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$2.9 million judgment in B.C. blueberry farm sabotage lawsuit

The new buyers of a Langley blueberry farm won a $2.9 million lawsuit against the previous owners for sabotaging the crop with weed killer just before the sale completed.

Malkiat Singh Baring and Satwant Kaur Baring, husband and wife and experienced farmers, bought a 60-acre Langley blueberry farm in a foreclosure sale for $5.5 million in the early summer of 2017, just before the berries were ripe and ready to harvest.

But after a weeks-long legal wrangle with previous owners, brothers Zora and Harminder Grewal, who were fighting the foreclosure, the Barings couldn’t take possession until July 17.

When the Barings arrived on their new property, they found the bushes were turning yellow and dying.

“Shortly before the plaintiffs bought the farm, somebody sprayed herbicides over most of the fields,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Gomery wrote in a judgment released this week. “The blueberry bushes were ruined. The ripe blueberries were rendered unfit for human consumption.”

READ MORE: Weedkiller sabotage claimed in Langley blueberry farm lawsuit

On July 13, the fields were sprayed with what the Grewals said was malathion, a pesticide.

But there was another spraying incident around the same time, this one under cover of darkness.

“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,” Gomery wrote. “This was unusual and the tractor was behaving unusually, accelerating up and down the rows of blueberry bushes.”

This is suspected to have been when Roundup, a potent weedkiller, was sprayed on the crops, late on July 13 or early July 14.

Circumstantial evidence points to the Grewals as the ones who sprayed Roundup on the fields, Gomery ruled.

They were the only people who had access to the tractor, spraying equipment, and to the locked pump house needed for water to mix with herbicides.

Gomery noted that when the Barings arrived to take possession, they had to use a grinder to cut through a padlock and metal plate over the pump house door, and that the Grewals admitted they were the only ones with keys.

“It is not impossible that the culprits brought thousands of litres of water onto the farm for the spraying or that the pump house happened to be unlocked when the culprits came to the farm, but it is very unlikely,” wrote Gomery.

He called the idea that strangers came and sprayed the fields “far fetched.”

The judge also noted that on July 8, Harminder Grewal told Satwant Baring that she and her husband should “walk away” from their deal to purchase the farm, saying they would be getting involved in a dispute between the Grewal brothers.

“If this was not a threat, it was at the least a warning,” wrote Gomery.

The conversation showed that Grewal was not confident his legal challenge to stop the sale would succeed, the judge said.

Zora Grewal was also clearly upset by the sale, as he showed up on the night of July 17, after the Barings had taken possession, and attempted to break into a farmhouse.

“He was intoxicated and using a hammer to try to break down the door,” Gomery wrote.

The Barings called police after a yelling match.

Gomery decided on the balance of probabilities that Harminder and Zora Grewal, or one of them, sprayed herbicides on the blueberry crops.

About 90 per cent of the crop was sprayed, he noted, and the damage will take years to remedy.

The judge found the Barings were entitled to $2.79 million returned from their purchase price for losses to the crops and future losses, plus $150,000 in punitive damages.

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Matthew Claxton

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