A West Vancouver couple who caused a landslide to run into a fish-bearing creek after dumping truckloads of fill on their property despite a stop work order have been fined $100,000 by a North Vancouver provincial court judge.
Judge Bryce Dyer fined owners Mohammadreza Morshedian $60,000 and his wife Seyedeh Shahrbanoo Janani $40,000 for repeatedly violating several municipal bylaws when they began landscaping work on their British Properties lot without permits or a sediment control plan between January and March of 2013.
The District of West Vancouver took the couple to court to prove the illegal landscaping caused a landslide that sent sediment into a tributary of Rodgers Creek on March 21, 2013.
Dyer handed down the significant fine to the couple Monday in North Vancouver provincial court, saying the fine needed to be more than “a slap on the wrist” in order to serve as a warning to others and to signal community disapproval of their actions.
Jeff McDonald, spokesman for the District of West Vancouver, said the municipality is “extremely pleased with the decision. It sends a message not only to the homeowners but to everyone that our bylaws are important, are there for a reason, and need to be observed.”
Dyer found Morshedian and Janani both guilty in October of eight counts of violating several municipal bylaws, including West Vancouver’s watercourse protection bylaw, creeks bylaw and soil deposit and removal bylaw.
Between January and March 2013, the couple had many dump truck loads of fill trucked to their property at 2785 Chelsea Close from another site in West Vancouver and dumped without proper permits. A 29-ton excavator was then used to move the fill around the property.
At first, Morshedian told neighbours he planned to build a garden on the property, said Dyer. But when they confronted him with concerns about the volume of fill and risk of a slope failure, he brushed off their worries. When one neighbour asked if the couple had permits, Morshedian told him, “The city officials were just a bunch of bureaucrats after his money,” said Dyer.
The judge added Morshedian also never told municipal staff “the true nature and scope of the work he was doing.”
In the sentencing hearing, Morshedian’s lawyer Derek Creighton suggested the fact English is not his clients’ first language resulted in a communication problem with municipal staff. In Farsi, the term “garden” can also mean very large and substantial parks, Creighton said.
But the judge rejected that explanation as a reason to hand out a more lenient penalty. “I simply do not accept it,” said Dyer. “How would a West Vancouver municipal employee know what an English word meant in Farsi?”
During the trial, the judge heard the Chelsea Close property was one of four the professional couple owned in West Vancouver at the time, and was rented as an investment property.
The fine for violating the district’s bylaws will go into to the municipality’s coffers. The municipality also intends to go after the couple to collect the approximately $75,000 cost of cleaning up the creek and remediating the landslide after it occurred.
Dyer said he accepted that the impact of the landslide was not long lasting, and that there is no evidence that fish were harmed.