After 17 years, court battle over removal of hundreds of Denman Island trees comes to end

A long-running court battle involving the Denman Island Local Trust Committee that began when a landowner removed hundreds of trees without a permit is finally over.

On June 22, the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed a civil lawsuit by Francis Dean Ellis against the local committee and the Islands Trust Council and awarded costs to the defendants. Justice Paul Riley agreed with lawyers for the Islands Trust that the lawsuit was an effort to “relitigate issues conclusively determined against Mr. Ellis in prior proceedings to which he was a party.”

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The judge also dismissed the former landowner’s claim that the defendants were liable for negligence, nuisance and abuse of power in public office.

“We welcomed the judge’s ruling and are pleased to be awarded costs,” said Peter Luckham, chairman of the Islands Trust Council. “To date, the repetitive challenges to the court decision has cost taxpayers over $1 million.

“All of the challenges were successfully defended or dismissed.”

Court action between the Islands Trust and Ellis began in 2003. In the past 17 years, there have been a total of five separate proceedings connected to the dispute between Ellis and the local trust committee.

Ellis owned a property running along the coast, with a bluff dropping down to the ocean. A substantial portion of the property is included in the Komas Bluff development permit area and is subject to development restrictions under the authority of the Local Government Act.

The committee took Ellis to court after he removed hundreds of trees without a development permit. The unauthorized tree clearing caused a “landslip.”

In 2005, the B.C. Supreme Court made an order preventing Ellis from undertaking any more development in the buffer zone and requiring him to complete remediation work caused by his “incautious human activity.”

The court found that Ellis knew the property was within the Komas Bluff development permit area when he bought it and he intentionally violated the terms of the restrictions.

Ellis appealed and the Court of Appeal also found in favour of the committee.

Ellis then filed a petition challenging the alleged refusal of the committee to grant him a development permit. That was also rejected, on the basis that many of his complaints had already been decided against in the previous ruling. That decision was also upheld on appeal in 2016.

The committee eventually filed a petition asking the court to declare Ellis a vexatious litigant. On May 12, 2016, the court granted the order banning Ellis from beginning any further proceedings against the committee, its elected officials, council or employees.

However, the latest claim was already underway. It had been filed by Ellis in September 2009 and had been the subject of several rulings.

Lawyers for the Islands Trust argued that Ellis had failed to make his claims of nuisance, negligence and abuse of power.

The judge agreed, noting that there was no admissible evidence to support Ellis’s claims.

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