Another chapter closes in demolition of Sackville United Church as Beliveau loses his appeal

Court of Appeal building, Fredericton

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court ruling that the Town of Sackville acted reasonably when it dismissed lawyer Louis Béliveau from his volunteer position on its municipal Heritage Board in January 2016.

In its written judgment released today, the Court of Appeal also upheld the $11,447.46 in court costs and photocopying fees that the lower court judge ordered Béliveau to pay and added another $2,500 in costs against him for the appeal.

Background

The case stemmed from the intense controversy surrounding the demolition of the Sackville United Church in September 2015.

Béliveau filed documents showing that in the months after Lafford Reality applied for a permit to demolish the church in August 2014, the Heritage Board wrestled with the issue before finally issuing the permit in March 2015.

Along the way, some Heritage Board members resigned while others, including Béliveau himself, clashed with town staff and accused the town of “blatant interference” in the board’s deliberations.

That prompted town council to hire Moncton lawyer Kathleen Lordon to investigate.

Her confidential report, issued privately to the town in September 2015, accused Béliveau of misconduct for testifying at an appeals tribunal on behalf of the community group trying to save the church after the Heritage Board had issued the demolition permit.

Today’s decision

In its unanimous decision, written by Madame Justice Kathleen Quigg, the Court of Appeal ruled that lower court judge, George Rideout, applied proper judicial standards in upholding Béliveau’s dismissal from the Heritage Board:

The Town of Sackville decided there was misconduct on Mr. Belliveau’s part. The judge agreed and found the Town’s actions, removing Mr. Béliveau from the Board, were reasonable.

Having regard to the application judge’s comprehensive reasons and his determination that the removal of Mr. Béliveau from the Heritage Commission was reasonable, I can find no justification to interfere. In fact, I am in substantial agreement with the essential features of the carefully considered reasons of the application judge.

Madame Justice Quigg also rejected Béliveau’s arguments that the lower court judge should not have imposed $9,000 in court costs against him:

At first glance, the costs awarded against Mr. Béliveau may appear to be on the high side but, considering this is a discretionary order made by the judge, we ought not interfere…The award was within the realm of the judicial exercise of his discretion.

Justice Quigg also dismissed Béliveau’s appeal against the $2,447.46 in disbursement fees, mainly to cover the town’s photocopying costs, that he has been ordered to pay. She ruled that the fees issue falls within the jurisdiction of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Moncton.

However, last October, when Béliveau attempted to appeal the disbursement fees in the lower court, a judge ruled he should take the matter up with the Court of Appeal.

To read my report on the Court of Appeal hearing in March, click here.

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11 Responses to Another chapter closes in demolition of Sackville United Church as Beliveau loses his appeal

  1. Demian Hammock says:

    If the Town of Sackville spent as much time and money trying to save the United Church in the Heart of Sackville as oppose to putting Mr. Béliveau in his so-called place as a volunteer on the Heritage Board, that Church would still be standing. The Town has its priorities wrong. Heritage and history, not vengeance and pettiness.

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  2. Rima Azar says:

    Sometimes in life, we do not need a judgment by Respectable Judges to know the truth. As we say well in my mother tongue, the truth never dies…The truth of the matter is that, sadly, this New Brunswick that I love dearly seems to be much more corrupt than Lebanon where I was born. I naively thought that it was a Sackville (and/or Moncton court?) issue at the municipal level only (a mixture of silly egos and corruption). I now think that corruption is much deeper and vicious…. At least in places like in Montreal or Laval or even in Tel Aviv, they hold their politicians accountable. At least in Beirut, people know that their politicians are corrupt…and they know who is in charge behind the scenes of democracy. Thanks to the ghost of the beautiful white United Church that opened my eyes…Bravo Louis for standing up for justice, even if justice was not served well. Bruce, I hope you will publish my comment. I trust you will, unlike our other media in town, which asked me once to censor a piece of opinion in order to publish it (whilst it did not shy away from publishing biased comments about Louis). My reply was not to publish then, arguing that my fellow citizens are smart. They can decide if they want to agree or to dismiss. I still believe this.

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  3. Erna Ricciuto says:

    I am very sad about the outcome of this appeal. I can’t believe the court system would punish someone for trying to be honest and reveal interference and corruption.

    I sat in on as many Heritage Board meetings that were available to the public (they had many incamera meetings that we were not allowed to attend) and I witnessed bullying by the town council representative towards the members that were trying their best to make sure proper procedures were followed and that heritage was in fact being carefully considered. It was unbelievable how the Heritage Board were forced to listen to the opinions of this person on how the Board should act.

    They were pushed to come to a quick decision and the local paper kept reporting on how they were taking so long to make a decision. I really feel they were not allowed to do their job properly and because of it many heritage pieces were destroyed and not salvaged. Because the town council and the town paper ganged up on the Heritage Board, they were pressured to make a decision without all the facts, and a proper Salvage Plan, even when they were advised by outside specialists to do so.

    Lafford Realty demolished history and historical artifacts without any consequences because the Heritage Board was not allowed to do their job to make them accountable. The Salvage Plan was not detailed enough and the large Rose stained glass windows were smashed along with many other artifacts.

    I feel very sad that Mr. Beliveau should be punished for trying to do what he felt was the right and honest thing to do. It seems no court wants to admit that the town council in Sackville did anything wrong. But they did! They interfered and wouldn’t let a Heritage Board that is all volunteer representatives do their jobs properly.

    They really wanted puppets to do what they wanted…tear down and build to make it look like things are happening in Sackville. The town should not make Mr. Beliveau pay this fine. They should make an apology to Mr. Beliveau.

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    • brucewark says:

      I received this comment today via e-mail from a correspondent who hoped I would post this letter to the editor regarding the story about the Sackville United Church:

      Dear Editor,

      Although I am neither a Sackville resident nor a particular aficionado of 19th century architecture, I read your article and the links within and was quite fascinated by this unusual kerfuffle over the Sackville United Chuch. I extract the following:

      The Town of Sackville was eager to knock down a 19th-century church so that a developer could erect an office building in its place, and began interfering with the Sackville Heritage Board in order to hasten its desired result. Several of the Heritage Board members pointed out that this was probably illegal. One, Mr Louis Beliveau, took it further and went to court.

      The Town of Sackville suggested that Mr Beliveau kindly shut up. Mr Beliveau did not shut up.

      When a community group appealed the decision to destroy the church, Mr Beliveau testified about the Town’s interference. The town was furious with Mr Beliveau for speaking out, and decided that the best course of action was to pay one of the top law firms in New Brunswick to produce a report. It’s not entirely clear what was in the report, because the Town decided that it should be a secret report, and regular Canadian citizens shouldn’t be allowed to see it.

      However, we do know this: the secret report stated that even if the Town probably did interfere in the Heritage Board’s affairs, Mr Beliveau should never have actually said so at a public hearing.

      The Town still rather hoped that Mr Beliveau would shut up and go away. He did not. Instead he asked why a government report on a local demolition permit should be secret from the public in the first place.

      The Town said absolutely not, the public must not see this report, because this is a secret report. So Mr Beliveau sued. The judge said that it would be okay for Mr Beliveau to see a copy of the report, but only if he promised not to tell anyone what he had seen.

      The Town fired Mr Beliveau from the Heritage Board, on the grounds that by speaking out at the community group’s appeal, he had committed misconduct.

      Mr Beliveau still refused to shut up. He sued at the Court of Queen’s Bench, and then again at the New Brunswick Court of Appeal. He lost. The Courts concluded:

      The secret report should definitely remain secret. (Queen’s Bench)

      The findings of the report ought not to be questioned by anyone, not even by the Court.

      Not only should Mr Beliveau be fired, he also ought to be punished for his impertinence.

      His punishment was set at $14,000.

      Mr Beliveau was asked to reimburse the town for the $2,447.46 it had spent on photocopying and stamps while fighting him.

      Mr Beliveau retorted that $2,447.46 was an ungodly amount of money to spend on photocopying and stamps, and asked for some receipts as proof. The Town said no way, Mr Beliveau should just take their word for it. The court agreed that this was fair.

      Although my the tone is tongue-in-cheek, this is an essential summary of the demise of the Sackville United Church.

      What was disturbing to me as an outsider is that the judgment reads in a matter-of-fact tone, without questioning the fundamentals; the implicit message it contains is: it’s business as usual to ban the public from viewing a taxpayer-funded report; it’s standard practice to discourage speaking out against irregularities in the system; unlike the rest of us, the government doesn’t have to show its receipts when claiming expenses, and the real problem here is that Mr Beliveau is a nuisance.

      All of this may be true, but that doesn’t mean any of it is a good idea.

      What’s clear to me is this: the Sackville United Church, may it rest in peace, is rather beside the point. The point is that the Canadian “system”, embodied by this particular configuration of municipal governance, municipal administration, and the judiciary, has produced a result that can only be called absurd.

      We teach our children that community volunteer work ought to be lauded, but Mr Beliveau has been punished.

      We teach them that it is right and commendable to speak out publicly when the system is unfair, but Mr Beliveau was fired and censured.

      We teach them that openness and honesty are good, but Mr Beliveau has been chided for suggesting that a taxpayer-funded report on government proceedings should be open to the public.

      Mr Beliveau undertook to serve his community as a Heritage Board volunteer, and spoke out with passion against the injustices he perceived. Is it a desirable result for our communities to punish those who choose to serve them? I would argue that it is not. And as Samuel Johnson said, the power of punishment is to silence, not to confute.

      Mr Beliveau has successfully been made to shut up. The Sackville United Church was destroyed. Let’s hope that Mr Beliveau’s public-minded spirit – and that of others like him — was not destroyed as well. The fabric of our communities depends on it.

      Regards from Dundas, Ontario,
      Showey Yazdanian

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      • Rima Azar says:

        What a beautifully written Letter to the Editor! It is thorough. It shows the detailed facts whilst reminding us of the underlying absurdity of this story. I particularly appreciated the part about the values transmitted to the next generation. Thank you Ms. Showey Yazdanian. Thank you Mr. Wark (or Bruce) for having published it.

        I would like to add that one key detail that was omitted in this fantastic Letter to the Editor and in all the links or publications on Warktimes (if I am not mistaken), including the Court of Appeal report (which is surprising to me, to say the least), is perhaps one of the most disturbing of all the details of this complex story: The Clerk of the Queen Bench Court (in Moncton) did not allow Louis Béliveau to see his file…I was a witness of this, twice even. To my sense, this is a VERY odd and highly disturbing detail. It goes against our basic Canadian citizens’ rights. My first thought then was: Even in the third world where I was born you see your file before your hearing…How do you prepare it then? How do you defend yourself?

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  4. Azi says:

    None of these was necessary. All could have been prevented and handled much better and taxpayers’ money could have been spent on better things if, instead of lawyers and an investigator, the then town councillors spoke to the past Heritage Board members in person and responded to the letters of Heritage Board members instead of hiring an investigator.
    So what is the conclusion after all of these judgments?! This story was/is not about Mr. Beliveau or the United Church .. it is about a community and whether they want to see their problems thoroughly, and whether they want to listen to critics or not? The very answer to these question makes me really sad.
    No, I don’t need a judgment by Respectable Judges to know the truth either.

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  5. Leyla Hajje says:

    This is an outrageous decision taken by the city against Mr. Beliveau who is a volunteer on the Heritage Board. This is corruption at its best unfortunately. How could they allow the demolishing of a heritage church that’s supposed to be part of a historical site in Sacksvilke. This decision to make Mr. Beliveau pay a huge amount of money should be revoked immediately.

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  6. Michel Raptis says:

    The animals- wolves, moose, and mice that live in New Brunswick live by instinct and in insecurity. One can be killed by the stronger.

    By way of contrast the people of New Brunswick live in a society, grouped in towns and villages and are subject to the rule of law. They do not live by instinct alone. A precondition for their sense of security is the conviction that the municipalities and the courts behave fairly and view the
    citizens with respect.

    It is not my intention to criticize this or that level of government, or this or that level of the justice system. Suffice to say for having spoken openly Mr Beliveau has received a freezer on his head, dropped from a height of 50 feet.

    How much dissent should a society tolerate? It makes for an interesting debate. One does observe that where civilized dissent abounds, so does economic dynamism witness France, Israel, and the United States. One dissents at one’s peril in Egypt, but that country has not produced a Microsoft either. These considerations might merit thought. In the short run Mr Beliveau has lost. Will New Brunswick gain?

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  7. Rima Azar says:

    Thank you Mr. “Michel Raptis” for your beautiful letter. I can only agree with the real issue you have raised: How much dissent should a society tolerate? A dissent used in all respect one must say, that is within our justice systems. It is also ironic that some other places in the world (that we would not imagine; I can name Lebanon as an example) allow dissent much more than New Brunswick. I feel like adding a couple of related comments: (1) In as much as your freezer image breaks my heart (well said, mind you!), I find that the $2,500 that Louis Béliveau was asked to pay in addition to the $11,500 is like a swinging freezer door in your image. One can wonder if this swinging freezer door is not our society’s way of saying: Shut up Mr. Béliveau once and for all? No, it is not only Louis Béliveau who is being made to shut up… I agree, it is us all through him/with him. Louis Béliveau happens to speak our two official languages and is a lawyer himself (elsewhere). What about other citizens who may lack the linguistic skills or do not have the money or the time to defend themselves? I worry about them (2). I am convinced that the best way to stop bullying around us (in our towns, in our schools, in our workplaces) is to denounce it whenever we see it… or not to agree to take part of it. I think this would be social justice in our own backyard (in contrast, perhaps, to other global or abstract concepts of social justice that we get overexcited about at times in our society). Thank you again, Mr. “Raptis”, from the bottom of my heart.

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    • Sally Anne says:

      Again. . . fighting for an inanimate object [abandoned church] seems like a true Don Quixote move in this day and age.. the absurdists like me have only to shake our heads and wonder how people would react to a real threat to their town, rather than waffle on about a building that’s gone and just a note in history now… oh my .. we do get a lot of bleeding hearts in this town.

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