By Elijah Cetas, Ian Greer, and Oliver Rothenberg
Over the course of this year, Quest has been involved in two lawsuits: one, with a trio of foundations, as plaintiffs against the District of Squamish; one, as defendants, against former Quest President Peter Englert. The Mark has conducted research on these two lawsuits in an attempt to understand more about their impacts on the University.
Quest University Canada Against Peter Englert
During January 2017’s Community Update, former president Dr. Peter Englert spoke about his ambitions for future developments at Quest. He asserted that, if everything went according to plan, Quest would be building new residences by April of that year. “When you see the first crane go up here, you’ll know we’ve been successful,” he said at the meeting. However, by the end of the school year, no construction was taking place.
On May 7th, Quest’s Board of Governors terminated Englert’s employment, effective immediately. The Board released a statement to the public and the student body announcing his termination, but did not explain this decision.
On August 1st, Englert filed a lawsuit against Quest alleging that the Board breached the terms of his contract. He alleged they had fired him without severance and without cause. On October, 6, Quest filed a defense statement against Englert’s allegations, which included a number of justifications for his firing in May.
The university claims in their defense that Englert does not deserve remuneration as he had “breached his common law, fiduciary and contractual duties under the employment contract” he had signed with Quest. They further accuse Englert of acting with “conduct that did or could have harmed Quest.”
These accusations revolve around a number of instances when, the Board says, Englert made agreements and decisions that the Board says they never approved. Many of these alleged decisions involve third-party charity foundations.
The statement accuses Englert of involving the university, without Board approval, in a lawsuit with three Vancouver-based foundations against the District of Squamish. “The board did not find out about the lawsuit until after the notice of civil claim had been filed,” writes Quest in the defense.
The University has sinced dropped out of the suit.
The other litigants did not respond to calls or emails from the Chief. The Mark was unable to get comments from the lawyer in time for this publication.
In its defense statement, Quest also accuses Englert of having signed a new, more restrictive and more expensive lease on North and South residences, which included ending the school’s right to renewal. The defense argues he made this decision with the the owner of North and South, the Almoner Foundation, without any evident justification.
The statement reads: “The loss of the right of renewal was a benefit to Almoner and a detriment to Quest, which may negatively affect Quest’s ability to offer residences, potentially limit the student population and pose challenges for both Quest and students.”
The defense also claims Englert based his development strategy for the university on a purportedly unsubstantiated belief that Quest would receive a $25-million dollar guarantee or loan from a group of charity foundations. Regarding this, the university writes, “The Plaintiff knew or ought to have known that these representations were not true or was reckless as to their truth. The foundations in question had no intention of funding Quest at this level and in fact did not have the capacity to do so.”
The Mark has collected information on the context of the foundations and agreements involved in these allegations.
Quest University Canada et al. Against The District of Squamish
On March 16, 2017, Quest University, the Timothy Foundation, the Eden Glen Foundation, and the Global Charity Fund filed a lawsuit against the District of Squamish over development cost charges associated with infrastructure built on the hill in the years prior to Quest’s opening in 2007.
In its civil claim, the school wrote, “The defendant has breached its contract with Quest by failing to continue to offer the exemption for development cost charges for the land. As a result, Quest will suffer loss and damage.”
This exemption was an agreement established in 2004 between the District of Squamish and the Sea to Sky Foundation—the charity that developed Quest and eventually gifted the school its buildings and property. The directors of the charity also formed Quest’s first Board of Governors, in accordance with the Sea to Sky University Act of 2002.
When the school was built, the Sea to Sky Foundation paid for the off-site development projects required for the university and future developments. This included infrastructure, such as sidewalks, the bridge over Mashiter Creek, and plumbing. In return, the District waived the development cost charges (DCCs) on the university’s land for ten years.
Development cost charges are levied on developers to offset the extra costs their new neighborhood brings to a town, such as road or waterline repairs.
The other litigants, collectively referred to in the document as “the charities”, claim to be, like Quest, co-inheritors of the Sea to Sky Foundation’s lands.
This District’s exemption included all land that the Sea to Sky Foundation owned in 2004, the year the bylaw was passed. This exemption continued to affect land that was later sold and developed by these third parties. According to President George Iwama, Quest owns 70 of the 256 acres originally owned by the Sea to Sky Foundation.
In 2015 the District instituted a bylaw removing these cost exemptions. The District opted not to enforce this bylaw for one year following its passing.
The litigants demanded that the district pay back damages collected from the reinstated development cost charges. They argue that because they inherited titles to land that had already had its infrastructure developed by the Sea to Sky Foundation, they should be exempted. The District’s statement rejects this indemnity payment on the grounds that they deny having caused any damages to Quest or the foundations.
On October 30th, George Iwama announced via email that Quest would be dropping the case. The Mark did not receive a response from the litigant’s’ lawyer in time for publication. It is unclear whether or not the other litigants will continue to pursue the case.
The Foundations Involved
The Eden Glen Foundation, the Global Charity Fund and the Timothy Foundation, each currently own or have owned property on former Sea to Sky Foundation land. All three foundations register their address at 1250-1500 West Georgia St. Vancouver, BC, V6G 2Z6.
The address they share is the location of Benefic Group, a charity law firm that, according to their website, “has incorporated and registered over 650 charities”, and has handled over a billion dollars in charitable gifts. Benefic’s president is Blake Bromley, a charity lawyer with long ties to Quest. Bromley was one of the original three members of the Sea to Sky Foundation, along with Quest’s inaugural President David Strangway. He also serves as a Director of the Almoner Foundation, the organization that owns the North and South Villages, and the land they sit on, which Quest leases for residences.
The Timothy, Eden Glen and Global Charity Foundations each have at least two employees of Benefic serving as their directors.
In an interview with the Mark, a representative from Benefic, who is or has been a Director of two of the aforementioned foundations, said that the three foundations’ involvement in the lawsuit stems from their having once owned land purchased from the Sea to Sky Foundation.
The representative stated that the three foundations’ shared address is a product of Benefic’s organizational model. While law firms typically incorporate and create foundations, the representative explained, Benefic has “a sort of single platform … that specializes in the creation of [organizations] on both the legal side and the regulatory, maintenance side.”
The representative said that the DCC proceedings “impact [the foundations’] ability to resell” the land for charitable investments, and clarified that, according to federal charity law, “whatever investments [the foundations] have … have to stay within the charitable sector.”
Charities are legally required by the Canadian Revenue Agency to donate at least 3.5% of the average value of their non-charity property holdings to “Qualified Donees” each year.
According to the Canada Revenue Agency’s website, the Timothy Foundation donated $135,000 to the Eden Glen Foundation in 2016. In the same fiscal year, the Eden Glen Foundation donated $45,000 to the Timothy Foundation.
When asked about this, the representative from Benefic stated that both donations were gifts between each organization. “There can not be any strings attached to these things,” the representative said. “Gifts are gifts.”
As both lawsuits are ongoing, all statements made within them, including those quoted in this article, are, at this time, allegations. None have been proven in court. At this time, the Mark was unable to ascertain when each case is set to enter trial.