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Neighbours unlikely to mend fences Add to ...

If good fences make good neighbours, what do bad fences make?

Two neighbours in the idyllic semi-rural community of Mill Bay on Vancouver Island along the Strait of Georgia recently ran the gauntlet from minor annoyances to 13 days in B.C. Supreme Court.

Colin Hall said he spent around $120,000 in legal fees in the dispute over a fence that cost a few thousands dollars to build. His neighbour, Matthew Wasserman, was unavailable Tuesday for an interview and his lawyer declined to reveal the size of his legal bill.

"It's been two years of hell," Mr. Hall said in an interview shortly after a court decision on the epic fence fight. "[Mr. Wasserman]tried to walk away with a handshake, and a misunderstanding. But to us, you don't put up video cameras and monitor someone's property and activities on their property and call it a misunderstanding," Mr. Hall said, referring to video surveillance cameras that Mr. Wasserman installed as the dispute escalated.

"My whole family was sickened by this," said Mr. Hall, who has a six-year-old and an eight-year-old. "[Mr. Wasserman]had every square inch of our property monitored with his video cameras."

The dispute began after Mr. Hall built a farm fence on his family's one-acre lot that slightly encroached on the Wasserman property. Surveyors told the court that 13 fence posts were between two and 28 centimetres over the property line.

The neighbours' relationship turned nasty in an increasingly antagonistic exchange of e-mails fired off on a summer evening in 2007 that Mr. Justice Malcolm Macaulay of B.C. Supreme Court dubbed the evening of e-mails as "the night of verbal long knives."

The e-mails led to "extremely childish" activities, the judge said. As the animosity between neighbours grew, the Halls sent back a riding saddle and a model sailing ship that Mr. Wasserman had sent over in a happier time. Mr. Wasserman provocatively displayed the ship on the top of a stepladder near the fence with its sail broken.

In a more substantive move, Mr. Wasserman installed video cameras to monitor the property line. The cameras recorded activities in his neighbours' yard and possibly through the windows inside their house.

Judge Macaulay decided Mr. Hall's fence encroached on the Wasserman property but Mr. Wasserman violated the Halls' right to privacy. The judge ordered the fence be taken down and awarded $5,000 to Mr. Wasserman and $3,500 to the Halls. The judge also ruled that the Halls' right to privacy had been violated and awarded $3,500 to the Halls.

"At what I can only imagine must be a huge cost, [Mr. Hall and Mr. Wasserman] have now had their day, or more precisely, 13 days, in court. My observation of the parties leads me to conclude that the trial process likely reinforced, rather than relieved, the hard feelings between them," the judge stated.

Neighbours: An NFB short film from 1952



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