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North Okanagan man's threats, bizarre lawsuits don't go quite as planned

Salmon Arm Law Courts
November 20, 2017 - 8:00 PM


FALKLAND - A North Okanagan man who called his neighbours such colourful insults as "gobbledegook-hokum-(bully)" in a lawsuit against his neighbours and others was ordered to pay more than $27,000 in damages last month following a complicated dispute dating back to 2009.

The long and confusing court case — which revolves around a property line dispute spanning several years and multiple lawsuits — is laid out in a pair of recent judgements in Salmon Arm Supreme Court.

In an Oct. 23 ruling on damages, Justice Hope Hyslop said the dispute began years ago when the defendant, Bell Stanko Birkich, moved back onto his family’s Falkland property. Previously, the Birkich family had a good relationship with their neighbours, Hyslop said, but “this all ended when the defendant moved back.”

Birkich first filed a claim against neighbours Ali Aly and Tim Laponder in 2009 for half the cost of a land survey — an action that was ultimately dismissed with costs. He commenced another action in 2013 against a number of individuals, including neighbours, the Canadian National railway, and Ministry of Highways. In that claim (which uses strange grammar) Birkich appears to describe one defendant as a “gobbledegook-hokum-(bully)” and another as a “claptrap-twaddle-(goose).” Again, the judge dismissed the action and ordered Birkich to pay special costs. Later in 2013, Birkich started another claim, this time against dog control and two neighbours.

“The claim makes no sense. At best it may be about pedigreed livestock,” Hyslop said. “It appears from all of these lawsuits, amongst other matters, that the defendant in this lawsuit, Mr. Birkich, believes that the Laponder fences encroach upon the Birkich Property. The evidence is to the contrary.”

Over the years, there were various confrontations between Birkich and his neighbours, including one occasion in 2014 when he threatened a man with a knife (he was charged and convicted for uttering threats.)

“At one point in time, a townhome meeting was called by neighbours, including Mr. Laponder, in which the RCMP were invited so the neighbours could express their concern about the defendant,” Hyslop said.

In 2016, Mr. Laponder confronted Birkich about destroying his fence and cutting down his trees. Birkich admitted to the acts. It is that incident that forms the basis of the latest lawsuit, in which the Laponders sued Birkich for more than $55,000 in loss of trees, trespass damage, loss of income and punitive damages.

Hyslop said Birkich’s response to the Laponder claim was “bizarre and unintelligible” consisting of lines like “may the force of the Bible be with you.”

In a separate judgement related to the same lawsuit, Justice Hyslop describes how Birkich didn’t show up to a portion of the trial. According to court documents, he called in to say he was sick and wouldn’t make it. Later, the court phoned him and a man answered, then hung up. Shortly after that, Birkich’s mother called to say her son went to the hospital. Hyslop, clearly suspicious of the story, had the court sherrif make inquiries at hospitals in Vernon, Salmon Arm, Kamloops and Kelowna. There was no record of Birkich having been admitted to any of those hospitals. That afternoon, Birkich called the courthouse and told Hyslop he was sick but hadn’t gone to the hospital. Hyslop did not find his story convincing.

“Prior to receiving this telephone call, I was convinced that Mr. Birkich was not truthful about being sick. My discussion with him on the afternoon of October 5 further convinced me that he was being untruthful,” Hyslop said in an Oct. 6 decision on whether or not the trial would proceed in his absence. “He is doing his utmost to prevent this trial from continuing.”

During the trial, Hyslop heard testimony from a land surveyor and ruled that Birkich had in fact trespassed on the Laponder property. She awarded damages of $7,000 for the fence, $400 for the trees, and $20,000 in punitive damages, noting his behaviour was a “marked departure from the ordinary standards of decency.” Hyslop also ordered an injunction prohibiting Birkich from entering his neighbours property.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston 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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