Saturday, April 08, 2006

Legal Nightmare has Gripped the Condominium Property

In the shocked story from "The Globe And Mail" Peter Cheney wrote:

Peggi Lepage and Mark Mainguy appear to have all the ingredients of the good life, downtown Toronto-style: She's an ex-model who now works "on the other side of the camera," as they say. He's a television commercial director who had a film selected at Sundance. They have a cool place to live -- a sixth-floor condo with a living room set in the bell tower of a former Anglican church.

But there's a catch. That would be the 15-year dispute with their neighbour, Major Keyvan Nourhaghighi, a self-described former Iranian Air Force fighter pilot and amateur legalist who spends his days pursuing his own unique brand of justice.

Mr. Nourhaghighi has waged legal action against everyone from Canada's federal spy agency to the Toronto police force (which he accuses of torturing him) to Transport Canada (which he suspects of trying to kill him by sabotaging a private aircraft he flew from the Buttonville airport).

Unfortunately for Ms. Lepage, Mr. Mainguy and their fellow condominium owners, Mr. Nourhaghighi has also fixed his legal crosshairs on the building he shares with them. The fight between him and the condominium at 456 College St. has now raged for a decade and a half. "There's nothing normal about it," Mr. Mainguy says.

The legal battle has had many consequences. The value of Ms. Lepage's unit may have plunged by more than $100,000. One building official estimates the legal costs at close to $200,000.

And the tab keeps mounting. Just before Christmas, Ms. Lepage and Mr. Mainguy (along with the residents of the other 88 units in the building) paid a "special levy" to help defray the costs of defending the condominium building against Mr. Nourhaghighi's ongoing legal action. In Ms. Lepage and Mr. Mainguy's case, the levy came to $900.

Stress levels have red-lined -- one building official nearly burst into tears when asked about the case. "You have no idea," she said. "It's insane."

Earlier this week, Mr. Nourhaghighi met with a visitor to discuss his case. At 60, he still has the trim, intense presence of the F-4 Phantom jet pilot he says he once was. For more than an hour, he outlined his grievances, laying the blame for the building's legal woes entirely on the shoulders of his opponents, which include the management, many of his neighbours and the condominium board.

"They have never shown interest in having an honourable board," he said. "The people of Iraq supported Saddam Hussein, and then they suffered. . . . The people of Germany gave their vote to Hitler, and they suffered. Their country was destroyed. And these people are foolishly supporting the board."

Mr. Nourhaghighi carries with him a phone-book-sized legal dossier festooned with densely inscribed Post-It notes. "I have many powerful enemies to fight," he said.

His costs are limited, since he represents himself. Asked how many days he has spent in court on his action against the condominium building, Mr. Nourhaghighi said he lost count long ago: "Many," he said. "Many, many, many."

Mr. Nourhaghighi is no stranger to the courts. From his small sixth-floor unit, he has waged legal action against a list of opponents that includes Transport Canada, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Queen, judges, prosecutors, police officers, jail guards, lawyers and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. He has also gone up against both CSIS (the Canadian spy agency) and SIRC (the agency that oversees it).

In 1997, Mr. Nourhaghighi was declared a "vexatious litigant" by an Ontario judge. The order against him means that he cannot file new lawsuits in Ontario without applying for court approval, but it doesn't prevent him from continuing with existing suits, filing appeals -- or asking for court approval to file new suits.

His legal siege against the condo development began in 1991, when he filed a complaint with the Ontario New Home Warranty Program shortly after buying his unit, charging that the building was improperly constructed. This complaint turned out to be the legal equivalent of the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand: Since those early days, the battle has produced thousands of documents and consumed untold court time, with no end in sight.

Mr. Nourhaghighi's legal action includes a long list of allegations. In court documents, he charges that water leaks and improper ventilation have created a health hazard. Although this would seem like a relatively straightforward matter, fixing it to his satisfaction has so far proved impossible. There have been air-quality reports, followed by counter-reports. There have been legal protests over every minute detail, from the qualifications of plumbers to the timing of repairs to the way that documents have been delivered -- when papers were slipped under his door, Mr. Nourhaghighi filed a protest, characterizing it as a trespass.

Mr. Nourhaghighi's suit also alleges that there has been fraud in the condominium's accounting, that the heating system was sabotaged to disrupt his son's wedding, that "spying equipment" had been installed around his unit.

Condo residents are mystified at Mr. Nourhaghighi's ability to keep the legal ball aloft. "It never ends," Mr. Mainguy says.

But Mr. Nourhaghighi sees himself as a crusader against injustice. His determination has been documented again and again. He pursued a years-long battle against the federal Minister of Immigration, for example, over his application for Canadian citizenship. As part of his court action, he demanded that the minister's court pleadings be dismissed as an "abuse of process," and demanded psychiatric evaluation of the minister's counsel. His court action continued even after his citizenship was granted. In 2003, his action was dismissed, and the judge characterized his allegations as "groundless personal attacks."

He also filed a complaint against Transport Canada, charging that the agency had orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy designed to prevent him from obtaining an airline pilot's licence. The complaint was dismissed.

He also battled the Canadian Human Rights Commission and a long list of private companies, including banks and telecom firms, charging that they had wronged him. The case was dismissed in 2001, and Mr. Nourhaghighi was ordered to pay costs of $500. He appealed the case, but the appeal was dismissed in 2004. (Mr. Nourhaghighi was ordered to pay a further $750 in costs.)

In 1997, Ontario Court Judge Vibert Lampkin convicted Mr. Nourhaghighi of assaulting a courtroom guard during a previous trial on a traffic offence. In his ruling, Judge Lampkin described a courtroom scene that sounds like something written by Lewis Carroll. "His behaviour during the course of this trial was often outrageous and showed a glimpse of his character," the judge wrote of Mr. Nourhaghighi. "He claims to be a devout, religious man. Yet he is quick to tell [Crown prosecutor] Mr. Scott that his mother was a whore, and further that Mr. Scott had received a bribe of $60,000 from Mr. Nourhaghighi's condominium corporation, all without a scintilla of proof of such allegations. He has called Judge Graham [the trial judge] corrupt and alleged that he was involved in a conspiracy.

"Mr. Nourhaghighi sees a conspiracy behind every door. The doctor at the Don Jail, his lawyer, his condominium corporation, two hospitals, several judges including some at the appellate level, and on and on. Indeed, in the course of the trial, he has stated that I am part of the conspiracy, notwithstanding the fact that prior to June 12, 1996, the date of the commencement of this trial, I had neither seen nor heard of him."

The judge provided an insight into what it was like to deal with Mr. Nourhaghighi in the courtroom: "This case of simple assault was a most difficult case to try. Some might even say it was an impossible case. It should have taken a few hours. At the very outside, perhaps a day. In fact, the evidence was taken over the course of 11 days including a lengthy voir dire . . ."

Judge Lampkin laid the blame for the delays on Mr. Nourhaghighi: ". . . the bulk of the difficulty stemmed from his argumentative nature and hostility to the Crown, the witnesses, the officer in charge of the case, and to me. On some days very little evidence was actually taken because most of the day was taken up dealing with his interminable applications of one sort or another, almost all of which had no merit.

"Mr. Nourhaghighi's entire performance during this trial leaves me with no doubt that his intention was to delay and abort the trial. His constant attempts to 'disqualify' me from the case or have me recuse myself because he has filed proceedings against me and reported me to the Judicial Council, hoping that I would declare that there is a conflict of interest between us, is enough corroboration for me to form that opinion. And of course, if I acceded to his requests, he would carry on the same way before the next trial judge and so on ad infinitum with the result that there would never be a trial."

The residents of Mr. Nourhaghighi's condominium building find themselves similarly fatigued by his tenacity. "We're all working," Mr. Mainguy says. "We don't have time to deal with this, so we have to pay lawyers, and it never gets settled."

In fact, because he is a member of the condominium corporation, part of Mr. Nourhaghighi's fees are used to pay the legal bills for his own action -- an irony that has not escaped him: "They think with lawyers they can fight me, but no, they can't," he says. "They will just pay from my pocket to the lawyer to fight with me."

In February, a special meeting of the condominium corporation members was called. Mr. Nourhaghighi's lawsuit was the only topic of discussion. Many residents were angry at the financial drain on the condominium corporation, and demanded to know why the matter couldn't be concluded.

"Where did our money go?" one resident yelled. "Who stole it?"

"It was just ranting and raving," Ms. Lepage says.

The conflict has hurt the value of the property. Last year, Ms. Lepage resolved to sell her unit. She had hoped that her unit would be worth close to $400,000, but an agent told her that she would be lucky to get $275,000, because buyers had been alerted to the legal nightmare that has gripped the property.

So Ms. Lepage has taken a philosophical approach to the issue. Although some residents have had confrontations with Mr. Nourhaghighi, she speaks to him when she runs into him in the elevator. "He seems to think he's doing the right thing," she says. "It's a drag, but things happen. Life isn't fair."

Mr. Nourhaghighi says he has devoted a great deal of his life to learning the law out of necessity. "I know Canadian culture, what type of people you are. You people do not have courage to fight with strong people. . . .You people are cowards, attacking immigrants. You think, 'These people are weak, we can attack them, we can kill them, we can do all abuses against them, do vexatious litigant against them . . .' I, as an immigrant, have proven that I am going to fight with you Canadians, and I am going to get an order from Canadian courts against you."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's your perspective to his
personality and character, then
it would be very fair if you were
writing a bit from his point of view.

This is a rule of thumb, the history always is writing by the winners not losers.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This man is doing a great disservice to all immigrants. He has been granted Canadian citizenship. As for his statement:
"I, as an immigrant, have proven that I am going to fight with you Canadians." - Well, he is a Canadian now, so really he is fighting with himself. Obviously, he has mental problems, comparing a condo board to Hitler!

1:45 PM  

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