Fire with fire: 8-year legal feud began with arson attempt

In 2011, Susan Eks tried to set fire to her neighbour's house while the family slept inside. Now Eks says she's the one being victimized.

Convicted of trying to burn her neighbour's house down in 2011, Susan Eks is now suing for $100K

Susan Eks was convicted of trying to set fire to Kerri Tadeu's house. Eks is now suing Tadeu, alleging malicious prosecution, harassment and intentional infliction of mental suffering. The trial begins Wednesday in a Kingston, Ont., court. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A Kingston, Ont., woman who tried to set fire to her neighbour's house while the family slept inside says she's now the one being victimized. 

Susan Eks was convicted in March 2012 of attempted arson endangering life and mischief to property after she tried to set fire to Kerri Tadeu's house in the middle of the night. 

The incident followed a confrontation between the two women on Sept. 25, 2011, over Eks's name and phone number being listed as part of a neighbourhood watch program.

According to an affidavit sworn by Tadeu in December, Eks was "incoherent and intoxicated" when she first confronted her about the list.

"Eks then told me, 'You put my name on the list again and I'm going to f--king kill you.' She then backed away to her driveway and went into her house," Tadeu said.

Smiley face burned in grass

The next morning, Tadeu discovered black marks around the foundation of her home, as well as a smiley face burned into the grass near her children's play area.

According to court documents, investigators said dew on the grass prevented the fire from spreading to the home.

I felt I had earned the right to be free of her.- Susan Eks

Eks was arrested and admitted to the crimes. She was given a suspended sentence and three years' probation on the conditions that she seek treatment and counselling, and abstain from alcohol. 

By the time of her sentencing, Eks had moved to a different Kingston neighbourhood.

In a twist, Eks is now suing Tadeu for a total of $100,000, alleging malicious prosecution, harassment and intentional infliction of mental suffering.

That trial, which follows several years of bitter legal wrangling between the two women, begins Wednesday in Kingston.

Blamed depression

According to an affidavit sworn by Eks in January, she was "very ill" and depressed at the time of her crimes.

"My depression was characterized by negative behaviour, self doubt and when coupled with alcohol, aggression," Eks said in the affidavit.

In October 2012, Tadeu sued Eks for additional damages related to the 2011 incident. The matter was settled out of court.

According to Eks's affidavit, the settlement of the civil suit came as a "tremendous relief."

But that wasn't the end of it. 

According to Tadeu's affidavit, in January 2016 Eks parked her car across the street from Tadeu's home and stared at her.

"Any normal person would know that returning to the street where such serious life threatening crimes were committed ... and proceeding to stare at the victim and other persons at the victim's household, would be upsetting and provocative," said Tadeu in her affidavit.

Affidavits of Kerri Tadeu and Susan Eks. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Emotional distress

Eks disputes Tadeu's take, however, and said she was there to pick up her friend who lives nearby. 

Following the incident, Tadeu filed a peace bond application to keep Eks away from the street, but she missed the court date and the matter was thrown out.

Eks claims the application caused her emotional distress.

Tadeu said the eight-year ordeal has caused her mental anguish, too. Following Eks's arson attempt, Tadeu said she became extremely fearful for the safety of herself and her family. She began sleeping in the same room as her children "for fear that something could happen to them at night."

Nor was it the first time Tadeu had been the victim of crime: When she was 11, she was abducted and sexually assaulted by a stranger. She kept the "near death experience" a secret for more than 20 years but in 2011 came forward and testified in court against her abductor. 

Tadeu continues to help other victims of crime through her volunteer work on victim advisory committees for Correctional Service of Canada and Parole Board of Canada.

'The lowest point in my life'

For her part, Eks said she suffered severe mental stress after Tadeu launched the civil suit against her in 2012.

"It was the lowest point in my life up until then as my actions jeopardized our life savings," Eks said in her affidavit. She also expressed frustration that her acceptance of responsibility for her actions seemed "meaningless."

I want, and indeed I need, Eks to stay away from me.- Kerri Tadeu

On the night she was served papers for the civil suit, Eks said she purposely overdosed on pills, landing her in hospital for nearly two weeks.

Eks said that when she was released from hospital she learned Tadeu had visited her new neighbourhood to hand out copies of a newspaper article about her conviction.

"I felt shame, humiliation and fear," Eks said. "I felt I had earned the right to be free of her."

Tadeu also said she wants to be rid of her former neighbour once and for all.

"I want, and indeed I need, Eks to stay away from me," Tadeu said. 

$75K countersuit

Tadeu has now launched a fresh countersuit against Eks, and is seeking $75,000 in damages.

The hearing is expected to last two days.

Ottawa lawyer Rod Escayola said proving malicious intent will be difficult for Eks, given the attempted arson. 

He said this case is unusual because matters like this are normally settled before they go to trial.

"A good settlement is one where both sides are equally unhappy, but in this case I suspect that one side wants complete vindication and the other side has nothing to offer that could bring that," Escayola said.

About the Author

Robyn Miller

Journalist

Robyn Miller is a multi-platform journalist at CBC Ottawa. She has also worked at CBC in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.