on a piece of litigation and the SLRD is a named defendant," she said. "I don't have a conflict right now but the Law Society is amending the code of ethics starting January 1, 2013, which could conceivably cause me to have a conflict."

On Wednesday morning (Dec.5) Wilhelm-Morden added that she has long thought of stepping away from the SLRD board, even bringing it up at meetings months ago with other corridor mayors.

"I just go back to the fact that Whistler mayors never used to sit on the board of the SLRD...," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"I do need to prioritize my time and I am quite confident that Jack will be able to achieve the goals of communications and cooperation just as much as I can.

"The lawsuit really is incidental (to my stepping back). By far and away the primary reason is just re-focusing my priorities."

Wilhelm-Morden is representing Whistler carpenter Christopher Sanchez who was injured in a mountain biking accident on a trail called Richochet in Pemberton.

The notice of civil claim was filed in the Supreme Court of B.C. in June and details parts of the case against the SLRD, the province and the PVTA.

On June 22, 2010 Sanchez "sustained serious injuries when he fell from his bicycle after an unmarked teeter-totter structure located on the Richochet Trail collapsed," according to the claim. At the time he was taking part in the bi-weekly cycling event organized by the PVTA.

The suit claims the SLRD was an occupier of the land that includes the Richochet Trail and the province is the owner of the land.

It goes on to list Sanchez's injuries including a fracture of the C1 vertebra in the neck and a fracture of the T8-9 vertebral segment in the mid-back, among a host of other injuries "that will be shown at the trial of this proceeding."

He is seeking non-pecuniary loss, loss of past and future income, loss of earning capacity, future care, costs of past and future health care service, among other things. It is not clear how much that totals.

Under the legal basis for the suit, it states: "The accident was caused by the negligence of the defendants and the plaintiff pleads the provisions of the Act and the common law."

At the council meeting Wilhelm-Morden thanked Crompton and his alternate Councillor Andrée Janyk for stepping up. She also commented on the benefits of having more Whistler councillors see the workings of the regional district and understanding Whistler's role in it.

"Regional districts are complicated organizations from an organizational perspective and also from a dynamics between municipalities and electoral areas," she said. "So it's good to expose other people to it."

The SLRD was served with the suit last month and has not yet filed its statement of defence. The claims in the suit have not been proven in court.

-With files from Clare Ogilvie