A B.C. woman who repeatedly trespassed on her neighbour’s property and cut the tops off of cedar trees with a chainsaw has been ordered to pay nearly $150,000 in damages.
The Supreme Court ruled on the case in June but the decision was posted online Thursday. In it, Justice Amy D Francis says the tree vandal offered no viable defence and did not attend court when the judgment was handed down in the civil case.
The neighbouring properties were separated by a chain link fence, with a cedar hedge comprised on the side owned by a numbered company, 0973210 B.C. Ltd, according to the decision.
“The cedar hedge provided a complete privacy screen between the two properties, which was something that the two individuals who lived on the plaintiff’s property valued about the property,” Francis wrote.
Sukhwinder Kaur Khatkar was found to have entered her neighbour’s property on multiple occasions between July and December of 2021, the court heard.
“The trespass has been clearly proven by photos and videos, which include, among other things, a video of the defendant climbing over the plaintiff’s fence onto their property and wielding a chainsaw,” the court heard.
In addition, Francis noted that evidence showed the police were called on at least two occasions, and an officer told Khatkar that her actions constituted trespassing and that the trees were not hers to trim.
“Approximately 30 minutes after the constable left, the defendant reentered the plaintiff’s property and continued to damage the plaintiff’s cedar trees in direct contravention of the warning of the police, not to mention the repeated warnings given by the plaintiff,” according to the judgment.
By December of 2021, 75 trees had been damaged. Where they once stood 15 feet tall, they had been reduced to just four or five feet. In addition, a hole had been cut in the chain fence.
“The cedar hedge and the chain link fence were permanently damaged,” the judge said.
The numbered company sued Khatkar for trespass, seeking reimbursement for the cost of replanting the hedge, general damages as compensation for their loss, and punitive damages.
The judge had “no trouble” awarding the claimants the full cost of remediating the damage, which came out to $59,915.73.
The judge also found that the trees planted in the replacement hedge would take between eight and 10 years to grow to the height of the ones that had been “irreparably damaged by the actions of the defendant.” Because of this, the court found that “the plaintiff is entitled to compensatory damages for the loss of use and enjoyment of the trees to the extent the remedial work does not completely replace what has been lost.”
The owners were asking for $75,000, a figure representing $1,000 per tree, in damages for loss of amenity and loss of privacy and enjoyment. However, the judge decided $50,000 would be adequate. An additional $3.575 in special damages was awarded for the cost of a professional arborist’s report.
Francis agreed with the plaintiff that punitive damages were warranted in the case in order to denounce Khatkar’s conduct and deter others from similar behaviour.
The defendant’s trespass was a deliberate and wilful action done without regard for her neighbour’s property rights. The defendant repeatedly interfered with the plaintiff’s property, notwithstanding express communications and warnings denying her permission, including communications from the police,” the judge said.
“Such reckless disregard for the property rights of others ought to be discouraged.”
Those damages were assessed at $35,000.
The judge also granted an injunction prohibiting Khatkar from entering or interfering with the claimant’s property.