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Dog poop bag (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Dog poop bag (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Business Briefing

Judge scolds feuding rich neighbours for ‘kindergarten’ antics in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

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Lifestyles of the rich and famous
The poop has hit the fan in one of Toronto’s most exclusive areas.

An Ontario Superior Court judge has chided two warring rich couples, who he says need a “stern kindergarten teacher” because they’re acting like children in a legal dispute that has rippled through the upscale neighbourhood and taken up valuable court time.

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In short, Mr. Rogers would be oh, so upset by the fight between defendants Audrey and Gary Taerk and plaintiffs Paris and John Morland-Jones. (You just knew it would be a double name, right?)

This is a complex case, and Justice Edward Morgan tells it well as he scolds the neighbours for their childish behaviour.

“The parties to this action live across the road from each other in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood,” he writes in a decision released this week from a case heard last month.

“The video footage played at the hearing shows that both families live in stately houses on a well-manicured, picturesque street. They have numerous high end automobiles parked outside their homes.”

Mr. Morland-Jones is an oil company executive, and Mr. Taerk a psychiatrist. And, as the court notes, “they do not seem to like each other, and neither do their respective spouses.”

The Morland-Joneses went to court seeking “various forms of injunctive relief on an interlocutory basis,” seemingly years in the making and related to “the plaintiffs’ allegation that the defendants have been misbehaving and disturbing their peaceful life in this leafy corner of paradise.”

To sum it up:

The Morland-Joneses’ home is “ringed” with 11 security cameras, two of them “aimed directly” at the Taerks’ front door and driveway. “Nothing that the defendants do escapes the plaintiffs’ video camera lens.”

The April hearing started with lawyers for the Morland-Joneses playing security footage from years ago “in which Ms. Taerk is seen performing a ‘poop and scoop’ after a dog did its business on her front lawn.” Ms. Taerk is seen taking the offending plastic bag across the street, where the Morland-Joneses had their garbage out to be collected.

“Although the impugned deed actually takes place off camera, Ms. Taerk can be seen moments later returning to her side of the street empty-handed. Apparently, much to the consternation of the plaintiffs, she deposited the goods in the plaintiffs’ garbage can. In doing so, she failed to walk to the back of her house to place it in her own receptacle like a truly good neighbour would do.”

(I know what you’re thinking here. And, yes, seriously. Actually, read on.)

This was referred to by the Morland-Jones lawyers as the “dog feces incident,” and was a “high point” of the court claim.

And then – the nerve! – there was the “dog urination issue.” Lawyers sent the Taerks a cease-and-desist letter “documenting Mr. Taerk walking his dog and occasionally allowing it to lift its leg in a canine way next to the bushes lining the plaintiffs’ lawn.”

As the judge put it, it’s all downhill from there: The Taerks sometime park “one of their cars” in front of the Morland-Joneses’ home. And vice-versa. The Taerks – Ms., in particular – sometimes take cellphone pictures of the Morland-Jones house. They also accuse Ms. Taerk of photographing their housekeeper walking their dog for its “daily constitutional” at “what they describe as its favourite grassy spot in a parkette only feet from the defendants’ front lawn.”

Oh, and sometimes, Ms. Taerk would just stand and stare at the home of the Morland-Joneses, once “for a full 25 seconds.”

The Taerks, by the way, aren’t just an “entirely innocent” party.

“They appear to have learned that the plaintiffs – and especially Ms. Morland-Jones – have certain sensitivities, and they seem to relish playing on those sensitivities,” the judge writes.

“They realize, for example, that Ms. Morland-Jones does not enjoy having her house photographed, and so Ms. Taerk tends to take her cell phone out and point it at the Plaintiffs’ house precisely when Ms. Morland-Jones can see her doing it.”

(Ms. Taerk testified that she only pretended to take pictures with her phone.)

Once, the Morland-Joneses believe, the Taerks “appeared to be photographing” their then 16-year-old son sitting in a parked car, with his girlfriend, across from the Taerk residence. “He speculated, but could not entirely recall, precisely what he and the young woman were doing in the car at that moment.”

(Well, that leaves little to the imagination.)

And my absolute favourite: “The antics have only gotten worse since then. Ms. Morland-Jones has shouted at the Taerks from her front yard, and Ms. Taerk has given Ms. Morland-Jones ‘the finger’ from her front driveway."

After that, in the ruling, is where the judge says the neighbours don’t need a judge, but a kindergarten teacher. And for that matter, a court can’t order the Taerks to “be nice” to the Morland-Joneses.

He then scolds them as “educated professionals” acting like kids, and taking up a day of court at the expense of the taxpayer.

“There is no claim for pooping and scooping into the neighbour’s garbage can, and there is no claim for letting Rover water the neighbour’s hedge. Likewise, there is no claim for looking at the neighbour’s pretty house, parking a car legally but with malintent, engaging in faux photography on a public street, raising objections at a municipal hearing, walking on the sidewalk with dictaphone in hand, or just plain thinking badly of a person who lives nearby.”

The motion, by the way, was dismissed, and each side has to pay its own costs.

Telus drops Mobilicity quest
Telus Corp. has served notice that it’s dropping a takeover bid for Mobilicity, ending a drawn-out effort to scoop up the small player and its valuable wireless spectrum, The Globe and Mail's Steven Chase reports.

This move comes several weeks after the Canadian government warned the incumbent that it would take retaliatory measures if Telus did not abandon its bid for Mobilicity and the cellular frequencies that had been earmarked for new wireless players.

A source said the Vancouver-based telecom firm sent word of its decision Mobicility yesterday, informing them it was withdrawing its offer because conditions of the deal had not been met.

Telus is now “no longer in the mix” to obtain Mobilicity, the source said.

Russia, China in gas pact
Even for OAO Gazprom, the giant of Russian natural gas, there has never been anything like this, our Beijing correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe writes.

After a decade of failed attempts, an agreement struck today will see China buy vast quantities of Russian natural gas for 30 years. The deal will spark development of massive gas fields in Eastern Siberia and the construction of some 4,000 kilometres in pipelines, efforts that are together expected to cost $55-billion (U.S.) to build.

In exchange, China will over three decades buy some $400-billion in natural gas. The deal, at 3.7 billion cubic feet of gas per day, sees China with a single stroke agree to buy nearly half the volume of natural gas consumed by all of Canada.

Target's Canadian sales climb
Target Corp.’s Canadian sales surged in the first quarter of the year, though its loss here widened.

The U.S. retailer, which took it on the chin last year as it expanded into Canada, posted Canadian sales of $393-million (U.S.) in the first three months of the year, compared to $86-million a year earlier, The Globe and Mail's Marina Strauss reports.

The loss before interest and taxes, however, widened to $211-million from $205-million.

Both Target’s chief executive officer and Canadian chief have recently left the company, which has been hurt by a huge data breach and its stumble north of the border.

“First-quarter financial performance in both our U.S. and Canadian segments was in line with expectations, reflecting the benefit of continued recovery from the data breach and early signs of improvement in our Canada operations,” said interim CEO John Mulligan.

“While we are pleased with this momentum, we need to move more quickly.”

Over all, Target posted a quarterly profit of $418-million, or 66 cents a share, and adjusted earnings of 70 cents, down sharply from a year earlier.

It also forecast adjusted earnings per share of 85 cents to $1 for the second quarter, and has cut its full-year expectations to between $3.60 and $3.90, down from an earlier $3.85 to $4.15.

Sears Canada posts wider loss
Sears Canada Inc., whose U.S. parent has put it up for sale, saw its first-quarter loss more than double and its revenues fall as the embattled retailer absorbed the impact of unseasonably cold weather.

The company said the net loss for the quarter was $75.2-million or 74 cents per share, compared with a loss of $31.2-million or 31 cents a year earlier, The Globe and Mail's Bertrand Marotte reports.

Revenue for the 13-week period ended May 3 was $771.7-million, down 11 per cent from $867.1-million.

Same store sales, a key measure in the retail industry, decreased by 7.6 per cent in the quarter.

“The unseasonable weather had an adverse effect on our revenues,” said chief executive officer Douglas Campbell. “Sales of Spring merchandise were below last year, as winter-like weather was prevalent in most parts of the country well into the new season with cooler temperatures and significantly more snow in many areas.”

Encana boosts offering
Encana Corp. has boosted the price and offering size of its soon-to-be spun-off royalty unit to as much as $1.46-billion, a 70-per-cent increase from the top of its initial range, putting it among Canada’s most valuable IPOs.

The deal has ballooned as interest in Encana’s PrairieSky Royalty Ltd. unit has increased with the company’s marketing efforts and amid an overall rebound in investor demand for Canadian energy shares following a weak 2013, The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Jones reports.

Encana, which is looking to raise cash from the sale of a minority stake and still benefit from the unit’s income, said the shares will now be priced between $26.50 and $28 apiece, up from the previous range of $23 to $26.50.

In addition, it now expects to sell 52 million shares in the much-anticipated IPO, up from 32.5 million.

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