Labene levels legal action against Beaconsfield councillor

By Robert Frank

Beaconsfield mayoral candidate Hela Labene has gone to Quebec Superior Court to try to remove a democratically elected member of city council from office.

Labene first called for the ouster during the April city council meeting, where she publicly circulated court divorce documents containing detailed personal information about Councillor Karin Essen, whom she noisily demanded that councillors summarily dismiss.

Labene disrupted council proceedings by refusing to cede the microphone and only stood down after police were called to remove her from council chamber.

She contended that the District 2 councillor is no longer eligible to serve on city council. Essen was obliged to take up residence—at least temporarily—in Lachine, because of the ongoing marital split.

A distraught Essen told The Suburban that she could not fathom what would motivate someone to circulate publicly all the intimate details of her personal life that were contained in the divorce documents.

She indicated that having a part of her life unconnected to the duties of her elected office exposed in this way has been devastating to her and her family, and that she does not intend to seek re-election.

Labene also approached the Quebec Municipal Affairs ministry, which indicated that the province’s municipal elections law lets any individual challenge the validity of an elected representative holding office, based on a narrow set of criteria.

“I understand that [Essen] was elected in 2009,” Elections Quebec spokesman Denis Dion told The Suburban. “It’s a bit late to contest her election. At that time, she was a citizen of Beaconsfield, so she was eligible.”

As The Suburban went to press, Labene was slated to make her case at the provincial courthouse downtown, Sept. 17.

Given that only 46 days remain in Essen’s mandate before the Nov. 3 municipal election, it remained to be seen whether Labene’s court action will take so long to be heard as to be moot, or if the judge would opt to rule from the bench.

It was also unclear whether a temporary absence such as for an illness or a change in family status like a divorce proceeding constitutes a strong enough reason for a judge to overturn a democratic vote.

“Sometimes it’s not really clear, but in law if any city resident is not able to qualify to represent citizens, whether it’s a small or a big case, it’s a case,” Labene told The Suburban in an interview. “[City councillors] hide other stuff about Angell Woods, and [Essen] sits on a few committees, and that’s not right.”

Second run at office

Labene is a self-employed accountant who previously ran for mayor in 2009. She proved a fringe candidate in that contest, placing a distant last. Labene garnered only 408 votes (6.5 percent) against winner David Pollock’s 3,963 (62.8 percent) and outgoing incumbent mayor Bob Benedetti’s 1,938 (30.7 per cent).

Together with two other individuals, Labene purchased the Marian Hall facility in Angell Woods several years ago, but sold it back after she was unable to develop the property.

“My dream was to see that space as green space with a beautiful seniors home on it and wonderful people inside,” she recalled. “I asked the city to exchange the land to keep the green space, and over two years I spent a lot of money.”

“The city drove me crazy,” she continued. “They didn’t want to do anything. They drove us nuts. They didn’t even give us space for daycare.”

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