Judge awards $50K to couple who suffered 'extreme' racial harassment from neighbour

A Laval man has been ordered to pay his neighbours more than $50,000 after a dispute over noise that started 16 years ago devolved into racist name calling and relentless harassment.

Judge notes defendant's 'total lack of remorse' taken into consideration

Montreal courthouse (Martin Thibault/Radio-Canada)

A Laval man has been ordered to pay his neighbours more than $50,000 after a dispute over noise that started 16 years ago devolved into racist name calling and relentless harassment.

Daniel Noel's insults, which were recorded on a cell phone, included calling his neighbour a "wife beater," a "terrorist" and a "stupid immigrant."

Quebec's Superior Court found that Noel, a retired former owner of an industrial fabric company, embarked on a campaign to make life so miserable for his neighbours that they had no option other than to move out.

"Mr. Noel did not hide that objective," Justice Peter Kalichman said in a decision handed down earlier this month.

His means to that end included calling the RCMP and immigration officials to question his neighbours' citizenship status, calling their professional order and academic institution to question their qualifications and calling the local media to suggest a journalist investigate their backgrounds which he called "fake."

Escalating tensions

Elie El-Chakieh and Hellen Christodoulou, both trained engineers, had lived in their home in Laval-sur-le-Lac, located on the western tip of Laval, for several years before Noel moved in in 2000. While the relationship was initially cordial, it quickly devolved and the neighbours each brought complaints against the other to the city for bylaw violations.

The two parties entered into mediation and the intensity cooled briefly, but the situation became explosive again when the engineers started renovations on their home in 2010.

Noel became increasingly bothered by the noise and construction materials on his neighbour's property as well as the fact that the couple was completing the work on weekends, according to a summary of events included in the judgment.

The personal attacks mounted and El-Chakieh, who is of Lebanese descent, started recording his interactions with his neighbour on his cellphone. The taped encounters, presented to the court as evidence, include Noel hurling insults that included "T'es pas un Quebecois , toi… you came here in a container" and "You're in al-Qaeda. . .You look like a terrorist."

Court documents show Noel also called his neighbour a pedophile, accused him of having a mental illness and accused him of spousal abuse.

'Low, vile and repugnant'

The judge in the case pointed out that Noel's attacks were centred on his belief that the couple didn't belong in Laval-sur-le-Lac and that they "didn't fit in the picture." He said neighbours surrounding their homes hated the couple and told them they were the "laughing stock of the town."

"Mr. Noël's attacks on the plaintiffs, and especially Mr. El-Chakieh, are low, vile and repugnant," Justice Peter Kalichman wrote in his decision.

"They deliberately target the identity and sense of belonging of the applicants. Mr. Noel says that the plaintiffs do not belong in Laval-sur-le-Lac, or even in Canada. His racist remarks are full of hatred and contempt."

The couple describe feeling like they were prisoners in their own home, afraid to go outside for fear they may encounter their neighbour.

They launched a lawsuit against Noel in 2011, asking the court for $30,000 for pain and suffering and another $10,000 in additional damages.

Noel counter sued for more than $50,000, claiming that he was a victim of harassment and that his neighbours had installed surveillance cameras to spy on himself and his wife. The couple said the cameras were installed to monitor their property because construction materials had gone missing. He also claimed that El-Chakieh had filed false accusations with the city against him

El-Chakieh had filed four complaints with the city, which the judge noted did not help the situation, but there is no evidence that he was at fault for doing so. 

At a hearing in November, Noel "showed no remorse," and continued to threaten El-Chakieh, saying "it doesn't finish here" and he has "friends in Ottawa and Quebec." He also repeated his assertion that he believed his neighbour could be engaged in terrorism.

In ruling in favour of the couple, the judge noted that the "the intensity, the virulence, the cruelty and the vile and heinous nature of the attacks are extreme. The complete absence of remorse must also be taken into consideration."

He ordered Noel to pay $49,500 in damages, plus interest dating back to 2011, to the couple as well as legal fees. He has until May 10 to file an appeal.