B.C. communal living turns sour as 'off-grid' couples end up in court battle | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. communal living turns sour as 'off-grid' couples end up in court battle

Rachel and Michael McKerracher.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK: The Grid Pickers

It was supposed to be a communal living arrangement whereby two couples could peacefully coexist on a 42-acre piece of land where they could live out their "unconventional lifestyle" off the grid.

However, while the merits of Rachel and Michael McKerracher and Jacob and Callandra Neustater's lifestyle may sound appealing, less than 18 months after the couples bought their riverside property, things fell apart – leading to threats of violence, a slanderous poster campaign and accusations of purposely throwing chicken carcasses into the river.

Ultimately, the couples ended up in a vicious court battle.

The details of the dysfunctional relationship were laid out over an 11-day court hearing where the McKerrachers sued the Neustaters for trespass and defamation.

In turn, the Neustater's countered the claim and said they were the ones who were defamed.

According to a March 10 B.C. Supreme Court decision, the two couples left Saskatchewan and Manitoba feeling that the prairies were too conservative for their alternative lifestyles.

"The (McKerrachers) were part of a community of like-minded individuals who promoted and lived an 'off the grid' alternative lifestyle. They met and became friends with the (Neustaters), who were also part of that community," Justice Marguerite Church said in the decision.

The two couples were good friends and the McKerrachers' band, The Grid Pickers, toured western Canada with Callandra Neustater as their support act.

Feeling like they all wanted the same thing, the couples started looking for land in B.C. to live communally.

In 2016, the couples bought land outside Quesnel and each built themselves a home.

While the two couples split the cost of the $65,000 property nothing had ever been drawn up in writing about a vision for the property or what their expectations were for living communally.

"For a few months at least, life was good for the two families," the Justice said. "Unfortunately, this state of affairs did not last and cracks soon began to appear in their friendship."

The couples disagreed about the state of the property with the Neustaters' feeling that the McKerrachers were failing to keep the property clean and tidy, and were leaving debris and derelict vehicles lying around.

The McKerrachers felt their neighbours were controlling and micro-managing.

The situation came to a head when in September 2017 the McKerrachers had some friends over to celebrate Michael McKerracher's birthday.

On the same day, the Neustaters slaughtered multiple chickens at their home and threw the carcasses into the river, where some of the McKerracher's friends were swimming.

The Neustaters said they didn't realize there were people swimming in the river and if they'd known about the party, they wouldn't have slaughtered the chickens on that day.

A barrage of offensive and threatening text messages between the two men followed.

"This is your last warning, if I find another chicken I tie it to a brick," McKerracher texted to Neustater before calling him a "wannabe Viking bush loser."

"These events only served to heighten the already tense relationship between the two families," the Justice said. "The issue with respect to the chicken carcasses continued to be a source of conflict."

While the two men tried to patch things up, any attempt to mediate an end to the dispute fell apart.

The animosity between the two couples continues and an issue over a new padlock put on a gate escalated the hostility.

McKerracher texted Neustater "this is war dude."

Shortly afterwards Callandra Neustater gave birth to another child and the couple decided it was no longer safe for them to live on the property and moved into Quesnel. They proposed the property be subdivided and they would sell their piece.

The McKerrachers refused to subdivide the land.

"We got into this land agreement with verbal contracts because both of you told us you had politics that had to do with community accountability instead of legal accountability," the McKerrachers said in an email. "We are now holding you to that because those verbal contracts have now been broken several times over."

The McKerrachers wanted to hold a community meeting as "an exercise in community justice" and told the Neustaters they would have to agree to whatever outcome is decided.

The McKerrachers then offered to purchase the land for $15,000.

While the two couples were now living apart, the situation between them wasn't getting better.

Michael McKerracher sent several messages threatening violence.

"You have until 12 noon Friday to tell me how you want this to end. If I hear nothing... I will guarantee you that I WILL destroy your whole life and everything you own," read one message.

The Neustaters began to get scared for their family and contacted the RCMP about the text messages.

They also said they saw a white van driving slowly past their house multiple times and somehow the McKerrachers knew their new address, although they hadn't told anybody.

Shortly afterwards, posters appeared around Quesnel that featured photographs of the Neustaters under the heading "Police Informants."

The posters contained their names, phone numbers and address and went on to say: "They are known to infiltrate communities in British Columbia as well as Manitoba. They are known to extort families by threatening Child and Family Services and RCMP unless money is paid."

The posters were also spread around social media.

The Neustater's posted their own blurb on social media defending themselves.

Shortly after the poster was put up, the Neustaters got an email from a group called the 3rd Avenue Collective.

The groups claimed to have put up the posters calling itself an "anonymous group of individuals, part of an anarchist collective."

"We know who you are, we know you have been involved in radical, activist communities and now we know you are rats. Therefore we are doing our duty as good members of the anarchist community. You should be ashamed of yourselves," reads the email.

The lengthy 61-page court document goes through the history of multiple social media posts and emails from both sides asking to take the posters down.

More negotiations over the land continued and the Neustater's offered $32,500 paid at $500 a month.

"Efforts to negotiate a purchase of the defendants’ one-half interest in the property were ultimately unsuccessful, and each couple blamed the other for the breakdown of their relationship and the impact on their use and enjoyment of the property," Justice Church wrote in the decision.

At the beginning of 2018, legal proceedings started with the McKerrachers sending a cease and desist letter demanding social media posts be removed and replaced with an apology.

Weeks later the couple file their defamation suit in the Supreme Court.

But even the litigation got off to a ropey start, as the McKerrachers had a strained relationship with the Neustater's lawyer causing multiple delays.

Even the judge admitted she'd made a mistake by allowing a report about document authentication to be submitted as evidence.

A witness supposed to be an expert in authentication admitted she wasn't an expert, had no training or qualifications and had no expertise in that field.

While the McKerrachers had initiated the court battle and were suing the Neustaters for defamation, the Justice ultimately sided with the defendants.

"Although the (Neustaters) used direct and strong language in the (social media post), the words she used did not go beyond countering the posters," the Justice said.

The Justice found the McKerrachers' poster had defamed the Neustaters.

The Justice also threw out a claim by the McKerrachers that the Neustaters had vandalized their vehicle and for trespass.

Ultimately, the McKerrachers lost their case and the Neustaters won their counterclaim.

The Judge awarded $2,000 to the Neustaters to be paid by the McKerrachers.

The couples have since sold the property for $80,000.

READ MORE: Kelowna 'Crown Jewel' latest battlefield for Callahan brothers in $300 million family feud

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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