More than two years after demolition of the former Sackville United Church, the town and one of its most persistent critics have struck an agreement to avoid a potential fight in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Louis Béliveau has agreed to pay the town $5,443 of the $13,947 that the courts ordered him to pay as a result of his unsuccessful attempts to challenge his dismissal as a volunteer member of the Sackville Heritage Board in January 2016.
In return for the partial financial settlement, Béliveau has agreed to withdraw his appeal to the country’s highest court in Ottawa.
Incentives to settle
“On a personal level, this is a great outcome financially,” Béliveau said in an e-mail to supporters who raised money for the settlement at an auction and fundraiser in August.
“The likelihood of the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case was very small in reality,” he added.
For his part, Mayor Higham says town council has agreed to accept Béliveau’s offer to settle although one or two minor steps will be needed to complete it.
“Council decided that it was a good idea,” Higham said, “and it looks like it’s working its way through the system.”
The mayor added that an appeal to the Supreme Court would have cost more money so there was an incentive for both sides to settle.
Dismissal from Heritage Bd
Town Council dismissed Béliveau from the Heritage Board after an investigator the town had hired accused him of misconduct. Moncton lawyer Kathleen Lordon published her findings in a $47,000 report that has never been released.
Court documents show that Lordon felt Béliveau should not have testified at a municipal appeal board on behalf of a citizens’ group. The group were seeking to overturn a permit allowing for demolition of the historic church.
Béliveau was a member of the Heritage Board when it issued the demolition permit in March 2015.
Members of the board had wrestled with the issue for about seven months as they and the developer, J.N. Lafford Realty, tried to reach agreement on a plan to salvage historic artifacts including the church’s unique stained glass windows.
Along the way, three board members resigned and others, including Béliveau, accused town councillors and municipal staff of interfering with their work.
A tale of two permits
Board members’ anger reached a boiling point after they thought they had voted for a demolition permit with salvage conditions attached only to find that then-councillor Ron Corbett had later signed and back-dated a revised permit with no salvage conditions. (Corbett was representing Town Council on the Heritage Board at the time and also acting as Board Chair.)
Béliveau said he decided to testify before the appeal board because he wanted people to know about the town’s interference.
In the end, the appeal board upheld the original demolition permit with salvage conditions attached, but when the church was torn down, some artifacts were lost including three of the four unique four-metre stained glass “rose” windows that were a special feature of the building.
After council removed him from the Heritage Board, Béliveau challenged his dismissal in the Court of Queen’s Bench, but Mr. Justice George Rideout ruled that the town had acted reasonably and ordered Béliveau to pay the town $11,447.46 to cover some of its legal costs.
Last June, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal upheld Rideout’s ruling and ordered Béliveau to pay $2,500 more.
Judging from his e-mail to supporters, Béliveau seems relieved that town council has accepted his settlement offer, but he also seems bitter.
“New Brunswick doesn’t have a justice system. It has a court system,” he writes. “This is what really should get media attention in this story.”