The city government did not like how M was keeping his 100 acre property.Â There were cars, equipment and other items on the property.Â Some of this spilled over on to a municipalÂ road allowance.Â So the city decided to take action.Â It simply could not allow this eyesore to continue.
So they sent in the enforcers.Â everywhere and it was unsightly.Â It entered the road allowance and part of M’s property.Â It removed some of the chattels.Â Then it added the cost of the clean up to M’s tax bill.Â It then sought a court order to have force M to clean up his property.
Now what could possibly be wrong with what the city did? Well thing about this- what if M was your neighbour? What would you have done? Would you have the right to clean up his property and then charge him for it?
As the British judge Lord Denning said in Southam v Smout  1QB 308 quoting William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chaltham
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frailâ€”its roof may shakeâ€”the wind may blow through itâ€”the storm may enterâ€”the rain may enterâ€”but the King of England cannot enterâ€”all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.” So be itâ€”unless he has justification by law.
This was a clear case of trespass by the city. M had not broken any laws or zoning by-laws. So the city simply had no right to enter his property, much less to clean it up and send him the bill. The city cannot take action against you simply because they do not like what you did. They can only do so if you are breaking the law.
We still live in a nation that is ruled by laws, not by the desires of the government or its representatives.
The trial judge here thought that this was a case of an overzealous city employee and a citizen who did not like government authority. He felt this was a case that should not have occurred. He refused to give costs to M even though M, effectively, won the case.
Here is the problem with that: the city sued M, not the other way around. There is no way that M could have avoided the lawsuit (other than complying with the request of the city). So while the action probably should not have occurred, it is difficult to see how this was M’s fault.
Luckily for M, the Court of Appeal reversed this ruling and awarded him costs.
You can read more on the CanLii website.