Former city planner Grant Sanborn pleads guilty to ‘regulatory offences’

Crown counsel Robin McFee said same result achieved in accepting guilty plea to lesser charges over criminal breach of trust charges.

Crown and defence lawyers are suggesting a six-month suspended sentence for former city planner Grant Sanborn after he pleaded guilty to failure to enforce provincial agricultural and land titles regulations in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday.

Sanborn, 53, pleaded not guilty to criminal breach of trust charges that he was originally charged with.

Madam Justice Miriam Maisonville will deliver her decision Aug. 29 after studying the “comprehensive” joint sentencing submission made by the two lawyers.

The proposed sentence includes a term of probation and 160 hours of community work service. Sanborn has also offered to donate $5,000 to Ruth and Naomi’s Mission in Chilliwack.

Outside the courtroom, Crown counsel Robin McFee said it was in the public interest to accept Sanborn’s guilty plea to lesser charges, rather than prosecute the criminal charges, to avoid a long, six-week trial and calling a host of witnesses to events that are now 15 years old.

And in the end, he said, “the penalties would have been the same” under the criminal code as the provincial legislation.

During his court submission, McFee also suggested that Sanborn was the victim of a “culture of pro-development” at Chilliwack City Hall where employees were urged to find “creative ways” to work around municipal and provincial rules to boost development.

Sanborn was also in a position “of inherent tension and conflict,” he said, because as planning director he was an employee of the city with “a mandate to assist in the expansion of development,” yet he was also the approving officer charged with enforcing provincial legislation.

“There was a failure, unfortunately, to fully discharge those independent gatekeeper functions,” he said.

McFee said Sanborn improperly approved a residential development at Rosebank Place, violating provisions of both the Agricultural Land Commission Act and the Land Titles Act. He also approved a development called the Trails at Longthorn Creek, violating provincial setback requirements.

At Rosebank, McFee said Sanborn was aware of a “quite sophisticated plan” by the developers — which included then-Mayor John Les — that was “structured so approval would come to the approving officer” rather than the Agricultural Land Commission. The ALC had refused an earlier request to subdivide one of the properties for housing.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Les denied McFee’s inference that the Rosebank development plan was intended to avoid scrutiny by the ALC.

“I have never consciously set out to skirt around any rules or regulations,” he said.

The Rosebank development plan was “similar to many others over the years, none of which were required to be submitted to the land commission,” Les said.

“I don’t think being pro-development is a pejorative term,” Les added, pointing out that the city’s debt was paid off through new development at the time, and “major improvements” were made to community infrastructure.

“I’m proud of everything we achieved in my time as mayor,” he said.

The Chilliwack MLA voluntarily resigned his position as B.C.’s Solicitor General in 2008 when he learned of the police investigation into his business affairs during his tenure as mayor.

After a three-year investigation, McFee found no evidence to suggest wrong-doing by Les, but found grounds to charge Sanborn with three counts of breach of trust by a public official.

But in court Tuesday, McFee noted in Sanborn’s favor that a study by the ALC of subdivision approvals in Chilliwack, undertaken after news of the police investigation broke in 2008, showed that 66 of 213 subdivision approvals over an 18-year period from 1981 to 2009 were “inconsistent” with ALC rules.

Sanborn was the city’s approving officer for only part of that time, from 1989 to 2000, McFee said.

Defense lawyer Jeff Campbell told the court that Sanborn believed he was acting in the best interests of the city and received no material benefit from the development approvals.

“Mr. Sanborn did not receive any benefits at all from these decisions,” he said. “He believed at the time he was acting in the best interest of the District (of Chilliwack).”

Campbell said the police investigation at city hall found a “culture of pro-development” under then-Mayor John Les was widespread and staff witnesses told police that bylaws “were meant to taken as guidelines, not the Bible” and that developments were approved “often at the expense of bylaws.”

However, Campbell said there was “no suggestion of improper influence” by the mayor and “no evidence to suggest any internal pressure.”

In the case of the Longthorn Creek development, Campbell said his client was not the only city staffer involved in the approval as there was a general, but mistaken, belief that in some cases a city bylaw could trump provincial setback regulations.

“This was not a case where Mr. Sanborn was acting on his own,” Campbell said.

He also noted that, at the time, there was ongoing conflict between the city and the ALC and environment ministry officials.

He said Sanborn left his position as the city’s planning director in 2000 with a severance package involving a “performance issue” unrelated to the charges before the court.

Last year, the Progress learned through a freedom of information request that the amount of the severance was $104,473.

Just Posted

These three kittens, seen here on Thursday, June 10, 2021, are just some of many up for adoption at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Three kittens at the Chilliwack SPCA

Kittens were in ‘rough shape’ when they came into the Chilliwack SPCA, now ready for adoption

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Chilliwack family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A new sign was installed at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Community effort to install new sign at Chilliwack’s oldest church

‘We feel it’s a step in the right direction to bring the church up-to-date,’ says St. Thomas parishioner

Dennis Saulnier rescued his daughters, two-year-old Brinley (left) and four-year-old Keegan, after their truck was driven off the road and into Cultus Lake on May 16, 2020. Reporter Jenna Hauck has been recognized by the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association for her story on the rescue. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Chilliwack Progress, Hope Standard staff take home 7 Ma Murray awards

Jenna Hauck, Eric Welsh, Jessica Peters, Emelie Peacock all earn journalism industry recognition

A student prepares to throw a plate full of whipped cream at principal Jim Egdcombe’s face as vice principal Devin Atkins watches as part of a fundraiser at Leary Integrated Arts and Technology elementary on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
The pied principals: Chilliwack elementary staff get messy for charity

Cops for Cancer fundraiser saw kids ‘pie the principal’ at Leary elementary in Chilliwack

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read