Bitter questions surface about demolition of historic Sackville church as legal battle continues

Sackville's now-demolished United Church

Sackville’s now-demolished United Church

Sackville’s historic United Church may be gone, but the bitter feelings surrounding its demolition last year were apparent once again on Friday at the Moncton courthouse.

A half-dozen people, who fought unsuccessfully to save the church and its unique stained glass windows, came to the Court of Queen’s Bench to witness the latest chapter in the ongoing legal battle between former heritage board member Louis Béliveau and the Town of Sackville.

At yesterday’s hearing, Béliveau sought to appeal the $2,400 in disbursements he has been ordered to pay the town mainly to cover its photocopying costs.

The disbursements arose from a court decision last June in which a judge ruled that Sackville Town Council was within its rights to remove Béliveau from the heritage board in January. Aside from the disbursement fees, Judge George Rideout ordered Béliveau to pay an additional $9,000 to cover the town’s court costs.

Meredith Fisher

Meredith Fisher at Moncton’s Palais de Justice

Meredith Fisher, one of Béliveau’s supporters who attended yesterday’s hearing, says she’s appalled that an unpaid, volunteer member of the heritage board is now on the hook for more than $11,000 because he challenged town council’s decision to remove him from the board.

“It’s just an incredibly unbelievable, nonsensical situation for anyone who is a citizen of Sackville to find themselves in,” Fisher said, adding that it’s time for town council to stop spending thousands fighting Béliveau in court.

“There has been no attempt by the Town of Sackville to come to some kind of a sitting-down and talking together and rectifying this situation and coming to some kind of an agreement to stop this nonsense,” Fisher said.

On Friday, the judge decided she did not have jurisdiction to hear Béliveau’s challenge to the $2,400 in disbursement fees because the matter is now before the New Brunswick Court of Appeal in Fredericton where Béliveau has launched another challenge to his dismissal from the heritage board and the $9,000 in court costs he has been ordered to pay.

Court files sealed

Meantime, Béliveau says his latest appeal was hampered when the court clerk in Moncton refused to let him see court files from his earlier case on the grounds they had been sealed by a judge.

“In trying to avoid going to court any more than I have to, I wanted to know what I was fighting, so I wanted to look at the file in order to see what was going on and they wouldn’t show me the file,” Béliveau said.

He added that it’s outrageous, in a case like this, when a person can’t get access to his own court files, documents that are normally public.

Béliveau said he finally did get to see the files this week after they had been sent to the Court of Appeal in Fredericton.

When Warktimes called the Moncton courthouse a few weeks ago asking to see the files, we were also told that a judge had ordered them sealed.

Secret report

It appears that in denying public access to the files, court officials were reacting to complaints from the Town of Sackville. Town officials were apparently concerned that parts of a secret report contained in the court files had begun to appear on Facebook even after a judge had ruled that while Louis Béliveau could see the report, it must otherwise, for some reason, be kept confidential.

That confidential report was written by Moncton lawyer Kathleen Lordon who was hired by the town to investigate the circumstances surrounding the many controversies that arose in connection with demolishing the church.

After the heritage board finally decided to issue a demolition permit in March 2015, a citizen’s group fighting to save the church challenged that decision before New Brunswick’s Assessment and Planning Appeal Board (APAB).

Louis Béliveau testified during the APAB’s hearings alleging, among other things, that town council had interfered with the heritage board’s work.

Although it can’t be known for sure, since Lordon’s $47,000 report is still secret, it appears that it may have criticized Béliveau’s decision to testify at the APAB hearings, giving Sackville Town Council a reason for removing him from the heritage board.

[Editor’s note: Apologies for the vagueness of my reporting about the Lordon Report, but secrecy breeds confusion and I don’t know why the report is being withheld from public view.]

Heritage building

Meantime, Jean Cameron was also among those supporting Louis Béliveau at Friday’s hearing in Moncton.

In 2011, she conducted extensive research on the historic and architectural significance of the Sackville United Church to support an application asking the province to give the church “special provincial heritage place status” under the New Brunswick Conservation Act.

Cameron says she doesn’t know why the province failed to act, and wonders why the town itself did not intervene to save the church.

“If the town had put all the resources that it has spent on legal costs into saving and preserving that structure, the downtown of Sackville would today be totally different,” she said.

“Instead of two square, Lego-Box apartment buildings totally surrounded by pavement, you would continue to have a public green space in the heart of the town and a building with the steeple rising above the community that could have easily been re-purposed,” Cameron added sadly.

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5 Responses to Bitter questions surface about demolition of historic Sackville church as legal battle continues

  1. Meredith Fisher says:

    Thank you for giving this good summary of the most recent addition to the ongoing legal fiasco between a citizen volunteer and The Town of Sackville.

    Why not have a “FRESH APPROACH FOR THIS FIASCO”, Mayor John Higham?

    Why have hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money being spent on this? Is this responsible use of our precious resources? Can our town not manage to take the high road and progressive approach of mediation to solve this problem? Why on earth do we need to pay an expensive legal firm from Saint John to solve an unfortunate situation that could likely be resolved with a simple meeting and positive will of a few of the direct players. I think we would all be much more proud of a Council that can make the effort to solve problems with discussion rather than with legal clout. Whoever is giving our Council advice on this needs to take a pill or just plain go away! Our Councillors need to step up and insist on this. It’s time for a much fresher approach, as promised during the municipal election last May.

    As a respected member of the Sackville Heritage Board, Louis Beliveau was genuinely interested in contributing his expertise to help the Town of Sackville comply with the mandate of “preserving the heritage character of the streetscapes of Sackville”. And now he is having to legally defend himself and his professional reputation at his own expense. Something tells me that if our Town Fathers were paying out of their own pockets, this would simply not be happening! Am I wrong???

    Meredith Fisher

  2. Azi says:

    As a citizen of Sackville and former member of heritage board my answer to your question Meredith is: You are right.

  3. Rima Azar says:

    Thank you for this great article. Bravo Louis for standing up for justice. I was shocked to hear all the details in court on Friday. What the Town did and how justice has been administered make the third world I was born in look reasonable by comparison.

  4. J Ezra Hicks says:

    As a lifelong citizen of Sackville and a former member of the Heritage Board I agree with the comments above. The time I spent on the Heritage Board was a “Sackville Horror Story”. Town Council ought to be ashamed of itself for how it has treated the Heritage Board members who have spent many many long hours agonizing over a horrendous situation with nothing but bullying by Town Council in return..utterly shameful. Sackville is an amazing place to live..’despite’ it’s governance!

  5. Rose Leonard says:

    Silencing of the Coos

    Ascended into a blue sky shelter
    Towering belfrey home to the coos
    Soothing the heartbeat of our Sackville
    Generations have come and gone
    Now is just gone
    An iconic waypoint that welcomed one
    You are here
    On that blue sky back drop
    You fell into history
    The pigeons ascended and scattered
    One after another after another
    Their wings could not defy the death of gravity

    Town folk below gasped, disbelief.. she gone
    Some folk felt, what will be
    We must save this
    We must save that
    Salvaging memorable components
    Scavenging remnants after an earthquake

    Shattered and divided our town
    The coos silenced


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