Quebec Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms Quebec Superior Court Rulings

Former lawyer ordered to pay $77,000 in damages

A former lawyer and her companion who made the lives of their neighbours so miserable that they fled to Alberta before even selling their home have been ordered to pay more than $77,000 in damages by Quebec Superior Court recently.

Sonia Desrosiers, a lawyer no longer enrolled in the Barreau du Québec, and Renée Jetté lodged or penned during a three-year stretch no less than 22 “malicious” complaints and demand letters against their neighbours before the provincial police, fire department, municipality, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

“The defendants have in a well-thought-out manner planned and repeatedly committed different acts with the intention of harming the applicants,” said Judge Charles Ouellet in a 15-page ruling.

The sorry tale took place in the small town of Stoke in the Eastern Township, less than 20 kilometres from the city of Sherbrooke. It’s a town unlike most in Quebec: at a time when young Quebecers tend to bolt from outlying regions to live in cosmopolitan cities such as Montreal, the young people of Stoke are sticking around. Indeed, the town has more young people than seniors. Even though there is not much of a local economy, the vast majority of residents commute to Sherbrooke, it’s population has actually grown by 3.9 percent.

Desrosiers and Jetté had their home built in 1999 in Stoke in a large secluded wooded area, and intended to buy an acre of land by their home. They did not; a young couple with two children did. When the young couple started to clear the land, dig for a well, and install a septic tank in September 2005, that’s when their woes began. An innocuous incident set the tone: when a felled tree landed on the property of Desrosiers and Jetté, the lawyer unleashed a verbal tirade against the couple. Two days later, the young couple received a “confusing” demand letter written on a letterhead from the law firm where Desrosiers worked at the time. “What is clear on the other hand is that the demand letter threatened the young couple with a suit if they damaged their neighbour’s property or if they made defamatory or discriminatory remarks against the owners,” noted Justice Ouellet.

Things got from bad to worse. André Bachand, a Stoke municipal inspector from 1979 to 2008, dealt with the complaints lodged by Desrosiers and Jetté. He testified he never witnessed as much “ill-will and obstinacy” in his thirty-year career as a municipal inspector. Not a single complaint was founded, and many were half-baked, added Bachand. An officer from the provincial police force yielded testimony that was just as damning. When Desrosiers and Jetté felt that their complaints — alleged dog barking, alleged criminal harassment or alleged drug dealing — were not taken seriously by the police, they lodged a complaint before the police ethics commissioner against one of the officers.

“The Court could continue to recount over numerous pages the countless malicious steps taken by the defendants against the (young couple) from September 2005 up until they left their home with their children in August 2008,” said Justice Ouellet, who found that the actions by Desrosiers and Jetté caused much damage to the young couple. Besides being subjected to numerous visits by the police, bailiffs and municipal inspectors, Mr. G. (as he is identified by the Court) had to go to the police station five or six times to explain his side of the story following allegations made by Desrosiers and Jetté. Inspectors from the regulatory agency overseeing the construction industry paid five visits to the young couple’s abode while they were building their home following anonymous complaints.

“The reputation of the (young couple) was sullied,” said Justice Ouillet. “On many occasions they were the subject of odious and aggressive conduct by the defendants. Their health was affected and their couple was sorely tested by the repeated actions of the defendants.

“Ultimately the defendants got what they wanted. In August 2008 Mrs. M. couldn’t take it anymore and said we have to leave. The family emptied out their place, without even waiting to put their house for sale.”

Justice Ouellet found that Desrosiers and Jetté unlawfully and intentionally interfered with the young couple’s rights to inviolability, dignity, their honour and reputation, and their private lives and peaceful enjoyment and free disposition of their property, all of which entitles them to obtain compensation for the moral or material prejudice they suffered.

Desrosiers and Jetté were condemned to pay the young couple $2,187 for extra-judicial fees, $5,472.25 for drugs and medical treatment, $10,000 for harm they caused that prevented peaceful enjoyment and free disposition of their property, $50,000 for moral prejudice, and $10,000 in exemplary damages.

Justice Ouellet considered imposing an additional sanction for excessive or unreasonable pleadings. He chose not to in part because Desrosiers has terminal cancer.

The young couple may have won the case but are still paying the price. Mrs. M. is addicted to an antidepressant, and its side effects is affecting their couple.

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