An Abbotsford woman has been ordered to pay her neighbour more than $65,000 after suggesting on Facebook that he was a pedophile.
The judge ruled this had a “devastating effect” on her neighbour’s life and career as a teacher.
Katherine Van Nes and her family have been neighbours of Doug Pritchard’s family since 2008. Since 2011, there have been tensions between them, starting when Van Nes and her husband installed a large fish pond in her backyard. Pritchard said the large structure, with two flowing waterfalls, began disrupting their sleep. He said the waterfall ran day and night, almost continuously, and in the summer it was too hot to close the windows to shut out the noise. He did complain to the municipality and Van Nes shut it off for a brief period in the summer of 2012.
After Pritchard began to complain to Van Nes about the waterfalls, the ruling says their relationship deteriorated. A number of incidents followed, which Pritchard said Van Nes did to interfere with “his use and enjoyment of his property.” These included late-night parties, allowing her sons to go into his yard without permission, allowing her dog to defecate in his backyard, and parking their vehicles to partially block his driveway.
By 2014, Pritchard had been working as a middle school music teacher for about three years.
On June 9, 2014, Van Nes took to Facebook to “vent” and posted two photos of Pritchard’s backyard saying:
“Some of you who know me well know I’ve had a neighbour videotaping me and my family in the backyard over the summers…. Under the guise of keeping record of our dog…
“Now that we have friends living with us with their 4 kids including young daughters we think it’s borderline obsessive and not normal adult behavior…
“Not to mention a red flag because Doug works for the Abbotsford school district on top of it all!!!!
“The mirrors are a minor thing… It was the videotaping as well as his request to the city of Abbotsford to force us to move our play centre out of the covenanted forest area and closer to his property line that really, really made me feel as though this man may have a more serious problem.”
Pritchard’s wife had hung a decorative mirror in their backyard.
Over the next 21 hours, Van Nes’ posting prompted 57 other posts from her and her friends, with some referring to Pritchard as a “pedo,” “creeper,” “nutter” and a “peeper.”
A friend of Van Nes’ also forwarded the post to the principal of the school where Pritchard works.
Van Nes took down the Facebook posts about 27 hours later.
However, copies of the post had been shared over Facebook and Justice Anthony Saunders wrote “The phrase ‘gone viral’ would seem to be an apt description.”
Pritchard said he felt like he lost the trust of parents and students and now dreads public performances with school music groups. He has cut back on his participation in extra-curricular activities and no longer finds teaching fun. He said he feels “awkward, humiliated and stressed when out in public, wondering who might know about the Facebook posts and whether they believe the lies that were told about him.”
He said he and his wife also felt threatened, as a short time after the posts the doorbell would ring late at night, their car was keyed and they found large rocks on their driveway and front lawn.
“I will say at the outset that the defendant’s allegations concerning Mr. Pritchard’s behaviour and these attacks on his character were completely false and unjustified,” wrote Saunders. “Mr. Pritchard has, as a consequence of the defendant’s thoughtless, reckless actions, suffered serious damage to his reputation.”
“An accusation of pedophilic behaviour must be the single most effective means of destroying a teacher’s reputation and career, not to mention the devastating effect on their life and individual dignity.
“He now faces the challenge of repairing the damage Ms. Van Nes has caused, if that is even possible at this point.”
Pritchard was awarded $50,000 in general damages, $15,000 in punitive damages and $2,500 for his nuisance claim.
Van Nes has also been ordered to turn off the waterfall in the backyard every night between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
They are still neighbours.