When we last looked in on the Sutherland Saga, one question remained unanswered. Is the four-storey structure looming over the downtown core unsafe?
After a day-long hearing Friday at the Elgin County Courthouse – in which lawyer Valerie M’Garry, representing owner David McGee, and John Sanders, representing the city’s chief building official Chris Peck, parried over the definition of unsafe and is there a definition of a safe structure – little headway was made in what has become a dizzying debate over semantics.
And, as was the case on the opening day of the hearing a week ago, it was Justice Peter Hockin who dominated proceedings. Pondering aloud at one point, “What if this place is not insurable from a liability point of view?”
To backtrack for a moment, the purpose of the two-day hearing is to get down to business and deal with the decision of a three-member court of appeal panel handed down last month in which it ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.
Neither of the combatants in the City of St. Thomas vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was the star of the show Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse.
That honour went to his honour, Justice Peter Hockin , who had no qualms about speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts and guiding lawyers Valerie M’Garry and John Sanders down the path of least resistance.
Or as he stressed, “I don’t want to spin our wheels on collateral issues.”
Now remember, this is the same Justice Hockin who, in 2008, overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the go-ahead to demolish the four-storey structure.
In reference to the boxes of evidence accumulated since then, Hockin cut to the chase. “Is it unsafe right now . . . there were recommendations of what could have been done but never was done.”
After a protracted legal battle that has spanned nearly a decade – and characterized as a “battle royale” at a hearing Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse – the Sutherland Saga comes down to a single question.
Is the Sutherland Press building unsafe?
Justice Peter Hockin set an aggressive tone early as both sides sat across from each other for the first time since a three-member court of appeal panel in Toronto earlier this month ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.
Laying down the law in the Sutherland Saga originated from an unlikely source this week in the form of Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Hockin, one of the original cast members in the near-decade long run of this soap opera.
Tuesday at the Elgin County Courthouse, Hockin was set to preside over the hearing involving the City of St. Thomas versus Sutherland Lofts owner David McGee.
McGee, through lawyer Valerie M’Garry, is challenging an unsafe building order issued Oct. 28 by the city that gave him until Dec. 15 of last year to provide a detailed work plan and schedule repairs to begin early last month on the four-storey structure.
But, as was the case on Jan. 3, the hearing was a non-starter due to M’Garry’s ill health.
For the second time in just over a month, the future of the Sutherland Press building has been put on the waiting list due to ill health.
As the City vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was set to open Monday at the Elgin County Courthouse, the lawyer for building owner David McGee advised Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Hockin she was unsure if she could continue.
“I’m struggling with my health. I’m struggling,” admitted Valerie M’Garry, who sat slumped in her seat.