NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A British Columbia woman has been ordered to pay more than $65,000 after making unfounded accusations over Facebook suggesting her neighbour was a pedophile who set up mirrors and cameras in his backyard to spy on her children.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that Katherine Van Nes's "viral'' online posts were "completely false and unjustified'' and had a devastating effect on Douglas Pritchard and his career as a middle-school music teacher.
In his ruling, Justice Anthony Saunders describes how the Abbotsford neighbours' relationship began to deteriorate after Pritchard approached Van Nes in 2011 about turning off a newly-built backyard pond and waterfall at night, which he said interrupted his wife's sleep.
Pritchard and his wife were eventually advised by the municipality to document their complaints after a series of worsening unneighbourly conduct by Van Nes and her family.
Posts were a form of 'venting'
The court document says those efforts, along with the installation of a decorative mirror, prompted Van Nes to take to Facebook, which she described as a form of "venting.''
Van Nes removed her defamatory comments after about 27 hours but the ruling says by then the damage had been done, including one member of the community contacting the principal of the school where Pritchard worked about the allegations.
"The seriousness of Ms. Van Nes's defamatory Facebook post, her replies, and the comments of her 'friends' cannot be overstated,'' Saunders writes.
"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.
"The seriousness of Ms. Van Nes's defamatory Facebook post, her replies, and the comments of her 'friends' cannot be overstated.''
"He now faces the challenge of repairing the damage Ms. Van Nes has caused, if that is even possible at this point.''
The judgment awards Pritchard $50,000 in general damages, $15,000 in punitive damages and $2,500 for his nuisance claim.
It also orders the Van Nes household to turn off the waterfall in the backyard pond nightly between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
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