Racist signs directed at neighbours who cut down trees cost Coquitlam couple $35,000

KEITH FRASER
VANCOUVER DESI

Offensive protest signs and racist comments made during a battle between neighbours over three trees that were pruned and then had to be cut down has resulted in a Coquitlam couple being ordered to pay $35,000 in damages.

The dispute between the Demenuks and Dhadwals began when the Dhadwals, while building a new home, pruned and cut the roots of three large trees on the property boundary.

The Dhadwals had complied with municipal bylaws but the cutting of the roots endangered the trees and the two Douglas firs and the cedar tree were eventually ordered to be cut down.

The Demenuks sued the Dhadwals to recover for the loss of the trees and the Dhadwals filed a counter claim, alleging they had been defamed by the protest signs and had suffered aggravated damages arising in part from the racist comments.

In a ruling posted online Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith dismissed the claims of the plaintiff Demenuks, concluding that the Dhadwals had complied with the bylaws.

But he found that Ronald Demenuk and his partner Robyn had defamed the Dhadwals by putting up the offensive signs in an alley by their home.

The signs were either carried by or stenciled onto the clothing of a number of animals figures including a monkey, an elephant and a lion.

Messages on them included “This is Canada!! Not India Respect It!!”

Other signs said “Butchers. 3old Growth Trees. Totally ignorant,” and “Low Lifes.”

On the day the trees were cut, Robyn called the Dhadwals “f…… Hindus.”

At trial, the Demenuks maintained that they did not know the Dhadwals were East Indian and argued they might have been from Sri Lanka, but the judge said that evidence was nonsense.

“There is little reason for a court to have confidence in the evidence of individuals whose testimony is so patently disingenous.”

Voith ordered the Demenuks to pay $25,000 for defamation and another $10,000 for aggravated damages, for a total award of $35,000.

Alnoor Gangji, a lawyer for the Dhadwals, said his clients were satisfied with the ruling and have “tremendous respect” for the system.

“They’ve basically said that they’re happy with the result. They think that everything that needed to be said is in the judgment.”

He said the couple, who are still neighbours with the Demenuks, also wished to thank a number of “very decent” people who showed up in court to testify in the case, incuding an RCMP officer who he said was the subject of an unwarranted complaint.

“They fought this because the signs were alleging they didn’t respect Canadian law. That’s why they took the case to court, to show that they do respect Canadian law.”

Robyn Demenuk, also known as Robyn Soames according to the ruling, declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.

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