Vancouver city council fires Ray Tomlin from the board of variance

Vancouver city council fired Ray Tomlin from the Vancouver board of variance on the same day that his serious concerns about the board were published in the Georgia Straight.

On September 24, the Straight's real-estate column was devoted to Tomlin's allegations that the board was holding private meetings in violation of the Vancouver Charter.

The five-member, council-appointed board has the authority to overrule decisions by the planning department concerning development permits, zoning, signage, and trees.

City manager Penny Ballem and the board's chair, Tony Tang, declined to return calls from the Straight to respond to Tomlin's claims.

Tomlin, a mental-health worker,  informed the Straight that he received notification this morning (September 26) that he was fired two days earlier. He said he will issue a statement later today about his dismissal.

Tomlin served on a previous board of variance that was fired by the NPA-controlled council. He was appointed to the board again earlier this year by the Vision Vancouver-controlled council.

He is a former arts and entertainment writer, housing researcher, and Statistics Canada employee.



Roger Brant

Sep 26, 2009 at 9:37pm

Prior to reading Charlie Smith's article this morning I had no idea the Board Of Variance was in such a mess. I know Ray Tomlin from a few years back, and I know him to be an honourable, principled person. When he was appointed to the Board of Variance he was most appreciative of the opportunity to represent the public interest in such crucial matters. He is a learned, hard working man with good morals and ethics. What he has the “bad luck” to be, it seems, is a whistle blower, since City Council, it would appear, doesn’t like to hear the sound of whistles being blown.

I believe this is an urgent matter which may in fact represent the destruction of one of the City's most cherished municipal institutions. If the current circumstance prevails, citizens face a very real threat of losing their last route of appeal on any decisions of the Planning Department over which they are aggrieved.

I think it is most timely (and in a sense, VERY troubling) to see such meddling in the workings of what is, in a very real sense, the “court of last resort” for Vancouver citizens as regards their neighbourhoods. There’s a lot of talk going on about making us into a “world class city” but heavy-handed, secretive actions like these at the Board of Variance make me fear we will end up being ruled by the moneyed elite, the powerbrokers, developers, and land barons. Where is the citizens’ voice right now? It is being suppressed and the City Charter is being flouted to achieve this suppression. These are serious allegations Mr. Tomlin has made, and now that he has been forced off the board, I think that the media should do its utmost to query this action, unmask the hidden agenda(s), unmask the vested interests, and unlock the doors of this “inner chamber” the way it is supposed to be open to public scrutiny. We, the citizens, need to know just what is happening. This is an outrageous assault on democracy

Roger Brant

David K

Sep 26, 2009 at 11:34pm

This is a bizarre and seemingly unfortunate move. Ray Tomlin is a very experienced member of the board. One wonders what the real story is here.

Terry Martin

Sep 29, 2009 at 3:40pm

1. In his Memorandum to Dr. Ballem, on page 9, Mr. Tomlin states that “one member was allowed to make a gratuitous allegation against both a fellow Board member and an appellant’s representative.” According to Charlie Smith’s article in last week’s Georgia Straight (, it was Board member Arminder Randhawa who accused Mr. Tomlin of conspiring with an appellant’s representative to unduly effect the outcome of a vote of the Board.

On what evidence did Ms. Randhawa make this (malicious and defamatory) allegation? Did Ms. Randhawa witness, see and hear, Mr. Tomlin engage in an improper conversation about the appeal, prior to the meeting, as she alleges? Does she have audio or video evidence, or has someone come forward who witnessed this (alleged) conversation?

If, as I believe to be the case, Ms. Randhawa’s contention was wholly without merit, she is compelled to resign from the Board, given that her accusation, as Mr. Tomlin states in his memorandum, “served to contaminate the process and bring disrepute on the Board at large. There was an unfairness to the appellant’s representative that can only be considered to be a dishonourable act.” Mr. Tomlin states that Ms. Randhawa’s conduct was “reprehensible.” I agree.

2. Sean Bickerton, in a comment made on Frances Bula's site (, states that the only proper way for Council to go forward concerning the claims made in Mr. Tomlin’s Memorandum to Dr. Ballem is for Council to appoint an independent investigator, or panel, to look into the very “serious allegations that have been leveled that have placed the City’s Planning Department under a cloud.” Perhaps a respected, retired planner, who had worked outside the City of Vancouver, or a respected jurist could conduct such an investigation.

3. On Page 8 of his Memorandum, Mr. Tomlin states that the Board, as directed by Chairman Tony Tang, repeatedly breached Section 573 of the Vancouver Charter, the provincial Open Meetings Act, and the City of Vancouver Board of Variance By-Law, by recessing and discussing an appeal, in-camera, prior to the vote. On August 19th, Chairman Tang “asked members of the Board to join him in Committee Room 2, and discussed with the Board whether the Board would agree to hear an appeal ”¦” Mr. Tomlin states that he argued that any discussion of an appeal MUST take place in public, but Chairman Tang, and the other members of the Board, decided to ignore the law.

This defiance of the City Charter and Board of Variance By-Law should result in Council rescinding the appointment of, at the very least, the Chair who directed these illegal activities. Instead, City Council fired the whistleblower! The actions of Council in firing Mr. Tomlin bring disrepute on Council, when it is NOT Mr. Tomlin who should have been fired, without cause, but the Chair of the Board, Tony Tang, who should have been fired, for cause, relating to the concerns outlined above.

Terry Martin
Chair, Board of Variance Vancouver, 2005 - 06

Rand Chatterjee

Sep 30, 2009 at 1:13am

This travesty is a chilling tale of the spectre of monolithic central planning running roughshod over 150 years of Canadian constitutional law and jurisprudence.

An independent Board of Variance, which Ray Tomlin persuasively argues no longer exists, is crucial to the protection of our Constitutionally-protected rights, under the Constitution Act, Bill of Rights, and Charter.

The Constitution Act protects property rights through seven hundred years of Common Law. Section 1(a) of the 1960 Bill of Rights specifically protects our "enjoyment of property." Finally, the freedoms of conscience and association are also affected here, both assured under Section 2 of the Charter.

It is true that central planning, the body of decisions broadly affecting properties and people throughout our city or even narrowly affecting one, necessarily infringes on our rights of property and our rights of conscience and association through constraints on our living arrangements. Sometimes, for the greater good, such infringements are warranted. But how much and how far?

Our constitutional laws answer this question also. Under Section 7 of the Charter, due process in administrative proceedings is ensured. This protects us from arbitrary rulings and affirms the right of "full answer and defence" in a fair trial.

Without a doubt, after a careful reading of Ray Tomlin's memo to the City, much if not all of our constitutional rights are gone under the currently ascendent procedures of the Board, some of which violate the Vancouver Charter as well. Conflicts of interest reign supreme, and arbitrary decisions are almost assured. Ray Tomlin sought diligently to amend these serious transgressions of our most hallowed laws, and suggested calmly and persuasively several necessary and not onerous corrections.

His carefully crafted plea was grounded firmly in all three of the foundation documents of our constitutional law, and he did us the supreme public service of suggesting a clear path forward.

The messenger may have been shot, but the message lives on, and it is far more powerful than any Vancouver Council or City Manager.

A wounded messenger and 600,000 citizens of this City await the promised review of this truly heinous act against Canada's most sacred laws and traditions.

And what is also at stake--beyond what some have argued are just academic legal niceties--is the vibrant diversity of our city, of its people and buildings, and of the ways we live and work together. Unchecked central planning can and will take away the very soul of Vancouver, its social fabric, economic vitality, and innovative solutions for a better planet.

Joan Aiello

Sep 30, 2009 at 7:32pm

Ray Tomlin gets fired for being the messenger of a memorandum addressing his concerns for proposed changes to the Board. While others are allowed to remain on the Board, who may be in direct conflict of interest. Doesn't seem fair to me! Who is there for the citizens of Vancouver?
I have known Ray Tomlin for a number of years. He was instrumental in organizing a union where I work, to improve our working conditions and protect our rights. He is a man of strong moral principals, a humanitarian. Ray needs to be re-instated.