A current Langley Township councillor has demanded an apology from a former councillor over comments on a controversial plan to demolish a number of buildings in Fort Langley’s downtown core.
In July, ex-council member Angie Quaale submitted a letter to the council as feedback regarding the proposed demolition of almost a dozen vacant buildings – including houses and former businesses – in the village.
The buildings are owned by Statewood Properties, the company belonging to Councillor Eric Woodward. He has proposed replacing the boarded-up structures with green space until plans for redevelopment are finalized. He’s stated that he’s created a non-profit foundation, which is set to take over the properties in the near future.
Woodward recused himself from a July public hearing and debate where Statewood’s demolition request was being heard. But Quaale said after her letter opposing the plan and criticizing Woodward’s actions was sent to council, she got a letter herself.
“Just a couple days later, I received a letter from Eric’s lawyer,” Quaale said.
The lawyer’s letter said Quaale had made “false and defamatory allegations” about Woodward and demanded a written retraction and apology.
Quaale’s own lawyer responded saying that she was not defaming Woodward, but was expressing an “honestly held” opinion.
The former councillor pointed out that the provincial Legislature passed anti-SLAPP legislation in B.C. this spring.
SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. Anti-SLAPP laws exist to allow judges to toss out legal actions targeting people speaking out on matters of public interest, which is what Quaale said she was doing with her letter to the Township.
Under B.C.’s legislation, similar to that in Ontario and Quebec, judges can toss out a lawsuit if they believe the public interest in protecting the right to to freedom of expression is greater than the harm the plaintiff might suffer.
Asked by the Langley Advance Times about the lawyer’s letter, Woodward responded with a statement:
“Given that it has an uncertain outcome at this point, I can’t discuss the specifics of her libellous allegations made as part of the permanent public record, without evidence or foundation.
“It is easy to avoid the potential for libellous legal action in one’s life: simply don’t libel people. We are responsible for what we say about others.
“I appreciate and value criticism of our elected officials. I have a very high tolerance for criticism, and value it, as it demonstrates how much people care. It is required and necessary as part of a healthy democracy. But no one has the right to libel people and impugn reputations without any factual basis, elected or not,” his statement continued.
“What we have here is clear enough: an ex-politician, that lost in the last election, now shamelessly smearing a political opponent that won a council seat where she did not. The election is over. It is time to govern, and move forward with new ideas. That is what I am trying to do.”
Quaale argued it’s improper for Woodward to be wading into a fight when he’s not supposed to debate or vote on the matter at the council table.
“He recused himself from discussing this, and then he’s discussing it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, people stand down when they’re faced with threats like this,” Quaale added. She doesn’t expect the demand for an apology to actually escalate to a lawsuit.
Council is expected to make a decision on the demolition permit this September. The first council meeting of the fall is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9.