An Abbotsford woman has been ordered to pay her neighbour more than $65,000 after suggesting he was a pedophile on Facebook.
The 2014 posts, which went viral in the community, alleged he spied on children via video camera and mirrors hung in his back yard.
The allegations, which a B.C. supreme court judge found today to be “completely false and unjustified,” spread quickly in the community, and were particularly damaging due to the subject’s position as a music teacher at the local middle school.
Court documents show the dispute began over a waterfall in Katherine Van Nes’ back yard, which neighbour Doug Prichard complained was noisy. He went to the municipality who asked him to document the problem with photo or video, which he did.
The ruling says that action, coupled with Prichard’s wife’s hanging of decorative “feng shui” mirrors in her yard and a series of escalating conflicts ended with Van Nes’ “venting” in the form of the accusatory posts.
“My neighbour has mirrors hanging outside his home…Doug also videotapes my kids in the backyard 24/7,” read one.
Another read “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,” and warned readers that Prichard worked at a local school.
The ruling details how the posts were quickly shared, replicated, and commented on, and Prichard was labelled “pedo”, “creeper”, “scumbag”, by many online.
It also details how the allegations also spread to the principal at Prichard’s school who expressed concern, and parents at the school who became reticent to leave their kids alone with him.
The ruling notes the posts were deleted about 27 hours later, after Prichard and his wife made complaint to police, but not before the judge says Prichard’s reputation had been seriously tarnished.
“The seriousness of Ms. Van Nes’ defamatory Facebook post, her replies, and the comments of her “friends” cannot be overstated. An accusation of paedophilic 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.”
Van Nes must now shell out $50,000 in general damages with a further $15,000 in punitive damages – plus an extra $2,500 in damages for nuisances related to the waterfall and minor neighbourly conflicts.