A South Surrey couple who have been waiting for answers as to why their contract for moorage of their boat at Ward’s Marina was terminated by the City of Surrey will receive their ‘day in court’ on March 29.
But Karna and Gord Balsillie may have limited opportunity to tell their side of the story in an injunction brought against them by the city, judging by an initial hearing in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster last Friday (March 11).
Supreme Court Justice John Harvey adjourned the case for two weeks, due to the lack of a properly filed response from the couple.
Assistant city solicitor Benjie Lee told Harvey that Surrey’s case is based on authority granted under Section 274 of the Community Charter.
Under the section, a city is allowed to take legal action in Supreme Court to enforce or prevent contravention of a bylaw – without necessarily looking at why the bylaw may have been broken.
The city’s case is that the Balsillies’ moorage contract – due to run until Dec. 31, 2014 – was terminated by the city in September of that year and has not since been renewed.
The city’s petition claims that by continuing to moor 40-foot catamaran Elysium at Ward’s Marina – without payment of a moorage fee – the Balsillies are breaking Surrey’s Parks bylaw by “encumbering and obstructing part of a park.”
“We’ve tried to pay moorage fees, but the city returned the cheques to us,” Karna Balsillie – who represented herself and her husband at the hearing – told Peace Arch News.
The Balsillies have long maintained that, in the cancellation of their moorage contract, they were victimized by complaints from one or two individuals without being given a chance to respond to allegations that (among other things) they had breached the contract by living on their vessel and parking unauthorized vehicles beside the marina.
Due process laid out by the city for discussion and resolution of disputes has not been followed in their case, they charge, and requests for third-party arbitration have been ignored.
The Balsillies say correspondence they have on file shows that since the contract was terminated, they have been shuffled among seven different members of city staff without an opportunity to answer accusations that they had broken the contract.
They can also provide correspondence, they claim, that shows they tried, without success, to meet with Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner to plead their case.
Long-term tenants of the marina, the couple say they have received numerous letters of support from others who recognize their contributions, including providing help for boaters in distress and doing repair work after storms.
Both Lee and Harvey pointed out to Balsillie, however, that documents to support their position had not been correctly filed as exhibits, and that they have not submitted or filed affidavits – which means any evidence they have is currently “inadmissible.”
“Right now (the city’s petition) is, effectively, unopposed,” Harvey told Balsillie.
Balsillie, who said she had planned to ask for an extension of the case, told Harvey the couple cannot afford legal counsel at present.
In ordering a two-week adjournment, Harvey said that while he was reluctant to delay the case, “in fairness, I’m reluctant to go forward.”
But he gave the couple a deadline of March 22 to file legally acceptable documents – in time for the case to proceed on March 29 – and said that since the petition dated back to October, the Balsillies would not be given a second chance.
“You can’t come back to court and say we need more time,” he warned.
Following the hearing, Balsillie told PAN that a lawyer the couple had previously retained had said they should be able to argue their case effectively without him being present.
“We will definitely be seeking legal help, now,” Balsillie said.