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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Saanich councillor requests leave for overseas research on fight against illegal fishing

The semi-secret trip may be (literally) fishy, but month absence is all above board

Keith Norbury
March 12, 2023
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Saanich councillor requests leave for overseas research on fight against illegal fishing

The semi-secret trip may be (literally) fishy, but month absence is all above board

Keith Norbury
Mar 12, 2023
Teale Phelps Bondaroff off the coast of Gabon with a legal fishing vessel in the background in the summer of 2022. Photo: Teale Phelps Bondaroff / Fridtjof Nansen Institute
Teale Phelps Bondaroff off the coast of Gabon with a legal fishing vessel in the background in the summer of 2022. Photo: Teale Phelps Bondaroff / Fridtjof Nansen Institute
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Saanich councillor requests leave for overseas research on fight against illegal fishing

The semi-secret trip may be (literally) fishy, but month absence is all above board

Keith Norbury
March 12, 2023
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Saanich councillor requests leave for overseas research on fight against illegal fishing
Teale Phelps Bondaroff off the coast of Gabon with a legal fishing vessel in the background in the summer of 2022. Photo: Teale Phelps Bondaroff / Fridtjof Nansen Institute

Rookie Saanich councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff is requesting a leave of absence from his council duties to embark on a secret overseas mission to help fight illegal fishing.

Phelps Bondaroff, who captured the eighth and final council seat in last fall’s municipal election by an 11-vote margin, is “contractually obliged to participate in overseas research fieldwork” from April 21 to May 17, 2023, according to a staff report. The report is on the agenda for discussion at the next Saanich regular council meeting on March 13.

A specialist in illegal fishing, who has a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, Phelps Bondaroff told the Capital Daily that he will embed with the crew of a Sea Shepherd Society vessel. However, he can’t say where exactly on the planet that ship will sail or even what fish species it will monitor for fear of tipping off the illegal fishers.

“I’m gonna have to be super vague because I’m contractually obliged not to say where I’m going,” Phelps Bondaroff said. “It’s not meant to sound mysterious but for operational security reasons.”

He has been contracted since September 2021 as consultant with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway to assist with a multi-year project financed by the Research Council of Norway. Called NGOs Securing Fisheries Environments: Understanding NGO-State Fisheries Protection Programs, or N-SAFE, the project looks at how non-governmental organizations like the Sea Shepherd Society might work with government agencies to combat illegal fishing.

According to the institute’s website, among the questions N-SAFE is striving to answer is “Can volunteer-based maritime NGOs transition from ‘activist’ organizations into responsible and effective state partners?”

Potential meeting absences are within what rules allow

Phelps Bondaroff, 37, requested that his council colleagues grant him the leave of absence because he might have to miss four consecutive meetings, citing a requirement of section 125 of B.C.’s Community Charter. However, section 125 also stipulates that a councillor can miss up to 60 consecutive days or four regular meetings, “whichever is the longer time period.” Based on that reading, Phelps Bondaroff didn’t need to request a leave at all.

“I think he’s just doing a courtesy to his colleagues and to the community to let them know that this is some time he’s going to be away for an important research project that he’s working on,” said Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock.

Teale Phelps Bondaroff stands on deck as Gabonese authorities inspect a legal fishing vessel in the summer of 2022. Photo: Teale Phelps Bondaroff / Fridtjof Nansen Institute

As mayor, Murdock won’t vote on the motion except to break a tie. And neither he nor Phelps Bondaroff expect any councillors to object to the leave of absence.

Phelps Bondaroff said he didn’t plan to forfeit any of his $50,000 annual councillor salary during his absence, although he said he might consider that should Saanich citizens desire it. He does plan to keep in touch with constituents and councillors via email. However, his distant destination might have spotty internet connectivity, making it difficult for him to attend meetings remotely.

The community charter section doesn’t mention whether a councillor is to be paid during a requested leave. However, a 2022 amendment to the charter that requires a mandatory leave of absence for a councillor charged with an offence does state that the councillor remains entitled to the remuneration and benefits of the office.

Reasons for other local leaves range from newborns to murder charges 

Murdock, who was elected mayor in 2022, said he cannot remember anyone on council seeking a leave of absence during his earlier 10 years as a Saanich councillor. However, he did recall local politicians in other jurisdictions taking leaves. For instance, Sonya Chandler (now Sonya Gracey, the recent runner-up for Esquimalt mayor) took leave from Victoria city council in 2007 for the birth of her first child; then in 2010, she resigned to pursue a master’s degree.

In 1992, councillors in Houston, BC, punted Alderman Ted McAfee for poor attendance but reinstated him after receiving a 520-name petition from residents. And there are cases of municipal politicians taking leave to run for higher office. John Bergbusch took time off as Colwood mayor in 1997 to run as a Liberal candidate in a federal election, for example. After losing that race, he resumed his mayoral duties.

In 2008, Highlands Coun. Ken Brotherston took a leave of absence after he was charged with second-degree murder, of which he was acquitted in 2010. Brotherston ran unsuccessfully for council again in 2022.

Phelps Bondaroff doesn’t think he’d have been murdered at the polls in 2022 had voters been aware he’d take a four-week leave within six months of being sworn in. To the contrary, he said, “When people cast a vote for me, I think they’re getting someone who cares passionately about making the world a better place.”

We reached out to Rishi Sharma, who trailed Phelps Bondaroff by 11 votes in that election and was unsuccessful in seeking a judicial recount, to see if he cared, but received no response at press time.

Councillor took similar research trip in 2022

Phelps Bondaroff is known around the community for spearheading the installation of all those little libraries that dot Saanich neighbourhoods. He also co-founded a campaign for free prescription contraception, a policy that the province recently announced funding for in its latest budget. And he somehow still finds the time to play recreational hockey.

Last summer his professional research took him to the coast of Gabon, where he also watched the Sea Shepherd Society in action.

Teale Phelps Bondaroff is stationed off the coast of Gabon, with the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker in the background, during a research project called Operation Albacore in the summer of 2022. Photo: Teale Phelps Bondaroff / Fridtjof Nansen Institute

“They have these really fascinating partnerships with West African countries and other places where they collaborate to deliver marine monitoring and enforcement, particularly targeting illegal fishing,” Phelps Bondaroff said.

His doctoral thesis was on the society, established by Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson in 1977 after he parted ways with that organization, which frowned on his direct-action tactics. Those actions included occasionally ramming ships into whaling vessels, which prompted the whaling nation of Japan to label him an ecoterrorist. His tactics eventually proved too much even for the Sea Shepherd Society, which he parted company with last year.

Phelps Bondaroff now expects to make it back home in time for council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on May 15. He doesn’t anticipate having to take any more time off from his council duties to pursue his research work.

“I don’t think we have the research budget for it,” he said. “This is academic research in its purest form so I don’t think our pockets are that deep.”

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Keith Norbury
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