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Bitter Sandspit neighbour case ends in court after years of feuding

The defendants were awarded a total of $230,000 in damages on July 28 by the B.C. Supreme Court
A long-running neighbour dispute went to the B.C. Supreme Court on July 28. (Kaitlyn Bailey/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Sandspit residents Gordon Usher and Patricia Parsons have been awarded a total of $230,000 for damages in a neighbourly dispute that has lasted nearly two decades.

When plaintiffs Edward and Diane Gokey moved to the small town of Sandspit on Haida Gwaii in 1997, they were initially on friendly terms with their new neighbours, Usher and Parsons. The couples had dinners, borrowed tools from each other and the husbands went on fishing trips.

Since then, years of tension, threats and alleged assaults have led to a curious court case, settled on July 28 in the Prince Rupert courthouse.

As is the case in many neighbour disputes, most complaints were minor aggravations, such as crab shells in the compost, strong smells of marijuana, property line violations and other menial disputes.

However, one major event stood out — an altercation between the two men on April 14, 2015. Gokey said Usher came onto his lawn and “backhanded” him. Usher claimed he was on Gokey’s property to get him to shut off a loud alarm and serve court papers and was actually assaulted by Gokey.

The assault claim was also dismissed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Punnett, who said Gokey “likes to be perceived as a ‘tough guy.’”

Because most of the claims were hearsay, Punnett’s judgements were primarily based upon his assessment of the witnesses’ credibility. The judge sided with Usher and Parsons noting Parsons’ “detailed records” helped sway him.

Much of the punitive damages were from the “various sources” of smoke that Gokey produced on his property, which Punnett deemed to be acts of intimidation. For the stress Gokey caused, which exacerbated stress Usher was already under due to cancer treatment, the judge awarded Usher $10,000. Parsons was awarded $15,000 due to her testimony of the large amounts of stress Gokey’s presence caused her in particular.

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Gokey, who represented himself and his spouse, made numerous claims about the actions of Usher and Parsons, including getting “hosed down” by Usher, him leaving threatening voicemails, a sign he claimed the other couple put up saying “Dead Ed” and physical assault. Punnett found that none of these allegations from Gokey were backed up by sufficient evidence.

Punnett said that Gokey, who lives part-time in Sandspit and mostly in Washington State, “presented as an individual who sees matters favourable to his view of himself” and that he “knowingly mischaracterizes events.”

The disputes started in 2004 when the neighbours decided to share a well and water system together.

When Gokey would return to live in Sandspit, Usher and Parsons claimed that he was affecting their water pressure, even cutting them off from their own water supply. In the years following, the well continued to be an area of contention, with Gokey claiming Usher and Parsons’ dogs contaminated their water supply.

This was not the first time the two couples had gone to court, as the Sandspit residents traded claims and counterclaims since 2011 when Usher and Parsons first made a claim against Gokey for well structure damage.

A provincial court action in 2014 had Usher and Parsons accusing the Gokeys of meddling with their well system, while the Gokeys claimed their trees were being poisoned and smoke damage was made to their mobile home.

The Gokeys claimed they were incessantly photographed and videotaped by the defendants and were stalked by them.

In another bizarre twist in the case, Gokey had apparently made lewd signs referencing a disturbing sexual assault case that had occurred in Parsons’ family.

The $230,000 in damages awarded to Usher and Parsons included nuisance, trespassing, assault, punitive and aggravated damages. The judge also ruled that a permanent injunction, including no communication at all from Gokey, was suitable.

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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