South Asian couple gets $35,000 in dispute over trees that led to racist comments

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RONALD John Demenuk and his common law spouse Robyn Demenuk (also known as Robyn Soames) of Coquitlam have been ordered to pay their South Asian neighbours, Harbhajan Singh Dhadwal and Harbans Kaur Dhadwal, $25,000 for defamation and another $10,000 for aggravated damages in a dispute over three large trees that led to racist comments, among other things.

The Dhadwals, while building a new home on their property, pruned and cut the roots of three large trees located on the boundary of the adjacent property belonging to the Demenuks and the trees then had to be felled.

The Demenuks sued the Dhadwals to recover for the loss of the trees. The Dadwals filed a counterclaim, alleging that a display set up by Soames, consisting of various animal figures and signs on the Demenuks’ property and within public view, were defamatory.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith dismissed the claims of the Demenuks.

But he found that the Dhadwals had been defamed by the signs put up by the Demenuks.

The judge noted that Soames said “she did not know that the Dhadwals were East Indian. She conceded she had, on the day the trees were cut, called Mr. and Mrs. Dhadwal “fucking Hindus”. Furthermore, one of the signs she constructed said “This is Canada. Not India”. When faced with this evidence, both Ms. Soames and Mr. Demenuk responded in like fashion. Each maintained that they did not know that the Dhadwals were East Indian and each argued that they might have been “from Sri Lanka.” I consider this evidence to be nonsense. There is little reason for a court to have confidence in the evidence of individuals whose testimony is so patently disingenuous.”

The judge noted: “Both Mr. and Mrs. Dhadwal gave evidence of the injury caused to them by the defamation. Both describe how many of their neighbours, originally friendly, now avoid them. Ms. Dhadwal described how hurtful she considered some of the comments that were made. She said that the display felt like “a public shaming”. Mr. Dhadwal, in responding to the words “deceitful” and “despicable”, said “we are not such people”.

“In all the circumstances I consider that an appropriate award of general damages is $25,000.  Mr. Demenuk and Ms. Soames are jointly and severally liable for this award.”

The judge also noted: “Ms. Soames exacerbated her conduct by creating a further display which indicated that the initial display or signs were “… Gone Temporarily!…. But They Will be Back!” Ms. Dhadwal described how the new signs created the same feeling or took her to the “same place” as had the original signs and that she was anxious about what more was to come. These acts increased the Dhadwals’ “humiliation and anxiety”.

“Still further, the racial component of the signage, though not part of the defamation itself, informs the context and nature of the conduct of the defendants by counterclaim. It was conduct which sharpened the attack on the Dhadwals’ dignity.

“Aggravated damages are not to be awarded jointly and severally. I award an amount of $5,000 as against each of Ms. Soames and Mr. Demenuk for aggravated damages.”

 

The full ruling:

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/13/21/2013BCSC2111.htm