Two former Langley blueberry farmers will still have to pay a $2.9 million case that involved accusations of deliberately poisoned berry bushes, even after the B.C. Appeal Court overturned part of the original ruling.
In 2019, brothers Zora and Harminder Grewal were ordered to pay the damages to Malkiat Singh Baring and his wife Satwant Kaur Baring, essentially refunding part of the $5.5 million the Barings had paid to buy the Grewal’s 60-acre berry farm.
The original lawsuit centered on the allegation that the Grewals had sabotaged the farm before it was sold to the Barings, by spraying a potent weedkiller on mature blueberry bushes.
Under the Grewals, debt had forced the farm into foreclosure in 2017, and the sale was being handled by their lender, Farm Credit Canada.
The Barings were excited to be able to buy a farm in early summer, just as the berries would have been ready for harvest, giving them an immediate return on their investment.
But the Grewals fought the foreclosure in court for weeks. Then when the Barings did finally take possession on July 17, 2017 they found many of the bushes yellowing and dying.
“One day shortly before the farm was sold to the plaintiffs, in the early morning hours not long after midnight, another neighbour was awakened by the sound of a tractor working in the fields on the farm,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Gomery wrote in his 2019 ruling.
This is suspected to have been when Roundup weedkiller, was sprayed on the crops, late on July 13 or early July 14.
READ MORE: $2.9 million judgment in Langley blueberry sabotage lawsuit
Circumstantial evidence pointed to the Grewals brothers as the ones who sprayed Roundup on the fields, Gomery ruled.
With the bushes seriously damaged or dead, it would take years for the Barings to see a sizable crop, damaging the value of their investment.
Gomery ordered the Grewal brothers to pay the Barings $2.79 million, essentially as a refund on their purchase price, for losses to the crops and future losses, plus $150,000 in punitive damages.
Judges of the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Gomery was wrong to order the “price abatement” against the Grewals – but noted that the award was still reasonable under other grounds.
The contract the Barings signed to buy the land wasn’t with the Grewals, but with Farm Credit Canada, which had foreclosed on the blueberry farm. And there was no clause in the contract that allowed for an abatement – Gomery had noted in his original ruling that the farm was sold “as is.”
However, Gomery’s other rulings on the case, including that the damage was likely the result of a conspiracy, still stand, the Appeal Court ruled.
“There was ample evidence before the judge to conclude that one or the other of the appellants, as opposed to a stranger, had caused the damage to the farm,” Appeal Court Judge Peter Voith wrote in his Feb. 2 ruling.
Despite the fact that Gomery’s original ruling on financial penalties isn’t a “price abatement” or any sort of refund, it’s still owed to the Barings.
“To be clear, the respondents [the Barings] are entitled to $2,796,400 in damages and a further $150,000 in punitive damages,” Voith wrote.
“The judge’s cost order should not be disturbed,” he concluded.
Zora Grewal had also appealed the original ruling on a number of other issues, including claiming unfairness in the process, but the appeal court panel of three judges dismissed all of those.
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